Daydream Nation

I recently blogged on the deluge of disengagement among U.S. employees and stated that major achievements in productivity and customer experience will not be achieved until organizations tap into this 70% pool of disengaged employees and convert them to motivated employees.

A further breakdown of the data is now available which shows that levels of engagement are even worse in Western Europe. If the U.S. is experiencing a deluge of disengagement, Europe is already sandbagging and sending out the lifeboats. The highest engagement level is in Denmark with only 21% of employees engaged and France leads the way in levels of employee disillusion and apathy with only 9% of employees engaged.

As previously stated a host of social, economic and cultural reasons probably lie behind these figures. Undoubtedly however a large number of these employees are trapped in roles where they have little autonomy to influence how their work gets done. Locked into fixed inflexible processes in the restaurant, checkout or at a keyboard. From a customer service and experience point of view this 70-80% pool of disengaged employees is a well to be tapped. To begin eroding these levels of disengagement organizations need to become empowered organizations.

What does the employee empowered workplace look like? I’ll talk about that in the next post.

Daydream Nation

UK Banking – The Great Customer Experience Swindle

Like your aunt dancing to Daft Punk at a family wedding, when older established companies attempt to plug into the zeitgeist the results are often embarrassing. Across industry established organizations are experiencing a midlife crisis as younger more agile startups begin to erode their customer base. Instead of buying the sports car and dyeing their hair many established companies have lurched towards customer experience as a way to remain cool or relevant with predictably embarrassing results.

Interest in customer experience has been driven by lifestyle brands such as Apple, Disney and Nike, brands we enjoy using because they are associated with leisure experiences. The word “experience” gives the impression that we enjoy using the product or service, yet in our day to day lives we engage with many organizations on a purely transactional basis. Whether it’s a bank, an insurance provider or a utility, most of the time we are simply looking for process or transactional efficiency. Nothing more. Failure to understand this has led many organizations down the wrong path that views customer experience from a leisure rather than a process excellence perspective. I certainly don’t need my bank to start giving me discounted hotel bookings (they do), my ISP to give me tickets to the football (they did) or my dentist to give neck rubs (not yet).

The Great Customer Experience Swindle

The Great Customer Experience Swindle

In financial services and insurance it’s very easy to see the attraction of trying to focus on customer experience in market sector with few other product differentiators. UK banks have been quick to jump on the customer experience bandwagon but are mistakenly taking the leisure rather than process excellence route. Today UK banks currently offer lifestyle benefits such as movie downloads, cinema tickets, hotel booking discounts, airport lounge access, concert tickets and will writing services. The availability of these “benefits” poses a number of questions. First of all why are banks even offering these benefits in the first place? Cinema tickets, movie downloads and hotel discounts are benefits completely unrelated to their core business. Secondly why are banks providing these dubious benefits while they continue to suffer embarrassing outages, IT problems and customers struggle to talk to a human advisor? Also who joins a bank because of their will writing service?

Customer experience is often defined as how customers perceive their interactions with an organization. Each one of these interactions is a business process. Many customer experience leaders just execute their business processes better than their competitors. Take for example customer experience leaders; Amazon, Apple and First Direct. All three organizations execute their key business processes with precision and better than their competitors. Amazon excels in logistics processes, Apple in supply chain and research and development. First Direct show that by focusing on core customer processes and not gimmicks banks can transform customer experience.

This week more service outages hit the UK banking industry. Offering lifestyle benefits while struggling to keep the lights on shows a complete or deliberate misunderstanding of customer experience. A classic case of fur coat and no knickers as my mum used to say. Forget the VIP lounges and the tennis tickets if banks want to transform customer experience they need to focus on process excellence. Instead many UK banks are participating in a great customer experience swindle.

It Was, Is and Always Will Be about Empowerment

Does anyone pay for mobile ring tones anymore? A few years ago it was usually the first thing I tried to do when I got a new mobile.  Now I can change my ring tone in seconds and choose from my own music catalogue.

