Customers Don’t Wait for Game-Changing Process
By J. Allen | Published Oct. 26, 2017
How Bad Do You Feel When Things Don’t Work for Customers?
Do You Take it Personally?
It’s happened again – you’ve received an Executive Escalation from the Customer Service team – a major account holder wants to “speak to whoever’s in charge around here.” After reading the complaint and the response from the team, you can see why the customer is upset – and it’s not the first time you’ve heard this complaint either. A few members of your leadership team have muttered something about this issue in passing. It’s clear there’s a process breakdown somewhere in the service delivery team and you need to do something about it. But first – it’s time to call the customer, find out more about their experience, and ask not to lose their business – it’s a big account, and you can’t jeopardize the relationship.
This is one of those “Golden Opportunity” moments – one where your choice of next step can ultimately result in a very different outcome than any other choice you make. Option A is to simply “get through” the conversation with the customer, breathe a sigh of relief, and make a note to inform the Service Delivery team leader that they’ve got a problem they need to fix. Option B is to engage the team leader in the conversation with the customer – that way, you’ll make sure the team leader knows what’s at stake and is more vested in fixing the issue. Option C – we’ll get to that later…
Before you dial the phone number to the customer, you remark to yourself “How does this keep happening? Don’t we have processes in place to prevent this kind of thing?” As the phone rings, you start to get frustrated that you have more important things to do! That frustration turns to relief when your call is sent straight to voicemail – you realize that you might want to do some more investigation before you speak with the customer about the process in question. You leave a voicemail for the customer, asking for a return call and an assurance that the matter will be dealt with immediately. And that’s your next step – find out more.
Does Your Heart Go Out to the Customers for the Pain We Caused Them?
I don’t know any leader who hasn’t been the primary actor in this scene – many times each year. Something within your organization is broken, and it just can’t seem to get fixed. Each time, you start to get the eerie feeling that there are other processes and procedures that are broken, outdated and non-essential in your organization. Will this be the time that you take a different course of action? It’s time to talk about Option C. The option where you view this customer issue as a gift, a tip, or intel, instead of something you would rather not hear.
Choosing the Option C path is the choice of a leader who is brave enough to take on the mundane topic of process improvement. We’ve worked with clients who begrudgingly admit they need to address this issue, but once they get started, their enthusiasm starts to build as they see that a fine-tuned service delivery, manufacturing or accounts payable process not only saves them money, their customer service scores rise. And at the risk of overselling the idea, when we’ve worked with clients and the improvement teams are encouraged to make decisions, the employee engagement rate spikes. Here’s the trick: How do you take this gift of criticism from the customer – and turn the complaint into a profit builder? It can be done! Here are some thought starters to consider:
Start With the Word Straight From the Customers’ Mouths
Remember that customer who, with a simple complaint that got escalated, started this whole process? It’s time to contact them (and others) and get more information on what really matters to them. We’ve found being able to engage with your customers, (and their customers) is the most efficient way to fine tune an organization’s process. Many organizations make assumptions about what their customers truly value about the relationship. Perhaps you think speed is more important than perfection, or value is more important than selection. If you haven’t asked your customer lately, then it’s just a set of assumptions. Using invalidated assumptions in a value scoring method can be wasteful and even dangerous to your brand. Remember: the speed of changing needs / trends is real in every industry. If you think yours is an exception, check again, really listen and learn. So, before you embark on any process improvement work – refresh your intel on customer needs and wants.
Starting to Stop – Eliminate Non-Value-Add Processes and Process Steps
Assume that a certain percentage of the processes and procedures you currently follow are a complete waste of money, time and talent. Don’t set your sights too low on this one – it could be as high as 50-70%! A Boston-based research firm has tracked process effectiveness across industries and internationally for over 25 years. Their findings: year in and year out, over 70% of process steps in any given process are non-value add. Even considering that maybe 20% of process steps are regulatory requirements, GAAP, etc. – that still leaves at least 50% of non-value add steps. Do you still think this is not a serious business topic to discuss?
