Magazine article Workforce Management

A Simulation That Makes Employees Feel the Customer's Pain

Magazine article Workforce Management

A Simulation That Makes Employees Feel the Customer's Pain

Article excerpt

The training focuses Texas Instruments employees on the impact their lapses have on customers. They've taken the lessons to heart.

IT'S CERTAINLY NOT BRAGGING when Jeff McCreary Sr., Texas Instruments' senior vice president and manager of worldwide sales, says that a company's customers will put up with bad service as long as they're benefiting from first-to-market technology. He's just describing a problem his company confronted in 2001.

Dallas-based Texas Instruments is a top manufacturer of semiconductors, particularly for communications equipment. But competitors are never far behind, and three years ago, it was watching market share slip away. "Ultimately, that's probably the best measure of whether your customer is satisfied with you," McCreary says. "We really needed to improve how we were serving our customers."

Texas Instruments found a novel way to do that. It turned to a training organization, BTS, to create a two-and-a-half-day customer-loyalty boot camp. BTS had been customizing training simulations for the chip maker since 1998. This one would dramatize to key employees how it felt to be in the disappointed customer's shoes, and was based on actual complaints gleaned from customer interviews.

The boot camp got under way in 2002 with Texas Instruments' 300 top executives. Since then more than 2,000 of the company's 34,000 employees have gone through, down to the level of design engineer. And while not every improvement at the company can be attributed to the training, there have been measurable results.

Texas Instruments was the No. 5 manufacturer in the overall semiconductor market in 1999, says Gartner Dataquest analyst Stan Bruederle. By 2003, it had moved up to No. 4.

In submarkets where Texas Instruments is strongest, the change is more pronounced. In wireless-communication chips, the company's market share had slipped from 13 percent in 2000 to 12 percent the next year. Now it is the top supplier, with 17 percent of the market.

"We're working on our third consecutive year of market-share gains, and we feel that's the best metric," says McCreary. "Even more important, we've been able to interview customers. We know our customer-satisfaction scores: they're better."

BTS, founded in 1985 in Stockholm, Sweden, had found that traditional consultants' reports and analysis didn't have much impact on changing behavior, says senior vice president Dan Parisi. The company began to develop simulations to connect the information to real jobs. "It's your business model, it's your market dynamics, it's your internal dynamics between finance, marketing and sales," says Parisi.

In the customer-loyalty boot camp for Texas Instruments, employees play out two or three years in the life of a customer. They become part of a make-believe company called Streavo, which is adding streaming video capability to its cell phones. The sole supplier of chips is a company called Terrific Instruments.

Each boot camp session splits 25 employees into five groups of five, each designing its own phone. A computer model instantly tells them the impact of various choices on the finished product, including power consumption, time to market and profit margins. A sense of competition helps them get into their roles. "They know there is a prize at the end: Jeff McCreary is going to be watching this thing," says Parisi.

The teams have three hours to lock in their specifications. Then BTS trainers, posing as Terrific Instruments reps, drop by with the first of what Parisi calls "wobblers." The Terrific Instruments rep may say that a fabrication problem will make the custom chip five weeks late, "but we've seen worse, so count your blessings."

"We deliver it with an arrogance and cockiness and lack of sympathy because TI coached us to do this," says Parisi.

The delay means that Streavo will miss the back-to-school market. And while the teams are wrestling with that, the callous Terrific Instruments crew comes back with another wobbler. …

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