Simulation Game Helps Close the Gap Between Internal Customers and External Customers


Customer Care News is dedicated to helping businesses improve customer care, customer satisfaction and employee collaboration. To that end, Dr. Keith Levick recently sat down with Bill Albert, president of Business Methodologies International, Ltd. (BMI), a company that helps organizations generate profitable thinking through employee engagement activities. Through these activities, the company’s inner workings are explored and connections among internal customers and external customers are highlighted, leading to a greater understanding that ultimately affects the bottom line.

CCN: Can you explain the employee engagement activities that you use in working with companies?

BA: We work directly with the decision makers within an organization to clarify with them how their company or how their industry makes money. We then work with the finance folks within said business to take a look specifically at how they make money, and where the hiccups in the system would be that would keep them from generating as much prof it or as much revenue as they believe or think their company ought to achieve. And we put that in a board-based model. So we actually then replicate the cash-f low process with all of the decision making touch points within the organization and we t urn it into a financial gain.

CCN: So it’s a simulated board game?

BA: Yes, it ’s a simulated board game. What ends up happening is we gather the workers, the employees, the first-line and second-line managers — all levels within an organization — and we bring them in for a set period of time and allow them to be the owners of the business. Literally we allow the work force to become the decision-making force in this simulated world. Same responsibilities of how to spend money, where the cash is going, what type of investments they’re going to make, what they’re doing as far as their employee base is concerned, product development, supply chain; all of these things are incorporated into this exercise.

CCN: Typically what kind of people within the organization would attend this course? How would you define it, like a workshop?

BA: I guess you would consider it to be a workshop; I use that term semi-loosely. Our programs last any where from four hours to two days depending on the sophistication level of the audience. Our participants have ranged from folks that are blue collar contributors, who have little business acumen, to folks that are C-Levels of the organization. It just simply depends on the model. So depending on what the financial need is or what they’re tr ying to teach the work force, and who within their work force they’re trying to teach, we have a financial business simulation that is appropriate for that audience.

CCN: Do you cover all industries?

BA: Everything from manufacturing, service organizations, healthcare organizations, distribution companies, and retail- type organizations — we have business simulations in all those areas.

CCN: It appears to be a simulated board game that you take the participants from beginning to end. And by the end they better understand how the business runs, where the money goes, how the money is spent, running the department, financially, etc.?

BA: Yes, absolutely. And the bottom line is we’ve all been in this situation. Most of us don’t learn by listening to someone tell us what it is that we ought to be doing. Most of us, at least adult learners , learn by actually diving in, getting our hands dirty and actually working with or within the system that we ultimately need to be working in. We learn by doing. The business simulation process is exactly the same as the work process. The types of workshops that we run are not lecture- based workshops. They’re actually hands-on ; the employees going through the program actually make the decisions on how their simulated company is going to run. And in some cases those simulations are competitive; in some cases those simulations are just for education purposes. But the responsibility for learning is actually on the participants, not the facilitator.

CCN: Employees are obviously involved and active in this process as opposed to sitting and listening to a talking head.

BA: Absolutely. As I said earlier, we learn by doing. And this simulation allows people to be fully engaged in running a business. And they have fun doing it! Unfortunately, in many organizations people are bogged down with their daily tasks and focus on the moment not understanding how what they do impacts the bottom line.

CCN: W hat I’m hearing you say is that in the working environment today, with globalization, greater competition, and certainly coming off a pretty severe recession in the past few years, workers are so busy working that they’re almost myopic in how they see things. And /or many organizations are still in silos not knowing what other departments do or don’t do.

BA: I think that’s absolutely correct. Basically there’s a huge learning gap in the United States. I think in the vast majority of organizations there’s a learning gap bet ween, first and foremost, “what am I doing” and its relationship to all the other people within an organization. So we do have a certain myopic approach going back to your comment about globalization, coming out of recession, etc. We have too many people that are trying to work harder or be busy for fear that they’re going to lose their jobs.

