Businesses use physical forms and electronic templates for completing all sorts of work. Examples of common customer-facing forms and templates include the account application form, customer satisfaction survey, invoice, and auto-response email to inquiries. In the back office, there are the business case template, data entry screen, and performance dashboard. All these are necessary to organize work. Unfortunately, they can be a productivity killer.
Consider the frustrations your employees experience in these scenarios:
- The account application form has a different format from the data entry screen—the data entry person needs to toggle through screens to find the corresponding data fields, taking more time to do the work
- Responses to customer inquiries use different terminologies—the customer support rep relies on the developer to do the varying data extracts properly, leading to high maintenance effort
- Variation in departmental and personal preferences for content and presentation format—the preparer of the information spends time on extracting slightly different content and reformatting
Accommodating these diverse needs can be time-consuming. Considerable time and effort are repeatedly wasted on re-dicing the information to fit the template someone else needs. To overcome these productivity dampers, follow these three steps.
- Gather needs with an inclusive view
In setting up a template, one tends to focus on his or departmental needs. Without engaging others who might have similar needs in the end-to-end process, the chance of having multiple work templates is high. This gives rise to duplicate effort in transferring information from one template to another. For those who use basic tools such as Excel to manage workflow and capture data in between systems, it is manual and error prone. The unending effort necessary to make corrections and follow-up is a vicious cycle.
- Standardize input whenever possible
Rejigging information is most troublesome when one template requires data that are not available. This requires backtracking. For example, companies require the social insurance number in order to issue the income tax receipt. If it is not collected for occasional, contract workers, it becomes a nightmare to do so at the end of the year. Some of these workers might have moved to another city. To bridge the gap between data capture and the need of the end user of the information, the collection of that information needs to be made a standardized requirement before any payment is made.
- Offer personalization of output selectively
Technology has made it easy to customize information presentation. While it is fine to have individuals personalize the content to suit their needs, it is not the best when decision makers refer to inconsistent data in weighing the options for a choice. Without an alignment on what information to use, assumptions, presentation format and interpretation, the discussion could quickly turn into debates about data integrity. In this case, offering personalization is a disadvantage.
Templates serve many purposes. By doing them right, they should be productivity boosters.