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Fool-proofing a service operation.
In the banking industry, a significant service industry in any country, optimized operations are essential to ensure that the public has maximum confidence in the operators of this industry. Bank of America and its operations have been selected for discussion in this study. The bank has grown tremendously in the past few years. CEO, Ken Lewis realized that the bank could gain a wider market share and customer base if it was able to streamline its operations and the level of service. Incorporating concepts of process management was considered essential to the improvement process. (Cox and Bossert, 2005) Some of the tools such as six-sigma were used to ensure that a high level of quality was maintained in the service that the provided to the customer.
Bank of America recognized that customer satisfaction was paramount in ensuring that the customer was loyal and would use the bank for all their financial needs. The company implemented the six-sigma methodology in 2001. Since then, it has observed a significant improvement in the quality of service that it provides the customer and this has reflected in the higher levels of customer satisfaction that has been observed. Unlike product and manufacturing operations, service operations are more difficult to manage and maintain with respect to quality. While many service-based products pride themselves on being "one-of-a-kind," many of the users of the services may expect some level of standardization and consistency in the service provided. Services are generally considered specialized. They require a great deal of knowledge and experience. Often, few similarities exist in the service industry even within the same business category or industry. (Peter and Donnelly, 2004)
Customers' needs in the financial industry differ significantly and extensive use of knowledge management is being considered to ensure that every customer gets the service that is best suited to his or her individual needs. Through customization, Bank of America has been able to ensure that customers get the best available service at any given time based on their individual needs. It is important that the quality of the services stays consistent over time and do not constantly change for no justifiable reason. Similarly, in a banking service, customers would like to conduct business with a bank whose mission and goals are parallel to their own. They also want to ensure that mission statements do not change drastically with time. By managing the quality control of the services that they provide the bank has been able to drop the number of defects across electronic channels by 88%.
Bank of America has been constantly growing through both internal methods as well as through mergers and acquisitions. Bank of America has a good record in managing mergers and acquisitions. (Stewart, 2005) They have been able to make transitions smoothly and allow customers to get acquainted with the different and sometimes varying policies of the bank. Bank of America's primary business is dealing serving retail customers. "The bank hopes to cross-sell other financial products like mortgages or home-equity lines" through the contacts that it has gained as a result of the MBNA deal that the company has made recently. (Creswell, 2005)
With markets getting smaller and more interlinked, many companies chose to acquire companies that they felt would help them expand and/or help gain capital for future expansion. This often however creates an issue of conflicting cultures and values within the merged operation. In the case of a bank these conflicting cultures and values can cause disruption in the processes and the way employees deal with the customers. As Bank of America's primary and significant customer base is retail banking with individual customers and small business owners' impressions of interactions of employees of the bank play a considerable role in shaping the perceptions and the satisfaction of services that customers experience.
Problems generally arise during any change. The adoption of new management methods, their implementation, changing past routines to suit the new methods of management is often a long and tedious process. (Morgan, 1997; Darnell, 1999) Any change that may be required to achieve the goals of the firm should again be clear -- the reasons for the change should not focused and comprehensible. Changes, whose final aim is not tangible or clear to the people on whom this change is implemented, create distrust and a sense of uncertainty. This affects productivity, and consequently, profitability. Maintaining the trust and respect of clients during change is critical as well. Bank of America has been working at maintaining high service levels during these changes. Bank of America, through its many mergers, has attempted to maintain as much normalcy as possible to its operations and services provided. (Talcott, 2005)
The bank has provided employees with all the necessary training and education to ensure that they are able to constantly ensure continuity of operations and provide customers will all the information and services. "Fool-proofing" is required in the initial stages to ensure that the employees make the decisions based on correct resources. There is an increased use of computerized databases for tracking and monitoring the type and nature of the services provided. By maintaining a centralized database, Bank of America has been able to track and monitor the changes that the customer makes and customize products for these needs. This centralized database is equipped to identify issues such as identity theft and fraud by comparing the past spending habits of the customer with the current spending habits of the customer. Over time, these databases have been able to reduce the errors and mistakes that customers have experience and made banking with the company a pleasant experience for the retail customers.
Successfully substituted workers for technology
While most companies have moved from replacing human workers with computers, there are relatively few that have tried computers and still persist with human workers. One of these examples is in the domain of biomedical research. In the eighties, with the development of computers, computer-speeds emboldened scientists to believe that computers could be used to process the spoken and written language. Computer scientists and linguists sought to parameterize language into processable units, such that computers could take the place of human communication. The cognitive component of human understanding and communication however, is far more evolved than can be handled by a computer. Steven Pinker in his popular "The Language Instinct" (Pinker, 1995) averred that a five-year-old could process language much better than the most modern computers. He declared that humans were several centuries from the development of a computer that will replace human communication skills.
Computers tried to process language using storehouses of the rules of grammar, linked with common dictionaries of terms. Heuristic (from previous experience) methods are then employed to process this information. Humans however, can cognate meaning from garbled words or even incorrect grammar. Teaching a computer to recognize all permutations of idiosyncrasies of personal styles of speech and writing is forbidding.
Wikipedia illustrates the problems with natural language processing, which is a branch of artificial intelligence, the same branch which includes the field of robotics, using the following two sentences: "We gave the monkey bananas because they were hungry" and "We gave the monkey bananas because they were overripe." The problems with recognition comes from the word "they." In the first case, "they" refers to the monkeys. In the second "they" refers to bananas. Experience allows humans to distinguish between the two senses of the word "they." But this kind of disambiguation is difficult for a computer. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automatic_summarization)
The field of Artificial intelligence -- associated specifically with language -- can be divided into several parts: Text-to-speech, speech recognition, natural language generation, machine translation, question answering, information retrieval, information extraction, text-proofing, translation technology and automatic summarization. The use of computers to perform each of these tasks with even reasonable accuracy and precision has been deemed impossible.
The specific industry where this technology has been replaced by the human mind is in information management. Data-mining specific bits of data is not difficult for a database specialist. In databases are stored in specific areas in specific tables. These tables are then linked by relationships that are associated with the database architecture. These bits of information are retrieved and presented to an end-user. Researchers at the National Library Medicine, a subdivision of the National Institutes of Heath (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/) have created a suite of state of the art software that gathers, collates and presents information freely to end users in the biomedical field. NLM has been the standard bearer of biomedical computing.
The one area of NLM's work where human input is preferred to technology is in the natural language processing of bio-medical research articles. This is a vast amount of literature, numbering in the tens of thousands of scientific articles published per day. In addition to the problems in processing written text mentioned previously, problems arise in creating domain-specific libraries and dictionaries of terms that belong to each field of the sciences. For example, a neuroscience dictionary is significantly different from a protein…[continue]
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Ayers (2000, p. 4) describes a supply chain as "Life cycle processes supporting physical, information, financial, and knowledge flows for moving products and services from suppliers to end-users." A supply chain can be short, as in the case of a cottage industry, or quite long and complex as in the manufacture, distribution, and sales of automobiles. In fact, the automobile supply chain has its origin in the mining of the
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