The Saudi government is improving its customs services by testing hypotheses and implementing changes based on customer feedback.
The scientific community, including me, is attempting to alter the perception that science is not a primary source of inspiration for innovation-hungry businesses. Using findings from studies on the efficacy of a scientific method, I have guided executives at hundreds of businesses through the steps of developing a theory, creating testable hypotheses, carrying out extensive experiments, and analyzing the data meticulously. The payback is usually a substantial influence on the creation of brand new goods and services.
The method requires managers to first conceptualize a theory that underpins the concept of the new offering. It is at this stage that the question, “How can I generate value for my consumers?” is addressed by elaborating on the primary benefit to customers and providing a rationale for doing so. So, before releasing the product, managers may acquire useful insights by unearthing consumer assumption and rigorously testing them.
Based on what I’ve read in the latest issue of Harvard Business Review, several of the startups with which I’ve worked have found success by adopting a more scientific approach. But, the same method may be used for any organizational choice under uncertainty, from startups striving to innovate to multinational corporations to national governments.
Public agencies and governments do experiments to evaluate the efficacy of different policies and economic incentives on employment, innovation, and the launch of new enterprises. Unfortunately, efforts that emerge from such tests are rarely successful, even when they are meticulously planned and executed. What if, like startup founders, government officials began to act more like scientists? To make sure the suggested final solution genuinely solves the issue at hand before public money is put into big investments, it is important to test theories and hypotheses through rigorous experiments.
Assistance to customers at customs
The scientific method was implemented at Saudi Customs, for example, to enhance service to customers. As the country’s central customs agency, Saudi Customs coordinates the flow of people and goods through the kingdom’s 35 airports, seaports, and land crossings. Traditionally, the organization has paid attention to safeguarding, taxation, and the facilitation of international trade. Josoor (the Arabic word for bridge) is the name of a customer experience transformation initiative that Saudi Customs launched at the end of 2018. I acted as a consultant for this endeavor.
Saudi Customs began by conducting in-depth interviews with customers and port workers to learn more about the difficulties faced by those who utilize their services. There were a total of sixteen major categories identified for enhancement, the most significant of which concerned the delivery of services itself. Despite extensive digitalization, hundreds of merchants and brokers still visit ports daily to handle issues like import/export exemptions and the status of cargo by physically visiting each office to get the information they need. Staff were unable to accommodate walk-in consumers due to the increased volume of business and complexity of procedures.
Rather of rolling out a comprehensive program across all 35 national ports, Saudi Customs has opted to test out potential solutions in a single area. But before that, it developed four hypotheses, two of which concerned the quality of the client experience and the other two its capacity to maintain and administer the new service model:
- It is shown that providing service at a convenient one-stop location with appealing spaces and knowledgeable employees leads to a higher customer satisfaction rate.
- Having fewer consumer touchpoints will improve the efficiency of the one-stop center.
- If all services can be effectively shifted from back-office to front-line workers, then the one-stop center is a viable solution.
- The service model may launch fast if current employees who do not interact with customers take on the new, undefined roles interacting with customers.
Saudi Customs turned an unused section of the Riyadh Dry Dock into a mock customer service center to test the assumptions. From a welcoming lobby and greeting area to service agent desks and a cafe, all of the facilities necessary to support the idealized customer experience have been set up. Six employees were reassigned from other departments and given customer service training. As part of the initiatives to track and record performance data, a ticketing and queuing system was implemented.
Decisions based on solid evidence
This test run lasted for a full three months. Three of the four hypotheses were confirmed, which is a very encouraging finding.
- The percentage of happy customers increased from 64% in the initial survey to 86% in the last one.
- The time it took to service 80 percent of consumers was cut in half, from 30 minutes to fewer than five. Also, this was accomplished with only six workers, as opposed to the 15 workers spread throughout the 13 prior locations. What used to take the better part of an hour and trips to several offices now takes no more than 10 minutes,” claimed one broker.
- The service center was able to issue collection orders and other requests that did not require approvals (which accounted for 80% of customer visits). Twenty percent of visitors needed services that frontline service agents couldn’t deliver because they required expert evaluation by business divisions or limited system access.
- The pilot was very well received by employees; eighty-five percent of service agents and their line supervisors were pleased with the new idea and saw value in it. Nonetheless, many workers were wary about making the transition to customer service full-time. In spite of Saudi Customs’ best efforts to become customer-focused, the company culture does not value or promote providing excellent service to consumers.
General Manager of Marketing and Customer Experience at Saudi Customs, Adel Baraja, said of the successful pilot, “Going down the experimentation route allowed us to test new concepts in a controlled environment and make almost daily adjustments until we got the right reaction from our customers and employees.”
Examinable and verifiable
The input that was given and the lessons that were acquired were used by Saudi Customs as they set out to fix the difficulties while also expanding the model of the one-stop service center to all ports. The model has been updated to include a back-office person who has access to the security system and is authorized to approve requests. Some approval procedures are being digitalized and automated by the pilot team, and digital self-service counters are being installed. In addition to this, it is collaborating with human resources to provide incentives that would motivate staff members to work in frontline positions.
The final design establishes a standard operating procedure in order to guarantee that consumers will consistently receive excellent service. In addition to this, it provides recommendations for various kinds of customer service centers depending on the location of the port, the visitor numbers, and the profile (passengers, traders or brokers).
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The scientific method, which places a focus on organized and rigorous decision making, has just been incorporated into the customer experience transformation initiative that is being carried out by Saudi Customs. According to Adel Baraja, “Teams are encouraged to address challenges using an evidence-based approach,” which involves testing hypotheses and determining whether or not offered solutions have obvious and concrete advantages before any implementation.
He went on to say that a strategy like this is very useful in the setting of the government. “[It] plays an essential role in allocating resources toward programs that have tangible and beneficial outcomes and away from those that don’t,” says the author.