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Guest Blogger: Paul Hagan | February 8, 2013

Adapt Business Process Improvement Efforts for Customer Experience

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To deliver great customer experiences, firms must first design them and then orchestrate the complex system of interdependent people, processes, and technology that Forrester calls the customer experience ecosystem to deliver them. Customer experience (CX) pros often know a lot about the design part and uncovering customer needs, but often struggle with changing the operational underpinnings required to deliver on the vision. Conversely, business process management (BPM) pros have the chops to re-engineer business processes, but when focusing on the objectives of internal stakeholders in departmental silos or when reporting up into back-office people like COOs and CFOs, they have little interaction with, much less understanding of, customer needs outside of voice of the customer spreadsheets.

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The good news is that I'm starting to see business process leaders joining forces with their customer experience colleagues to leverage their counterpart's strengths and ameliorate some of the weaknesses. Ultimately, Forrester believes these two groups need to unite in order to transform, optimize, and continuously improve the outcomes delivered to customers.

CX Pros: Consider the strengths business process improvement teams can bring to your effort.

Business process improvement groups can 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).

Figure Customer Experience and Process Improvement Approaches Follow a Similar Flow

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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. Customers still spent 88 percent of their time after leaving the plane standing around at the carousel not knowing when to expect their bags. The operational fix overlooked emotional aspects such as anxiety, uncertainty, and distractions that feed customer perceptions.

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.

Take an outside-in approach to business process improvement
Customer experience teams, business process pros, and architecture specialists need to 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 need to:

Shift to an outside-in perspective. Firms need to reframe 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 -- the 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 ones (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," specially 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.

For the deeper insight on how CX and BPM teams can work together, check out my recent research report, "Adapt Business Process Improvement For Customer Experience."

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About the Author: Paul Hagen is a principal analyst at Forrester Research serving Customer Experience professionals. He blogs at http://blogs.forrester.com/paul_hagen

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