United We Stand, Divided We � Lose Customers
In my October and December 2007 columns I discussed how integration failures between an organization and its BPO providers can create a negative customer experience, and how focusing on intended outcomes could help to improve such scenarios. In this column, I want to dig a bit deeper into how to achieve such a focus using the key assets of process, information, technology, and organization.
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In my experience the following approaches are crucial:
You cant spell BPO without business process and one of the recent buzz phrases for how organizations operate their processes at a high level is, in fact, process orchestration. Although the phrase often focuses more on the workflow aspects of processes, Im going to take a broader view of orchestration in a few areas:
Integrate state-fully - Organizations can outsource an entire business process or a subset thereof. Either way, its likely that the process needs to integrate with other processes residing internally and/or externally to that organization. Too often, process integration is viewed from a structural standpoint rather than process state. Its the difference between asking, How should we link these processes together? and, Under what conditions do other interdependent processes need to understand this process, and what do they need to understand?
Incorporating process state considerations into integration plans can help alleviate issues like those I described in my previous columns. In my case, the organizations BPO providers didnt understand the state of my transaction, nor did they have crucial information when needed, and I had to perform the integration manually.
Instrument logically - Ive touched on this in previous columns, and process instrumentation is key to understanding whether intended outcomes are being achieved. Since its hard to manage what you dont measure, I believe sensory mechanisms are crucial to process orchestration.
In my case, such mechanisms could have helped alert the organization to the nature and state of my order and that there were unresolved issues. Some of you might think this is a lot of infrastructure to deal with a small number of exceptions, and I agree that an organizations business priorities should hold sway. However, Ive sent over $10M of client business to the organization, and my transactions totaled over $20K for my small business alone.
Considering the tools available to implement process instrumentation, and the avenues available to discuss poor service, an important question is how much is it worth to any organization not to fail its customers?
Operate resiliently - One definition of resiliency is the ability to adapt positively to change. Given my situation, the organization could have applied resources to understand the inherent disconnects, and then steward their resolution and ultimately produce intended outcomes outside of the normal process flow. The integration and instrumentation approaches I described earlier enable effective process performance, and can also help to provide resiliency. Why make good customers solve process issues?
Manage holistically - At a high level, business process management encompasses process definition, execution, measurement and refinement. In my experience, a holistic view of process performance relative to best practices, resource efficiency and other relevant aspects is an effective approach to ensuring intended outcomes. The conductor leads the orchestra together.
Conducting the Business Process Orchestra
As you might guess, the broader view of orchestration Ive just posited must actually come to life within elements of information, technology and organization in order to help
achieve intended outcomes.
Here are some important points to live by:
Organize for accountability Leading manufacturers use practices which enable almost any individual worker to stop the line to identify and fix issues. I maintain that this approach can be adapted to other types of organizations so that any person can take stewardship of a situation in order to step outside of the defined process flow in order to solve problems and reach intended outcomes.
For example, in my case, I was transferred over 40 times to at least 17 different people. Why couldnt someone stop the line? On a larger scale, leading organizations have instilled accountability throughout their entire fabric to focus on intended outcomes in terms of performance measurement, reward systems and other key areas. What is your organization doing to align with, measure and reward intended outcomes, both internally and with BPO providers? Just as important, are the organizations reward systems congruent with intended outcomes? If one answer is, We try to solve customer problems but were measured on call volume and resolution time then the dissonance should be obvious.
Share information in business time This point is a natural extension of the state-based integration I described earlier. Organizations frequently talk about real-time information sharing, but I think its more accurately framed as business-time information sharing. The notion of business-time expresses for me not only the need for low latency but also the imperative of process state: What information needs to be shared? In what context? For usage by whom?
Additionally, the information sharing will have necessary coupling to logical process instrumentation mechanisms in order to enable intended outcomes. Simple file-based integration might be okay for many situations, but with apologies to Maslow, if the only tool you have is file transfer then every problem looks like an FTP session.
Look at the intended outcomes first. In my case, information was shared well enough to send me a customer service survey from three different BPO providers, but they couldnt share the information needed to solve my problem.
Apply technology for agility I wont attempt to discuss technology very deeply here. Suffice it to say that a great majority of organizations trying to enable intended outcomes have access to a dizzying array of tools to enable the types of approaches Ive discussed. Certainly, the decision will depend on skills, costs, legacy infrastructure and myriad other factors that should combine to present a strong business case. When developing the business case, however, dont forget to factor in the influence of achieving intended outcomes, which could become manifest in various areas both quantitative (customer retention) and subjective (customer satisfaction).
Finally, dont go through the day without taking off the blinders. As Ive hopefully shown, there are examples of achieving, or failing to achieve, intended outcomes all around us. Some organizations succeed in spite of themselves, some get lucky and some fall down even with a theoretically good approach. As one of my first martial arts teachers
observed, we should borrow and adapt whats useful for us, and let go of the rest.
Mark Cioni, President of MV Cioni Associates, Inc., has been helping global businesses to improve their decisions, operations and performance for over 25 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.