But I think one of the things that gets overlooked by most workers is they don’t understand their tr ue value to the organization; or, additionally, how their value drives employee satisfaction and ultimately affects the external customer satisfaction. [Through this simulation] workers begin to better understand the internal process, which increases their overall knowledge of the organization. They begin to appreciate other departments and workers and develop a satisfied feeling. Unfortunately, too many workers don’t have this type of appreciation, which negatively affects the organization.

CCN: Certainly ever y organization understands the importance of customer service. Many companies place a great deal of emphasis on the external customer — the customer who walks in your front door. However, it appears you’re talking about the importance of the internal customer. Oftentimes people do not perceive workers as one another’s customer. They’re just people we work with. However, what I hear you saying is that if employees would see one another as internal customers, the level of employee satisfaction would greatly increase. Would you say that one of the objectives in your simulated board game is to enhance the internal customer service of the organization?

BA: It almost has to. Let me tr y to explain a couple key ways in which that takes place. First, it ’s human nature that when a person doesn’t understand something that they admit to it. Most workers do not understand financial metrics, performance indicators, income statements and balance sheets, the responsibility of how cash moves through a system, and what efficiency impacts cash flow. They don’t seem to be aware [that]when they are working more effectively, they’re more efficient at what they do and actually save the company money. They just don’t connect those dots.

The second thing is managers post metrics on a wall and expect workers to tritely understand them. But when you talk to the folks privately, they really don’t understand the impact of the metrics, and, what ’s worse I think, is they don’t really understand how they impact the metrics. I’m not sure an organization can maximize success if they don’t have a work force that understands the things that drive financial success both internally and externally.

CCN: With all these factors combined, many workers do not have a clue. And not having that awareness or understanding could lead to, “You know what? We work our behinds off day in and day out and you guys over there — I don’t know what you do!” The frustration builds and the team is no longer functioning well. It affects morale. In other words it affects the internal customer service.

BA: You’re absolutely right. A couple months ago I was working with a really good-sized sales team, and we were taking them through the “distribution simulation.” The sales folks traditionally sit back and say if they don’t see wall-to-wall inventor y “ how do you expect me to sell anything, I don’t have any inventor y to sell.” They tend to lack an understanding of [other]factors such as the costs for inventor y, the revenue stream for inventor y, and the front end and back end of the operation. They’re only looking at it from their own point of view. However, when you put these guys in the simulation, and we’ve put hundreds of sales professionals through these simulations, and put them in charge of running the supply chain, they develop a whole new appreciation of how things operate. Remember, sales people get their commissions on what they sell. So when you put them in a situation where sales professionals have to r un the supply chain process and make the decisions around how much they’re going to buy in order to drive profitability they begin to get it. The simulated process is an amazing learning experience.

CCN: The simulation appears to be a holistic approach to understanding an organization.

BA: And that’s what this is. All areas of an organization will benefit from this simulation.

CCN: I can see a need for this in health care, especially as it relates to risk management and some other areas.

BA: Absolutely. We have done some interesting work for children’s hospitals. For hospitals, patient satisfaction, keeping safety and mortality rates down, etc. is critically important. And if the process is not running smoothly, the surgery is backed up, the OR staff is fr ustrated and stressed out, and the patient is unhappy. In the end, patient satisfaction scores are down. Stressed-out workers tend to make more mistakes and administration becomes concerned about a lawsuit.

CCN: If there is one common “aha” experience that many of your participants walk out of the simulated workshop with, what would that be?

BA: W hen people go through the program they get a chance to better understand how valuable they are to the company, and to one another. They also see that what they do is linked to all departments; that everyone really works for a common purpose. They can see how all employees are one another’s customers. The organizations are links of one big chain that ultimately have an effect on the financial success of the company.

CCN: It really drives or enhances internal customer service.

BA: Absolutely. And that is passed to the external customer. It is a beautiful thing to see unfold — what a process!