Adapt Business Process Improvement for Customer Experience

6 minute read
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To deliver great customer experiences, firms must orchestrate a complex system of interdependent people, processes and technology. 

The combination of these forces is something that Forrester calls the customer experience ecosystem. To fully understand how they deliver customer experiences today and make meaningful improvements going forward, customer experience professionals must map their company’s ecosystem and adopt best practices from the emerging field of service design.

But pushing change across that ecosystem is hard. To address the challenges, many business process leaders are joining forces with their customer experience (CX) colleagues. Ultimately, Forrester believes these two groups need to unite to transform, optimize and continuously improve the outcomes delivered to customers.

Business process improvement groups enhance CX teams with:

  • Credibility. Business process improvement methodologies like Lean and Six Sigma have been applied successfully for decades. These data-driven methodologies provide a disciplined approach that plays equally well with both product and services firms. When Vanguard set out to simplify a complex error-prone process that was causing its clients unwelcome angst, it called in process experts from its Center for Excellence. The result was a faster process with fewer errors -- and a flood of unsolicited “thank you” notes from clients who raved about the improvement to their experience.
  • Scale. Firms that have rolled out business process improvement efforts often have a cadre of trained people embedded across the organization. Tapping into this resource helps customer experience pros extend the reach of their efforts beyond the small teams they typically oversee. From the perspective of business process improvement teams, this is a natural partnership: As their efforts mature, they typically embrace customer experience as a core focus.
  • Valuable tools and process. Methodologies in the process improvement toolkit complement those used by customer experience designers. What’s more, typical process improvement approaches like Six Sigma’s DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, implement and control) or Lean’s PDCA (plan, do, check and act) align naturally with common design approaches (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 Customer Experience and Process Improvement Approaches Follow a Similar Flow

Learning Opportunities

But Business Process Fixes Alone Don’t Guarantee Good Experiences

While business process improvements can lead to better experiences by eliminating defects (Six Sigma) or improving efficiency (Lean), these fixes don’t guarantee success. That’s because business process improvement initiatives can:

  • Neglect the emotional aspect of experiences. Process improvement teams often overlook the importance of emotion when redesigning a customer interaction.

    Houston airport spent millions on reducing the total wait time for retrieving bags, a source of many customer complaints. Even though it succeeded in cutting the average wait time in half -- down to eight minutes -- it didn’t reduce the number of complaints. That’s because customers didn't mind the one minute walk from the gate to the baggage claim area -- what bothered them was the seven minutes they spent standing around at the carousel -- especially because it was so long, compared with their walk.

  • Narrowly focus within process silos. Improving the efficiency of a particular process within a business silo might be a wasted effort if that process is part of a larger customer journey that extends across silos -- or even across companies.

    Business leaders at FedEx set out to reduce the number of missed deliveries: instances where customers aren't home to receive a package. A route cause analysis revealed that the problem often started with poor quality information captured when the consumer ordered a product from a retailer or a manufacturer.

  • Fail to design for flexibility. A dogmatic focus on standardizing business processes -- which arguably makes sense for manufacturing products -- misses the inherent variability present in today’s services-based world. That’s why American Express turned away from call center scripts and moved toward hiring and empowering employees who can ask probing questions to understand customers’ unique situations and anticipate future needs.

The Outside-In Approach to Business Process Improvement

Customer experience teams, business process pros and architecture specialists must work together in a coordinated way that benefits customers and, ultimately, the organization. This means learning to understand each group’s respective change methodologies and then aligning them to work together. To make this partnership work, firms will:

  • Shift to an outside-in perspective. Firms need to re-frame continuous improvement efforts around the outcomes that matter most to customers. Customer experience methods like qualitative research, personas, customer journey maps, ecosystem maps and perception metrics help refocus processes, behaviors and systems to support the desired experience.
  • Realign the organization. Firms need to revisit their business architecture -- a coordinating framework for organizational analysis and change -- to redefine how the organization will deliver value to customers in the future.

    At the heart of this change is a move from traditional, functionally oriented management and governance models to one centered on key customer journeys or scenarios. For example, USAA has identified approximately 100 key journeys (e.g. buying a car or preparing to deploy abroad), all of which have owners and cross-functional teams held accountable for underlying processes.

  • Transform the culture. To sustain the momentum for transformation, firms need to embed their efforts in the organization’s culture. This comes from engaging trusted employees to purposefully design new customer experiences. Begin by building a team of change agents to evangelize and lead improvement projects. Intuit has 200 “Innovation Catalysts," especially trained design-thinking “Jedis” deployed across the company to help the organization better deliver delight. Change-management guru John Kotter recommends recruiting upward of 10 percent of employees to work on change efforts in order to create lasting transformations.

What it Means

This might sound like a recipe for boiling the ocean, but the fast-track to change from a product-centric company to one focused on the outcomes delivered to customers requires nothing short of a full scale cultural transformation. And that’s no small task since true organizational transformation involves being prepared to change how value is delivered and how the firm is organized.

Most importantly, it also means working on the behavioral norms for everyone in the company: how you think and engage both employees and customers. Neither business process professionals nor customer experience professionals can do this alone.

Editor's Note: If you'd like to read other thoughts on the Customer Life Cycle, go no further. 

About the author

Paul Hagen

Paul Hagen is a senior principal with West Monroe Partners in San Francisco where he heads the firm’s customer experience and innovation strategy. He is an experienced strategy, customer experience, and marketing professional with over 20 years of market research, human-centered design, technology and digital strategy, facilitation and project management experience and a track record for creating solutions that enable business goals through innovative technology and systems.