Process Management Essentials for Extraordinary Customer Experiences

An extraordinary customer experience can only be provided through a deep understanding, and thorough exploration of process management.

process management diagramAnd, of course, the process map must include an effective diagram of the customer experience; but more on that at the end.

Process management is the explication and organization of your firm’s work into a living document (albeit, digital and largely comprised of graphical symbols) that describes how you meet customer needs today and how you expect to meet those needs tomorrow.

Traditionally these two views are described as the “as is” process and the “to be” process. The “as is” captures your current workflows, the “to be” describes enhancements you are deploying or plan to deploy in the future. Some process documents are 10 pages; some are 10,000 pages. 90% of the time: 10 are too little, 10,000 are too much; unless you’re manufacturing engineered goods or working at a Fortune 500 firm.

What is the right level of process documentation? Naturally, there are a variety of opinions from a variety of experts, but everyone must recognize that the cost of exacting process documentation becomes overwhelming for most firms.

Process documentation should be an outcome of efficient training, industrial engineering, and technology programs. To the extent that process documentation is maintained in the absence of continual real world application, in most cases, it falls into disuse and disrepair very quickly.

Many companies have extensive libraries of process documentation that are used to impress visiting Baldrige examiners and FDIC auditors, but provide little else of practical value. Process documentation, to be of real value, must be used or tossed.

A typical corporation will have 6-12 enterprise level processes. Each of these enterprise processes can have dozens to hundreds of sub-processes with dozens to hundreds of steps in each process. A process description catalogs these steps so that optimization opportunities can be identified in an efficient manner. The process description is not the point; the internal dialog about the description is the point.

A process is simply a description of the path work must wander from initiation to completion. In classical quality theory each process begins and ends at an external customer in order to keep a clear focus on value creation. Therefore, a process definition would start with a customer ordering a product and end with that product delivered to the customer.

Often this classical definition is useful, but not vital, and should not get in the way of practical improvements. A process will describe that a part must go from casting to machining to polishing, but it will not typically describe how to do casting, how to do machining, or how to polish. The description of the task itself is captured in training materials and job aides.

Where the process description is brilliant is in capturing that 20% of the work rejected by polishing is because the finished edges coming out of machining are too large to fit the polishing jib.

The process description becomes genius when the factory discovers that the casting temperature is too low, which bollixes the machining, which wrecks havoc on the polishing operations. 90% of the big quality glitches, which consume 30% of the resources of most corporations, are cross-functional.

The size of the firm becomes the enemy as processes that are connected from the customer’s perspective are disconnected inside a large enterprise. Local optimization efforts, lacking knowledge of the whole, create insurmountable quality obstacles to other departments in the value chain. Process mapping and process management are the only known way to identify and attack this enormous waste of shareholder resources.

There are still huge gaps in the optimization investment strategies adopted by firms. Too often investments in technology focus solely on development of use cases developed by business analysts who do not incorporate the re-engineering methodologies normally applied by industrial engineers. Again, this is a typical cross-functional breakdown.

Use cases capture the “as is” and a whinny, subjective vision of the “to be”, but, without a formal process modeling and optimization step, much of this automation is doomed to be replaced over the next few years as the real improvements are uncovered.

Deming, Juran and others, argued that automation should be the last step taken after extensive process optimization left only the essence of the process extant. Dramatic reductions in the costs of technology have obviated this argument, but there is still much to be gained from combining the two techniques.

A big step beyond process documentation, process management is the utilization of customer-anchored workflows to organize value/quality reporting, executive fire drills, and enterprise re-engineering. The most complicated element of process management is that work is most efficiently organized by task competency groupings (a.k.a., departments or work groups) and customer value is most often created, or destroyed, by cross-functional processes that cannot interact successfully without an omniscient perspective.

Make no mistake; process management is an entirely different beast than process mapping. Anyone could, and should, do process mapping; only the Chairman and the CEO can institute process management.

Process management implies that owners assigned at the enterprise level are responsible for quality outcomes irrespective of the department that initiated the error. This is incredibly powerful, but incredibly difficult to implement.

The reality is that most department heads or functional president have achieved their positions precisely because they are experts at defeating traditional bureaucratic controls; lassoing them at this point in their careers requires a cowboy with a quicker draw and a sharper knife; a very difficult find.

With this understanding of processing mapping it should also be clear that the right CRM tools must enable modern service center environments. Client transactions are too complex and the costs of failure too high to justify operating in either a manual or a legacy system environment.

CRM systems now tie together critical client data, the telephonic/network environment, and workflow tools to maximize the value exchange between the customer base and the service environment. In most instances, “service” is obsolete nomenclature as service now represents the entire range: the brand, product, sales, and service are all merged in the delivery of value and the maintenance of loyalty across the customer base. The classical “moment of truth” must now be re-defined as the peripeteia (turning point) of client loyalty.

This brief précis of process description and process management would not be complete without touching, however briefly, on the a new horizon, i.e., the affective diagram of the customer experience. Process descriptions and process management are necessary prerequisites for providing an extraordinary customer experience, but an affective diagram is essential to reach the next level.

Historically, customer experience is defined by attributes of product, service, loyalty, and, sometimes, CRM technology. The newest horizon is to add the affective, or emotional content, to the service/product/brand interaction. Although more subtle, it is critical that service/product/brand be viewed together with the affective dimension as the nexus of the customer experience. In some case the affective dimension (i.e., how do you feel about the product’s emotional attributes) is the only dimension that matters.

An experience diagram maps the customer’s emotional reaction as they traverse the various elements of brand, product and service. By mapping this reaction, companies can then focus their resources on ensuring that each of these critical elements creates an impression that equates to overall value.

Music videos, rock concerts, entertainers, and playwrights have been carefully and concisely evaluating these additional dimensions for millennia. Adding this affective dimension to the incredible value of optimized process descriptions and process management can create a brand structure that is highly differentiated from the competition.

About the Author

Steven Grant is a former customer service executive from American Express with over 25 years devoted in Fortune 500 companies analyzing, improving and delivering on enhanced customer experiences.

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