Companies continue to struggle with prioritizing the Customer over their business-as-usual, ingrained product and self-focused strategies. Upper management in many industries seem to be dragging their feet when challenged to quickly and energetically change business practices to better serve customers. These leaders seem to look at the “Customer” as if it were an abstract representation of a value on a spreadsheet -- instead of probably the single most important factor for most businesses.
Now from the customer perspective, which is what upper management should have as top priority, interactions with most companies are becoming more and more a multi-channel journey of multiple touch points that are used to communicate, gain information, compare vendor offerings, seek assistance, make purchases, register complaints, and so on. If companies meet the needs of customers, then those experience journeys will repeat over customer-preferred channels. Multi-channel strategies for customer engagement are imperative because customers are more and more the ones who choose how they will interact with companies and on which channels.
On the flip side, customers don’t see their interactions in terms of “channels” -- just like customers don’t care how or why a company’s business processes fail to provide an overall positive experience with the company. Customers see that they did or did not have a successful interaction and that they did or did not achieve what they wanted. The outcomes of these interactions influence how customers regard companies and whether they will continue doing business with them.
Once a company has made a commitment to becoming customer-focused for its business strategies and operations, there is work to be done: integration of channels, integration of business processes, and integration of data from customer interactions all become imperative. Integration of channels leads to understanding of touch points in individual channels as well as cross-channel. Aligning business process integration with the customer leads to creating single customer experiences across the enterprise and across communication channels. Integration of interaction data with operational data provides a more complete view of the customer in real time. Individual department and program goals across the enterprise must be also integrated and related to customer experience excellence.
Business processes must become a dynamic, intelligent and highly integrated interface for company interactions internally and externally. Most internal systems in companies should incorporate factors like customer experience and engagement, rather than functioning solely from a product, service or departmental perspective. Processes play a key role in bringing these factors together to achieve customer focus and relevance. Integration internal to the organization means cross-functional / cross-department teams to envision and implement customer strategies, translated into business processes that holistically connect the enterprise.
Like symbiotic relationships in nature, business-customer symbiosis is founded on the belief that customer goals and business goals can be aligned in ways advantageous to both parties. The relationship that a company has with its customers affects almost every area of the business and every point of interaction with the customer, internally and externally. That’s why effective business processes are so important to enable top-notch customer experiences.
For mutual benefit, the focus for all business processes shifts to customers to embrace what they want from companies, how they view companies and how they want to work with them. Agile business processes connect all parts of the enterprise to the individual points and stages of the customer experience journey. Business processes also encompass other enterprise practices and strategies. Business-customer symbiosis can ensure the integration of both perspectives to the benefit of both parties. Business process ties directly to desired business outcomes – which now must align with customer desired outcomes.
Data Fuels Process and the Customer Experience
Happily, companies have a lot of data sources to help them gain insights into their current and potential customers through analytics, real conversations, social media content, customer service interactions.
Data, information and intelligence are the fuel for effective business processes that support and promote successful customer experiences and interactions. By considering business processes and business information in parallel to customer-focused strategies and initiatives, business outcomes are likely to improve.
Customer interactions produce an escalating amount of data related to internal systems such as CRM and call center management, and related to external sites such as corporate websites and social venues. Significant issues impact the ability of enterprises to correlate all the data into the so-called “single view” of the customer:
- Social media data that is primarily content and crucially dependent on context for meaning
- Company-controlled data sources that do not easily reveal customer process or outcomes
- Complexity of integrations needed to bring all this disparate data together
- Pulling data together to reflect the customer perspective rather than the internal systems architecture
Data directly related to customer-focused processes is likely to get closer to providing the elusive customer “single view” where an integrated process spans multiple interactions, touch points, transactions, and systems. The right data fueling processes is an important part of designing innovative business strategies that truly focus on the customer. Deriving timely customer insights benefit the strategic and operational aspects of an enterprise. However, a good many customer interactions or touch points are increasingly shorter-lived due to the proliferation of digital channels and their use by customers. The opportunity for enterprises to meet customer desires and needs is becoming shorter for each interaction and increasingly difficult to capture, analyze and understand.
Business Process Management Meets Customer
Business process management (BPM) can no longer be solely focused on achieving operational efficiency and optimizing the business. Business processes must become more responsive to a focus on the customer, and become well-integrated across multiple systems to do so. BPM is crucial to customer-oriented systems as well as operational systems, and actually provides an essential piece to integrating these systems in order to better serve customer needs. Business processes are key to an agile holistic business strategy that helps customers achieve success with the company’s products and services. An interesting development in BPM is adaptive case management (ACM) that may be leading the way to greater convergence with customer systems such as CRM and call center applications.
An important aspect of BPM is continuous improvement, something that must happen for enterprises to respond to ever-changing markets and customer desires. To bring about customer-focused continuous change, enterprises need to articulate vision for strategies and initiatives from the customer perspective; and then tie process improvement to the customer experience. Working with customer data and analyses, enterprises may benefit from analyzing the ‘reverse engineering’ of outcomes expected by different customer segments, and then use insights to define how the enterprise should operate across process, organization, and technology domains to deliver optimal customer experiences and success.
Enterprises that allow separate solution and process silos for each channel to persist will greatly impede responsiveness to customers and will add to customer frustration by failing to provide one experience across channels. These enterprises probably did not start with a customer experience strategy and likely developed and/or acquired solutions specific only to individual channels without heeding the need for seamless integration of processes.