Does anyone still rent DVDs? We’ve moved from watching films in a cinema, to watching them at home, to being able to choose from a catalogue of movies and TV programs and stream them on demand. Each step has been about increasing consumer choice and providing more options about what, how and when we choose to consume.  The music industry has followed a similar journey of increased consumer choice. Successful IT companies don’t deliver new features; successful IT companies give customers more choices. The iPhone would have been just another expensive phone were it not for the explosion in choice driven by the App Store.

Chocie = EmpowermentEmpowerment is the process of increasing the capacity of individuals or groups to make choices and to transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes. As humans we’ve always searched for empowerment. Whether its civil rights, politics, medical care or in our personal relationships it’s a basic human instinct to try to strive for right to make choices. It seems that with choice comes personal freedom.

While empowerment is a hot topic in the IT industry to date almost all of the focus has been on the customer rather than the employee. There are no shortage of analysts, consultants, speakers and quacks out there ready to bore you to death and tell you what you already know, that consumers are more powerful and connected than ever before. Yes we all know it’s never been easier to research buying decisions or switch suppliers. Yes we all know that a single tweet or review can have a long term negative impact on a business. Yes we all know that our customers are increasingly using mobile as their first choice system of engagement with organizations. We get it. Enough already.

We read much less about employee empowerment. Why, because at heart most businesses still view many of their employees as a cost center rather than as a value center. Yes even those zeitgeisty new technology firms with pool tables and bean bags all over the foyer are quick to reduce the cost of their service desks by focusing on a web only strategy that funnels all customer problems down the same fixed process. Chances are you’ll struggle to find their call center number.

There are few, if any, business processes that don’t have exceptions and that’s when you need your employees. Your employees fill the gaps business processes can’t reach.  At some point customers will engage directly with employees. However what’s the point of spending all that money optimizing digital customer engagement channels if when the customer reaches an employee they are greeted by a person who is disengaged, demotivated and tied to inflexible business processes. All that work you’ve done to address the needs of the customer goes up in smoke. It is estimated that 70% of us are disengaged at work, using business processes and software applications into which we have had no input and which may not suit our working style.

Employees Fill The Gaps Your Process Can't Reach

Employees Fill The Gaps Your Process Can’t Reach

Most of us are both customers and employees.  It was thus inevitable that our personal quest for empowerment would extend to how we use information technology in our work environment. Trends such as the consumerization of IT and the rise of enterprise app stores are the manifestation of the desire for employee empowerment. Tech savvy knowledge workers are no longer prepared to wait for or accept IT driven business software and hardware decisions and are bringing their own hardware and software to work. Increasingly we’ll do the same with business processes. We want the same choices and experience in our business IT environment as we have in our personal IT environment. Personalizing the color and layout of our home screen is no longer enough. Instead we want to be able to choose both the hardware, software and the business processes we use to carry out our work.

Understanding the business user need for empowerment is essential for the successful future adoption of new products, services and business processes. If you are looking at transforming customer experience within your organization avoid organizations that focus only on the needs of the customer and ignore the needs of the employee. Look for products features that provide new choices for employees and recognize that how work gets done within an organization varies between employees. Evaluate new products not on features but on the choices they provide for both your customers and employees because the IT industry was, is and always will be about empowerment.

Have You Curbed Your Enthusiasm? – The Disengaged 70%

A recent Gallup opinion poll makes grim reading for U.S. organizations. It finds that 70% of American workers are either “Not Engaged” or are “Actively Disengaged” from their workplaces. One of the most interesting things about the survey is how little the results have changed in the 12 annual surveys since 2000 with consistently between 70 to 74% of employees either “Not Engaged” or “Actively Disengaged” from their workplaces.

Disengaged

Disengaged

Is this therefore a problem that can’t be fixed? Is the very nature of the modern work place one where only about 30% of us are really interested in what we do? The scary thing for organizations is that on average 7 times out of 10 your customers are coming face to face with employees who just don’t give a damn.

