Calming the Chaos - Using Business Processes to Produce Predictable Outcomes

In many organizations, there are some activities that seem to be in perpetual chaos. Perhaps it's the month end reporting cycle, or perhaps it's order fulfilment.

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Well designed and well managed processes can help instil order to an organization, ensuring that resources are used wisely. In this article, we discuss how to begin taming the chaos.

In many industries, it is easier than ever for customers to research and find alternative suppliers. 

Whereas twenty years ago comparing products would be costly and time-consuming, now with little more than a smartphone or web browser, a consumer has access to a plethora of information about a wide range of products and services and can switch very easily.  It is more important than ever to ensure that we really understand our customers and that we are providing them with an experience that fully meets their needs.

Many organizations are, quite understandably, increasing their focus on designing enhanced customer experiences.  One aspect of customer experience that is often overlooked is the importance of consistency.   Arguably one thing even worse than delivering a consistently bad experience is delivering an inconsistent one! Every interaction that a customer has with an organization creates a future expectation—and if they receive excellent service it ‘raises the bar’ for the next interaction that they have.

Imagine going to a 5-star restaurant.  The booking process is slick, you are greeted by name when you arrive, and the food is fantastic.  The bill comes and it’s wrong—and worse than this, it takes 20 minutes for it to be corrected.  Eventually the manager steps in, apologizes, and agrees to give you a 50% discount off your next meal.  You feel inconvenienced and a little frustrated but you decide to come again (after all, 50% is a big discount…).  Now imagine that next time you arrive, you can’t get through via phone to make a reservation.  When you do get through, there’s confusion over times, and when you arrive the restaurant isn’t ready for you.  You might just about feel that this is acceptable because you’re paying half-price… but you probably wouldn’t ever return again.  The fact that the experience is inconsistent (you never know whether it’s going to be good or bad) means that at some point your expectations are likely to go unmet.  Ironically, the fact that the core service (providing food) is consistently good is irrelevant, the experience has been let down by seemingly simple logistics and administration.

This might sound like a curve-ball example, but it has direct parallels with many organizations, particularly where business processes have ‘emerged’ and have not been consciously designed.  We might find, for example, that certain members of staff undertake particular tasks very differently—and that this leads to a very different experience for the customer.   Different team members might have internalized different priorities.  At a check-in counter at a hotel, some team members may focus on ensuring that every piece of data on the IT system is complete and correct (with the assumption that it wouldn’t be on the system if it isn’t needed), leading to repetitive questions being asked to the customer.  Another might take the view that the data on the IT system is not used, and might focus on providing information about the hotel to the customer.   Without knowing the context, it is difficult to say which is the ‘right’ approach (or if there is a third, better, possibility), but the inconsistency is likely to confuse and frustrate customers.

One way of building consistency into our operations is to define a set of end-to-end business processes, with clear steps and outcomes, and use these to define or guide how key tasks should be undertaken.  Working with the people that undertake the work, we can look to understand how the tasks are currently undertaken, the differences that exist, and work with other stakeholders to make sure the final process design is both efficient and effective.  We can work with others to determine the level of variation that should be expected, and ensure that those undertaking the work are empowered to deal with exceptional circumstances as they arise.  Having a core of standardization, but accepting that there will be variation—in some exceptional circumstances—allows us to provide a consistent experience whilst also ensuring that we can cater for a whole range of different scenarios.  Our customers will thank us for this!

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