Business Process and Customer Experience Management Technology
Responsive and accurate support for customer interactions through people, processes and practices is a cornerstone of the management that enterprises can apply to enabling positive customer experiences. Enterprises must recognize that ‘management’ doesn’t mean controlling and dictating to the customer what the ‘experience’ will be. It does mean managing how well the enterprise provides a single experience across channels, how well it fulfills the needs and desires of customers based on customer terms, and even how well it delivers high quality products and services.
BPM can be instrumental for designing and maintaining effective and agile processes that are a sophisticated means to respond well to customer needs, while navigating many complex variables moving from customer to customer. Well-designed and customer-oriented processes make a big difference when integrating touch points for a ‘single view’ of customer interactions.
In the 2011 Forrester Wave for Web Content Management for Online Customer Experience, Stephen Powers defines customer experience management (CXM or CEM) software solutions as:
A set of solutions which enable the management and delivery of dynamic, targeted, consistent content, offers, products, and service interactions across digitally enabled consumer touchpoints. Previously, organizations, processes, and technologies to serve the online channels were silo’d, resulting in overhead, inconsistent experiences, and inability to measure results. However, as online initiatives have evolved and matured, so have product offerings to support those initiatives.
Three categories of solutions comprise online CXM: those based on process, delivery, and measurement:
Process-based solutions enable business users to create experiences. Process-based solutions consist of tools that business users (as opposed to IT users) use to create and manage structured and unstructured content for customer experiences. This category includes WCM, digital asset management (DAM), eCommerce, customer relationship management (CRM), marketing campaign management, marketing resource management, desktop publishing tools (such as Microsoft Word), and interactive development environments (IDEs).
Delivery solutions bring interactive experiences to customers. Vendors often tightly couple both WCM and eCommerce solutions with native delivery tiers, enabling businesses to create content and design and deliver experiences in a single package. But other technologies enable experience delivery, including rules- or algorithm-based content targeting solutions like search, personalization, and recommendations engines; marketing automation solutions such as campaign management and offer management; and customer service interaction management solutions that support customer data and history, customer self-service, knowledge management, and customer feedback management.
Customer intelligence solutions enable businesses to gauge the success of experiences. A/B and multivariate testing enable marketers and business users to test out variations of experiences on certain demographics before rolling them out to a broader audience. Web analytics tools give insight into how consumers consume content and interact with experiences. Social analytics provide insight into how consumers engage with companies by monitoring social interactions.
Source: BP Trends
Process Alignment: Voice of the Customer Meets Voice of the Business
Enterprises are accustomed to setting success metrics through KPIs related only to internal business process performance and internally-defined business outcomes. Unfortunately these metrics are frequently out-of-synch with customer perceptions of how well the enterprise met their expectations. Enterprise and customer metrics can be mismatched in other aspects of the customer experience:
For instance the business may define the process cycle time – the length of time the process takes to run – as measured from when the customer places the order to when the products are dispatched. The customer, on the other hand, may well perceive the time taken to be from when they first went on to the website to look for a product, to the point at which the product started working. Clearly there can be a substantial difference between the two measures.
Ideally we want to ensure that our measures of process effectiveness (the Voice of the Process) are the same as the customer’s measures (the Voice of the Customer), albeit the customer’s measures are informal measures.
Source: BP Trends
Juxtaposing customer and enterprise views of process, experience and success through customer journey diagrams will reveal the disconnects between enterprise perceptions and what customers are likely experiencing. Enterprises are still working on finding more ways to capture the actual customer experience since true direct insight is not easily attained. Insight is pieced together with data from many sources including customer surveys, content from social sites, repeat business with the same customer, customer transactions, and interactions with customer service.
Symbiosis at the Heart of the Enterprise
Enterprises continue to be challenged to deliver positive customer experiences that are mutually beneficial and crafted from the customer perspective. Instead of designing business processes integrated with a customer experience strategy, many companies just tack on aspects of monitoring customer interactions to existing processes. For many companies, the main focus is still on their own needs, their own problems to be solved by the business process. And frequently when enterprises say they are customer-focused, they really mean they are trying to engineer upsells and cross-sells for their own benefit, without necessarily delivering real value to the customer.
As I continue to emphasize in much that I write, technology alone is never sufficient: enterprises need integrated and agile processes that also recognize the importance of people and practices to achieve goals and positive business outcomes. To become a truly customer-focused organization that enables customer experience excellence, the entire enterprise must be part of the overall experience:
- Starting with Upper management: choose Customer as The strategic focus
- Enable and empower customer-focused people in every part of the enterprise
- Design processes that are flexible enough to change with dynamic markets and customer needs
- Draw on innovative information systems to fuel business processes and provide continuous customer insights for fostering customer experience excellence
Keeping the focus on customer outcomes will help align people, processes, practices, and technology to the continuous changes needed to facilitate optimal customer experiences over time. Neither customer experience excellence nor well-integrated business processes should be after- thoughts for business execution – they are the symbiotic heart of success.
About the author: Julie Hunt is an accomplished software industry analyst, providing strategic market and competitive insights. Her 25+ years as a software professional range from the very technical side to customer-centric work in solutions consulting, sales and marketing. Julie shares her takes on the software industry via her blog Highly Competitive and on Twitter: @juliebhunt For more information: Julie Hunt Consulting – Strategic Product & Market Intelligence Services