Whether it be through risk aversion, risk mitigation, or simply to address a short-term issue process, steps simply get added – seemingly in the middle of the night! We call it Process Step Growth – a distant cousin of Scope Creep. Did we really do a good job of putting these new process steps through some kind of value filter? Was the risk that was mitigated worth the lifelong cost of the new process step, or was the step added to “Make the legal team happy?” Has anyone recently asked the question “Does the problem this process solve still even exist?” I’m guessing you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that our client work shows that the typical process owners aren’t able to clearly articulate the raison d’etre for every single step in their process. If that’s true in your organization, it’s time to start stopping that work! Here’s a tip – your employees are simply dying to tell you what those unnecessary process steps are – all you have to do is ask them! Using MBWA (Management by Walking Around)– start asking the question of your employees who are closest to the customer – “Can you trace everything you do back to benefitting the customer?” Prepare yourself – the answer will likely be “no” and it just might open a floodgate of new ideas (and some old grievances.)
Fine Tune the Piano – the Concerto Will Get Rave Reviews From Your Employees and Customers
Once you’ve started to stop those non-value-add steps, you can truly home in on those steps that have potential. Fine tuning process is hard work – you’ll likely have debates between team leads, platform and product owners. And that’s where the fun begins. A civilized and well facilitated debate like this brings not just a fine-tuned process, but something that could be revolutionary to your business. We commonly use the “Five Whys” with our client in these conversations. As we dig deeper into the genesis story, ownership rights and campfire history of process steps, we often see a burning platform emerge. New purpose, new utility, new ownership and a direct link to value – that’s the kind of process you want in your organization!
Be on the Lookout for Process Creep
Once you’ve reset the stage on process, don’t resort to old habits and thought patterns. Make sure you hold each other accountable for evaluating the efficacy of a new process. Here’s an example: one of our clients was keen on implementing a new “Financial Control” step in the Expense Account/reimbursement process because there were some individuals in the organization who were not appropriately documenting a specific kind of expense.
The proposed solutions added 2-3 process steps for the entire organization. When we asked the originator of the idea to estimate the organizational cost associated with the process change, then estimate the actual cost of the risk, we found that the cost substantially outweighed the risk – over five to one! It didn’t even come close to paying for itself. Then, the CEO turned to the originator of the idea and asked: “Can we identify those in the organization that your proposal is trying to address?” And when the answer of “yes” came, he knew his next step was to address the problem individually rather than have the entire organization take on the burden for an isolated incident. Again – always ask – “what problem are we trying to solve?” or “what opportunity are we trying to identify?” before implementing a new process. Effective processes ought to incorporate sufficient intel and metrics to reveal both emerging issues and opportunities.
A Word to the Wise
Before you jump to the conclusion that these process reductions will results in a 1:1 expense cuts – pause for a moment and turn your sights on investing those resources differently. Now that you’ve freed up capacity, ask your team to go back to their “dream project list” and see if these resources can be deployed against them. Haven’t spent enough time on development? Now is a good time to encourage your team to sharpen the axe. You’ll want those refreshed and recharged employees ready for the next stage.
Last, But Not Least
Finally – you’ve arrived at the moment you’ve dreamed of – you’ve begun to gleefully slash away the non-utilitarian processes, you’ve started a great dialog with your team on how to improve those processes that survive the value scoring effort. Doesn’t that feel good? You aren’t done yet, though. It’s time for some next generation thinking. Remember those time, talent and financial resources you gained from slashing no-value add processes? Hopefully they’ve had some time to be refreshed – because it’s time for new thinking. It’s time to think of process as a way to go after an opportunity, rather than solve a problem. There’s an old adage “You may be able to cut your way to profitability, but you can’t cut your way to growth.”
As a leader, you spend a lot of your day thinking about the bottom line. How much do you spend thinking about the top line? New business, new products, new markets. If you’ve done a good job in gaining capacity, it’s time to reinvest that capacity in creating an efficient path to seeking new opportunities. When you shift those resources to growth and new opportunity, you’ll likely see a positive trend of engagement with your employees, with the long-term reality of more satisfied customers.
A Reminder: Where Passions Grow, Solutions Follow
Is your heart broken by things that disturb customers? Are these situations that you take personally? It’s time to make a difference, create solutions that matter.
We Can Help
We help successful leaders and companies become even more successful. We can help bring these principles to life with your organization – we provide the tools and experience to help your team step up and take action. We’ve helped dozens of our clients implement this “new” way of thinking in their organizations.
Masters Alliance is a 30-year strategic management consulting firm that has helped more than 120 client organizations in over 20 industries in 13 countries gain a competitive advantage in their market. We help organizations develop and implement unique business approaches that work – faster than our clients ever thought possible.
We help clients achieve significant performance gains from a breakthrough understanding of their customers, patients, clients and markets.