Lean Manufacturing for Website Optimization

By ​Marifran Manzo-Ritchie

June 22, 2012

Although catch phrases like “doing more with less” or having the “right product at the right time for the right person” can be viewed as cliché, they have very powerful meanings.

Both concepts trace their origins back to the 1950s when the Toyota Motor Company began recovering from the destruction Japan suffered in World War II. Resources were scarce, so innovators like Taiichi Ohno, Shigeo Shingo and Eiji Toyoda developed the Toyota Production System (the precursor to lean manufacturing) to increase efficiencies and reduce waste.

At this point you might be asking yourself what the manufacturing principles and process improvement methodologies of an automaker have to do with website optimization in order to increase customer satisfaction and ROI? The answer is, everything.

Lesson #1: Doing More with Less

In the early days of lean manufacturing, the situation Toyota faced was unique in that resources to build cars were limited. This might seem like a major hurdle to overcome for most, but it actually allowed Toyota to be more creative and efficient with the resources it did have. And that helped Toyota build quality into its cars, while also fostering a culture of problem prevention. This resulted in fewer defects and happier customers.

Today Toyota is the #2 auto manufacturer in the world with plenty of resources at its disposal, but the principles of doing more with less remain true. These days, the focus on doing more with less comes in the form of waste reduction.

For online marketers and IT departments, eliminating wasted opportunities is paramount. When a visitor reaches a website, the window of opportunity to make a sale or conversion is very limited. Showing irrelevant products, sending a shopper to the wrong landing page, bogging a website down with code that causes pages to load slowly, or creating confusing navigational options are all signs of waste such as over-production, over-processing or, essentially, doing more than is needed to satisfy a customer.

Instead, think about doing less by keeping the website simple and relevant to what the visitor wants in order to achieve high levels of satisfaction and loyalty, and increased revenues.

Lesson #2: The Right Message at the Right Time

During the 1980s, Toyota expanded upon its lean manufacturing program with the Just-In-Time (JIT) inventory control process, founded on the principle of having the right item/part/material/product at the right time for the right person.

JIT inventory control helped eliminate cost hidden in excess inventory and streamlined the production process to the point where cars were nearly being “made-to-order.” Instead of pushing inventory on consumers that might not be relevant, the JIT system “pulled” information from consumers and suppliers so that the right cars were being manufactured at the right time for the right individuals. The pull vs. push system increased Toyota's customer satisfaction, resulting in it becoming one of the largest auto manufacturers worldwide.

As mentioned before, every website has a finite amount of space to make an engaging impression that results in a conversion. If data shows high bounce rates for entry pages, it is likely due to visitors having irrelevant experiences that result in wasted opportunities (defects). The goal here should be to take the voice of the customer (VOC), and reduce the amount of bad experiences by being more relevant to them on the first visit. Instead of pushing products that you think they want, let them pull it from you by creating an experience that’s customized by their previous search behavior, specific entry point, or previous visit.

Similar to “doing more with less,” customizing the user experience to deliver “the right message or product to the right customer at the right time” should not only help increase the likeliness of increased conversions and revenue, but should also increase customer engagement, satisfaction, and loyalty. The residual benefit is that emotionally engaged customers not only spend more, but they become an extension of your marketing and help promote your brand.

Lesson #3: Build a Website Experience Like Toyota Builds Cars

[caption id="attachment_16196" align="alignright" width="240"] Graphic credit: The Manufacturer (UK/US)[/caption]

Toyota takes a systems thinking approach to building a car—and a customer experience. The company considers how each individual part (customers, suppliers, materials, environment, community, etc.) contributes to the whole. This information ensures that building quality cars results in highly satisfied, engaged, and loyal customers. It takes a massive amount of discipline to go through this process, but the end result is very rewarding.

Building a website experience should not be any different. Keep the following in mind:

• Plan, and plan again.

• Do your research through customer feedback and testing.

• Remember that testing allows you to learn more about your customers so that you can then provide them with better, more relevant experiences each time they visit your website.

• Gathering data and learning from your customers is like listening to them, too. By continuing to test and create relevant experiences, customers will give you valuable feedback that you might not gain otherwise through more direct methods.

If you consider all of the individual parts of building a relevant website experience (the whole), you will undoubtedly create a long-lasting network of loyal and engaged customers. And building upon an engaged customer base is critical for long-term, sustainable revenue growth, which is the most valuable lesson to be learned from Toyota.

Matt LeVeque is a Client Success Director at Monetate and a Senior Member of the American Society for Quality (ASQ). Prior to joining Monetate, he spent 10 years as a search engine marketing professional for startups to Fortune 500 companies. Matt is an avid cyclist and dreams of riding in the pro peloton … even at an advanced age.

Marifran Manzo-Ritchie is the former Director of Corporate Communications at Monetate. She has over 12 years of experience in helping companies create and share the messages that resonate with their target markets. In a previous life, Marifran worked as a radio news writer, producer and occasional on-air talent. She is always trying to learn the Italian language and the piano.

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