Now there are probably a wide variety of social, psychological and economic reasons for why the level of disengagement has stubbornly remained around 70% but I think we can safely state two things;

  • Technology has not, yet come to the rescue. It’s pretty obvious that even with the rise in productivity  brought about by the internet and mobility that employee engagement levels have not been impacted and have remained static.
  • Addressing the disengaged 70% is a huge business opportunity. Major achievements in productivity and customer experience will be achieved by the organizations that can tap into this 70% pool and convert them to engaged employees. This will not only require changes in managerial techniques and soft skills but also in the design of flexible IT applications that engage and empower employees rather than lock them into fixed business processes.

Intelligent Process Applications

Check out my new blog Intelligent Process Applications. This blog will be about the future of business process, what I refer to as Intelligent Process Applications.

This blog will continue to be focused on transforming customer experience and employee empowerment using BPM and Case Management.

Intelligent Process Applications

Does Customer Experience Exist?

I had the great misfortune of visiting the UNIQLO clothing store in Paris a couple of weekends ago. Dragged into the store by my other half on a Saturday afternoon what greeted me was pretty much man hell. The store was stuffed to the gills with shoppers. The aisles were too narrow. Lines for the changing rooms wound around the store and queues for the tills were about 20 deep. People were having sex just to make more room. (Ok I made this bit up.) Even my wife, who could shop for Ireland, gave up after a few minutes and suggested we leave.  Rather than simply walk out it felt like we were guided to the exit by human peristaltic movement and defecated from the store. On any customer experience metric this failed big time. Yet the store was packed?

This experience also reminded me of a recent article about Richard X. Bove, a noted bank analyst, who pulled his money out of Wells Fargo Bank because of poor customer experience and went on to trash the bank via social media. The very same Richard X. Bove however in his capacity as a banking analyst said, “I am struck by the fact that the service is so bad, and yet the company is so good”. The bank retained a strong financial status in sharp contrast to the poor customer experience it was providing. Bove continued to recommend the bank as a safe investment to his clients despite the fact that Bove himself would not keep his own money in that bank as a customer.

So here we have two examples of businesses where customer experience stinks yet both businesses are thriving. We could easily come up with others. We are told by customer experience evangelists that businesses must make every customer interaction count. That customer experience lip service just doesn’t cut it anymore. The examples above appear to reject this theory.

There are a number of ways we could try and interpret this. Is customer experience just another victim of the recession as more and more consumers are becoming more and more price conscious? Does price alone explain why Uniqlo is packed to the rafters?

Is customer experience simply irrelevant in some markets for example financial services? The Richard X Bove example above can be easily explained by the focus of many banks on their investment rather than retail arms. Why would Wells Fargo invest in an improved retail banking customer experience when it will have little impact on their bottom line?

Finally and more controversially does customer experience even exist? Are we not talking about process excellence here? UNIQLO for example focus on process execution as their key differentiator;

UNIQLO has established a SPA (Specialty store retailer of Private label Apparel) business model encompassing all stages of the business–from design and production to final sale. By continuously refining this SPA model, UNIQLO successfully differentiates itself from the competition by developing unique products.

Apple and Amazon are often cited as customer experience leaders but both also excel in process execution and supply chain excellence.

Many organizations are doing perfectly well without focusing on customer experience. So does customer experience even exist? Is customer experience really just process excellence?

Will Customer Experience be the Tipping Point for Case Management?

“A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.” 

Alvy Singer – Annie Hall

Sometimes I feel this way about case management. Has it failed to move forward? Have we got a dead shark on our hands?  We’ve navel gazed for too long over dynamic and adaptive, unstructured v structured, knowledge workers and case workers. From a marketing point of view it’s all been a bit of a disaster. So what needs to be done to drive more interest case management? Is customer experience management a potential opportunity?

A 2011 Bloomberg Business week survey revealed that “delivering a great customer experience” has become the new imperative: 80% of the companies polled rated customer experience as a top strategic objective. Like case management, customer experience management has also suffered from over analysis.

