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Lean transformation in the pure service environment: the case of the call service centre

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Purpose ‐ Service businesses are struggling with customer demands for better quality service and managerial demands for cost reduction. There is evidence to suggest that service businesses are in practice failing on both these counts, seeing increased costs and reductions in service quality. The application of lean production approaches to the service context has been suggested as a means to resolve these problems, reducing costs and improving quality. Despite the validation of lean approaches in the product-service context, the application of lean approaches in the pure service environment remains largely untested. The purpose of this paper is to assess the suitability of lean production methodologies in the pure service context. Design/methodology/approach ‐ Three financial service companies in the UK were followed through a common programme of lean transformation. The improvements observed in each company were recorded. The change programme is evaluated to determine the "leanness" of the initiatives. The suitability of lean for the service context is discussed. Findings ‐ The paper's findings highlight significant improvements in quality and cost positions with minimal investment through adoption of lean tools in the pure service context. The paper proposes the suitability of basic lean methodologies such as value understanding, process mapping and problem solving for the pure service context. Originality/value ‐ The lean approach is well established in the manufacturing sector and certain product-service contexts. Evidence on lean in pure service environments is very limited. The paper addresses this shortcoming.
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Keywords: Call centres; Lean production; Organizational change; Service industries

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 9, 2009

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