Six Sigma and more:
I've been to pet stores before but never one like the Preuss Animal House in the Old Town section of Lansing, Michigan, where my students arranged a tour for our class in Current Topics in Management.
As we entered the area surrounding this 22,000 square foot store, we walked through striking landscaping and even past a waterfall. Once inside, I was overcome by the sheer number of animals I had never seen before. And as I turned to my right, another waterfall and pool full of all sorts of fish. I almost didn't see the cages and tanks in which the animals were kept because I was so overwhelmed with the environment and the animals themselves. But actually going behind the scene and meeting with Rick Preuss and his staff makes this place even more impressive.
Let me start with the mission of the Animal House. As Rick states it, the store's job is to create the conditions for customer success. He talks about helping customers achieve meaningful relations with their pets for 3, 5, or perhaps 50 years.
To that end, Rick hires people who are passionate for and knowledgeable of the specific types of pets they will bring in, care for, sell, and support. Then he makes sure those employees have access to all the most up-to-date and in-depth knowledge of the animals available. Although Rick acknowledges the desirability of cross training, most of his employees turn out to be very specialized because of the detailed knowledge they must have of the animals under their particular care. When the pets come into the Animal House, they are quarantined and examined by the Preuss veterinarian. If anything is wrong or suspicious, they are held in quarantine and treated until their health is robust. When a customer comes in, the staff unobtrusively makes sure that this new potential pet owner knows everything he or she needs to know to make a long and successful relationship with the new pet possible. They sometimes even keep the pet in the Animal House for a period of time so the pet and the new owner can get to know each other before the pet actually goes home with the owner.
Behind the scene, the Animal House team members raise their own fish to maximize the health of the fish they will sell. They grow their own coral to minimize yet another variable in creating a happy, healthy environment for the fish they sell. They even do autopsies (is there such a thing?) on dead animals to learn anything that will improve the health of their pets in the long run.
They do all this simply to maximize the likelihood of a successful relationship between the owner and the pet and to minimize the emotional, physical, and financial suffering of a less-than-successful relationship.
We all know that Six Sigma is great at minimizing
the cost and maximizing the quality of the product or service we
provide to our customer, but how often do we really go beyond that
and strive for “customer success?” Rick Preuss expects
and frequently gets long-term relationships not only between pet
and owner but AMONG customer, pet, and the Animal House. I’m
not sure low cost and high quality is as likely to get customer
loyalty. And those little extras help in other ways.
The vet reduces the costs associated with sick and/or dying animals. The in-house raised fish and coral bring in extra revenue. There's no need to even mention the free word of mouth advertising a successful customer will provide.
We all know about customer expectations like low
cost and high quality. We even know about customer needs that may
go beyond the specific product or service that we provide. But I
think that trying to make our customers successful may take us to
an even broader and more successful strategy for Six Sigma. Trying
to make our customers successful will require a new level of intimacy
with them that may take us beyond any success we could have envisioned.
As always, I eagerly await your comments and questions.
I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org
2007 PQ Systems.
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