Given the rapid expansion of social and mobile technologies, organizations have increasing opportunities to connect with customers. The IT organization will play a key role not only in capturing and analyzing customer data and increasing the number and value of online customer interactions, but also in terms of creating the means for internal departments to collaborate and better serve the needs of customers.
Some organizations mistakenly believe that customers want an online relationship with their company and bombard customers with surveys, questionnaires, and offers, whereas the reality is that what most customers really want is information and discounts. Organizations that examine and continuously improve their customers’ experience in their ease-of-search, ease-of-purchase, and ease-of-tracking delivery progress will likely gain advantage. Measuring what matters to customers in terms of factors such as perfect-order delivery performance and first-time-right responses to customer inquiries and complaints helps round out the picture of the customer experience.
The importance of viewing the business from the “outside-in” or the customer’s point of view is hardly new. I emphasized this concept over a decade ago in my book Business Process Management is a Team Sport: Play It to Win! Nevertheless, the majority of organizations persist in emphasizing a set of traditional financial performance measures over the timeliness and quality-based metrics that really matter to customers. This is particularly puzzling given the advances in analytics and Big Data — with techniques and technology that simply were not available a decade ago.
Gathering and analyzing customer data is just one challenge. Getting the various departments in an organization to work together to deliver an exceptional customer experience may be even more daunting. That’s where business process management suites (BPMSs) can play an important role. A robust BPMS includes not only a process modeling capability, but also a process engine and a rules engine. A BPMS also features analytics and content management, including document handling and version control, as well as collaboration through portals and forums. Portals are particularly useful in enabling personalized interfaces across departmental boundaries for managing tasks, contents, forms, documents, notifications, and reminders involved in a process.
In order to deliver on promises made to customers, cross-functional collaboration needs to be part of how the departments involved in executing the full set of marketing, sales, and support processes behave. How can we improve our performance in delivering orders on or before the promise date? How can we improve our performance in launching new products/services on our promise date? How can we improve our performance in responding to customer inquiries/complaints — first time right? These are just some of the questions that a BPMS can help an organization answer.
Connecting with customers and collaborating in delivering value requires close collaboration between CFOs and CIOs. CFOs typically provide standards and guidelines on what data is needed — and CIOs are frequently accountable for capturing needed data — especially as sophisticated analytical techniques evolve.
Avoiding certain misconceptions is equally important in deploying the organization’s resources to connect and collaborate with customers. Two of the more common misconceptions that can stand in the way of success are:
Delivering an exceptional customer experience is expensive. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. When an organization acts to streamline customer-touching processes and make good on its promises to customers, the cost of operations is reduced.
Process slows us down — and dampens innovation. In fact, an understanding of customer-touching processes and taking action to deploy technology in fueling collaboration across departmental boundaries is an important driver of innovation — especially in organizations dominated by knowledge workers.
Connecting with customers is a good start. Collaborating to create customer value is even better. I am reminded of a key principle that Ted Levitt is said to have taught at Harvard Business School about what customers really want: “People don’t buy a quarter-inch drill bit; they buy a quarter-inch hole. You’ve got to study the hole, not the drill. The drill is just the solution for it.”