While lean government and lean healthcare technically fall under this category, we consider lean service organizations to be those operating in areas like call centers, retail, hotels, restaurants, offices, banking, and so on. In such environments, there is a direct interaction with the customer, which should be seen as an opportunity to get real-time feedback on our service rather than a nuisance we have to deal with (if you have ever spoken with a customer care representative, you know what this means).
A common problem that practitioners trying to bring lean to services encounter is the difficulty to identify “the work” – whereas in manufacturing the product is in front of everyone’s eyes, in service organizations it is often hidden behind paperwork or a computer screen. Once the work is clearly visible, however, the opportunities for improvement are plentiful. To date, we have seen thousands of organizations striving to lean out the service they provide customers: from restaurants chains in the United States and China to a group of bakeries in Barcelona, from call centers to hotels, the application of lean services ideas can have an extraordinary impact on our economies. Especially if we consider that the service industry accounts for more than three-fifths of the global GDP and employs more than one-third of the global workforce.
Lean thinking is naturally a fit for the service industry, because of its focus on constantly delighting customers and on providing them with value-adding products.