Using BPM to Solve Nagging Customer Complaints

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How to solve nagging customer complaints that never go away

 

If your company has over 100 employees and faces difficult customer service problems, it’s likely that they have become intractable. They aren’t fixed easily because the solution does not reside in the hands of front-line personnel. Instead, they exist because your organization is too big for small-scale solutions.

 

Every company which grows above a certain size discovers a new class of stubborn problems which can’t be solved by tinkering with Customer Service Representatives (CSR’s.)

Take the case of a call you make to complain about the inaccuracy of a bill. No matter how nice, empathetic or professional the CSR is, she is far removed from the source of the issue. All she can do is record the fact that it exists.

If you suspect that the fault originates deep in the bowels of the organization, you may be right. For example, the three departments who must cooperate to resolve the problem report to different people who each have their own agendas. From their personal point of view, you are collateral damage: not a priority. As far as they are concerned, their boss believes they are doing a great individual job.

In such a situation, further training of front-line staff makes no difference. Neither will hiring new CSR’s. How do the best companies go about resolving these issues systematically?

 

  1.      Illuminate the Customer Journey

 

By In a simple operation like a patty shop, it’s easy for managers to monitor the flow of experiences you have as a customer from entrance to exit. However, as companies become more complex, your “customer journey” grows to span multiple organizations and more people. Before long, no-one can see, let alone manage your end-to-end experience. It’s ignored.

As you get handed off from one department to another in a game of “Royal Runaround,” it’s possible to meet some very nice employees along the way. It’s just that no-one is responsible for the entire length of the abominable process you are stuck inside.

Unfortunately, most companies are only equipped to handle single fires. Process problems require a different approach.

I recall one of my clients who sincerely believed that it took a mere seven days to handle a new application. In fact, investigations revealed that the actual elapsed time from the customer’s point of view was closer to a shocking 15 days.

Companies who fix this particular kind of poor service start with an appreciation of your journey as a customer. It’s defined as the sequential flow of touchpoints you experience and it can only be discovered when employees walk in your shoes.  This is the first step, but these kinds of changes don’t happen in a single corrective intervention.

 

  1. Systematic Process Improvement

Only a few firms go further and set up a permanent, cross-functional team to manage the processes that make up the customer journey.

They undertake the following minimum Business Process Management (BPM) activities:

–          -Baseline the current process/customer journey.

–          -Find and execute quick wins.

–          -Establish and monitor performance metrics.

–          -Use the new data to implement process changes.

This cycle is repeated ad infinitum, often with the help of a coach. However, each change is limited in duration in the absence of proper governance outside the team.

 

  1. Making Improvement Permanent

Sometimes, the team makes terrific progress just by empowering itself. Unfortunately, their success hastens the moment when further time, money, technology and additional human resources are needed. Now, the endorsement of the company is required.

A good place to start is to establish a new position in the organization: a “Process Owner.”

This individual must possess a blend of technical, political and communication skills to lead the team through the four BPM steps shared earlier.

They also are held accountable for the ongoing improvement of the customer experience and process performance. To be successful, they pull together people from different departments who have competing interests.

Process Owners make sure that the company pays attention to the space between silos, tying the customer’s piecemeal experiences into a single whole.

 

It’s hard work. But their very existence is important as it highlights the precarious nature of the customer’s journey through a complex organization.

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These three changes may sound easy to implement but they fly in the face of cultures which promote loyalty to one’s manager over loyalty to the customer. As such, preventing service abominations and Royal Runarounds requires a shift in power from line managers to Process Owners. Most resist such changes.

The fact is, this process transformation is required if a company is to scale to the next level and meet its service aspirations. Now, it must think about the customer quite differently and embrace the challenge of being a complex but successful organization.

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

 

 

Why great strategy retreats confront the ugliest truths

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Why a Great Strategy Retreat Starts by Confronting the Ugliest Truths

 

What’s the harm, in your next strategic planning retreat, of restricting the discussion to focus on the positives – the potential of the future? After all, everyone wants to walk away inspired by what can be accomplished, not bogged down by past losses and ugly failures. Should this sentiment be used to set the agenda to limit certain discussions while encouraging others?

 

If you are the meeting planner or sponsor, it’s a dilemma. For example, some may suggest renaming the meeting a “forward” to keep things positive.

 

This probably won’t make much of a difference, but here’s something that will. Before the retreat begins, clearly script the first few agenda items so that you achieve a balance between activities that look to the past with ones that carve out the future. Keeping this intention in mind is better than the alternative: leaving it entirely up to the participants to decide. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to fall prey to groupthink, only to settle on a poor decision that ruins the quality of the outcome.

Google probably won’t help you find the right script for your event, or hint that a change is needed in mid-stream. If you only plan a single retreat per year, here are three inside secrets known only to experienced facilitators.

 

Secret #1: Don’t Ignore Human Nature

 

The purpose of a strategic planning retreat is twofold. One is to make high-quality decisions which, when assembled, chart a favorable future for the company. The second is more subtle – to bring everyone together on the same page.

 

The fact is, anyone can write a strategy document – a CEO, Chairman or even an outside consultant. The main reason to do things differently, to use a team, is to ensure that there is wholehearted support from each individual. This is an emotional result, not a logical one.

To achieve it, understand that team-members are likely to share an unspoken question at the start: “What is known, and by whom?”

 

Even teams who work side-by-side every day face this quandry. It’s the reason a good marriage therapist begins by establishing a base of facts both parties can agree on.

 

In much the same way, participants have a profound need to create a “Joint View” of current business reality. In our retreats, we build it in real-time using past data.

The end result is composed of five perspectives. Four are borrowed from the Balanced Scorecard (Financial, Customer, Process, and People) and we also add a summary of external forces described by the acronym PESTER (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Regulatory.)

 

It’s human nature to want such a Joint View to emerge, alongside the warm feeling of fellowship that accompanies it.

Secret #2: Watch for Signs of Trouble

There are times, however, when this process is short-circuited. For example, someone powerful may “suggest” that a document they have written is a sufficient substitute for this particular exercise. If the team backs the potential shortcut, agreeing may be the only option.

 

If you do, stay alert for a sign of trouble.

 

As team-members articulate visionary ideas, observe if they are repeatedly requesting present-day information. If this occurs, they are being hampered in their efforts to create the future by a lack of understanding regarding today’s reality.

 

For example, a plan to double revenue in ten years is useless if the actual levels of current sales and the precise drivers are not known. Even the best-written document fails to provide the multi-perspective insight that a full group discussion generates.

 

This isn’t to say that it should be discarded. Instead, use it as a start: a point of departure.

 

Secret #3: Be Bold in Getting the Right Information

 

Sometimes, to help the team complete this real-time, Joint View, you must be bold to source the right data.

 

If Internet access is necessary, obtain it. If the employee with the information is at work or home on a weekend, call her. The issues being decided in the retreat are career-defining and require a certain level of urgency and commitment. It’s the perfect time to be unreasonable given how much is at stake.

 

Of course, you are better off anticipating the need for this data. For example, if your industry is undergoing business process automation, then having an expert on call is a great idea.

 

But you cannot fully predict which direction the discussion will go so be prepared to be resourceful.

 

The point here is to be ruthless in your pursuit of the truth as a necessary building block of a sound strategic plan. Once it’s accepted in mind and heart, the team is ready to create a new vision that inspires them and those whom they represent.

 

There is just no shortcut: a joint agreement around even the ugliest truths cannot be circumvented.

 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

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