Over the past 15 years, most large companies have redesigned their critical business processes in a noble attempt to better serve customers, cut costs and gain competitive advantage. And while many companies have succeeded in reducing costs, achieving customer service and competitive advantage objectives have proven much harder.
In fact, in today's demanding business environment, where service expectations are higher than ever before, customer service is competitive advantage. Nevertheless, today many consumers of services across a broad range of industries perceive service levels to be decreasing rather than increasing.
Why is this the case? We at Hoskins Davis believe that inadequate or inappropriate communications within and among critical business processes are major sources of dissatisfaction among internal and external process customers.
A good process, particularly a critical one, is greater than the sum of its tasks. Too many processes are built with an inward focus, where work is designed to support corporate needs and desires, not those of the customer. Many times, this orientation is seen as necessary to obtain the cost savings needed to justify a process design project. But when the process is rolled out, customers are often frustrated with longer wait times in call queues, complex and time-consuming voice response routes and the necessity of leaving voice-mail messages for customer representatives who are "too busy helping other customers" to speak with them.
To be sure, technology plays a central role in process communications. However in many cases vital communications elements which have a direct bearing on both internal and external customer satisfaction are either ignored or are inappropriately applied.
An initial first step in solving this problem is to closely and critically examine targeted business processes for the adequacy of key process communications attributes.
These attributes describe specific communications elements vital to effective process support and performance. These attributes include (but are not limited to) the following:
What kind of information are your customers searching for? Message content should quickly identify and "zero in" on these needs while anticipating and accommodating a broad range of customer backgrounds and expertise. The opportunity for users to supply key pieces of information, such as a product number to aid database searches, should be made as early as possible. In addition, the kind of messages users hear while his or her query is being processed are also key elements of communication content.
what form should communications take as the process is executed? Message presentation formats should be closely matched to the preferences expressed by your best and most influential/profitable customers. As information technology continues to pervade homes and offices, choices include voice (both human and automated), e-mail, fax, commercial on-line services, the World Wide Web, etc. In our product information request example, product inquiries are commonly handled via automated voice response unit (VRU). But is this appropriate for all users of the process? What alternatives should be provided to process users and how are these alternatives best presented?
what is reasonable from a customer viewpoint as to how long the communications process should take from start to finish? Can the message be processed as close to instantaneously as possible? What alternatives are feasible? Can "shortcuts" be designed into the process?
what is the volume of communications the process should be capable of handling without causing excessive wait times for customers? Adequate capacity, along with a good "safety margin" will facilitate the quality and performance of communications channels.
What data is required to support the process, and where does this data come from? Is the data time sensitive? Can it be extracted from existing data warehouses or must it come from real-time production data files? Also, what kind of historical data about the query (in this case) needs to be preserved for audit and marketing purposes?
a good closure process ensures clarity on the part of the customer that his or her transaction has been satisfactorily completed. If an order is involved, an order number and a contact may be provided in case the customer has any additional questions or follow-up issues regarding the transaction.
Other relevant communications attributes and requirements are also reviewed. For example, it may be important that a process communicate with other processes to obtain, pass or post relevant data. Also, attributes such as cost, process data integrity and performance measurement metrics are important and are closely scrutinized.
A thorough review of process communications attributes and performance is critical because of the high level of customer visibility involved. The high "touch and feel" associated with the best service providers all stem from well-planned and executed process communications.
Surprisingly, processes designed with poor communications features are the rule rather than the exception. A major differentiation in customer service levels await companies who optimize their processes in this way.
In business as in marriage, inadequate communication will eventually lead to process failure. However, if communications are carefully designed and well executed, critical processes will be positively distinguished, customer satisfaction will increase and substantial strategic advantage will be gained.Hoskins Davis has worked successfully with a variety of clients in designing high performing business processes. We are committed to excellence in creative designs which support the strategic positioning of your company. If you would like additional information, or are planning to design or review the adequacy of your business processes, please contact Hoskins Davis for additional information.