The potential for case management in a customer service context has been understood for a while. CRM vendors have realized that it’s impossible to predict every customer scenario and have integrated case management applications with their CRM applications to improve how organizations handle unpredictable customer service processes. Customer experience management represents the next step and potentially a tipping point for case management.

In my opinion no other business application has the potential to transform customer experience in the same way that case management can. In a previous post on customer experience I said that customer experience requires just 2 things; fix processes and empower employees. This is the precisely the sweet spot for case management.

The time has come for case management to move forward, to step out from the shadows and hitch a lift on the customer experience bandwagon. Then, to use another movie quote, no one will put case management in the corner.

Next Week: Gamification – “Badges? We ain’t got no badges!We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinking badges!”

Can Process Improvement Eliminate Showrooming?

Showrooming is a relatively new phenomenon where a customer uses a bricks and mortar store to test and evaluate a product before buying it cheaper online. You’ve probably done it yourself. It can’t be long before, like a shoplifter, we see people thrown out of a store for using their smartphone to compare prices. It may already have happened.

The high street is suffering the double whammy of both the recession and the rise of ecommerce. While ultimately I think legislation will be necessary to protect bricks and mortar stores from their web based competitors the high street can begin the fight back by improving its business processes.

Retailers worried about showrooming can fight back but to do this they need to be clear on how they differentiate themselves from their online competitors. Many people for example will pay a small premium to get a product immediately rather than having to wait a few days for delivery. What this means is bricks and mortar stores must focus on their supply chain business processes. In addition the high street stores can offer customer post sale support, product training and immediate warranty replacement or returns that are more difficult do online. Again this requires a focus on post-sale business process.

It would be naïve however to ignore pricing. The recession has raised the importance of price to high levels and most people showroom to do a rapid price comparison between the price in store and the price they can get the same product online. Again this is an opportunity for business process improvement. Bricks and mortar stores can do price comparison as well.

Many high street stores are wedded to out of date, expensive to produce, catalogues of products whose prices are probably uncompetitive as soon as they are printed. There is no reason why bricks and mortar stores cannot automatically monitor competitor pricing and update point of sale prices in real time or produce a mobile app, with pricing that changes in real time, instead of a product catalogue.

Retailers are correctly looking to customer experience as a life raft for the high street yet incorrectly see customer experience in terms of gimmicks such as offering customers free wifi or a coffee shop without addressing their core business processes and the reasons why customers shop online.

When a customer enters a store the business has already done the hard part by getting the customer interested enough to get off the sofa and to visit their store. Improved business processes give them a better chance of converting that visitor into a customer and getting them to put away their smartphones.

Customer Experience in !ONLY! 2 Steps

Technology analysts and consultants don’t like to keep things simple. It’s obvious really since simple isn’t good for business. It’s much better to provide things like decision matrices, toolkits, 10 step programs and maturity assessments than to provide clear and concise opinions or recommendations.

So it is with Forrester’s recent customer experience book “Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business”. The authors recommend a set of six practices for organizations that want to deliver high-quality customer experience namely: strategy, customer understanding, design, measurement, governance, and culture. While I agree that these are all important considerations if I was a business owner looking to quickly begin the transformation of customer experience and was told by an analyst that I had to carry out Design, Measurement and Governance, oh and while you’re at it change your culture as well I’d immediately think this is going to be too complex and costly. When it comes to customer experience are we over complicating things?

So it is with a little trepidation that I’m going to stick my neck out and say that rather than 6 practices or a tool kit or a matrix there are two, yes only two, steps to improving Customer Experience. These are:

1. Fix Broken Processes.

Customer experience is often defined as how customers perceive their interactions with your company. The key word here is interactions. Each one of these interactions is a business process. Many of Customer Experience leaders just execute their business processes properly. I don’t enjoy shopping on Amazon or visiting Tesco but I return because they deliver their services efficiently.

  • Take the customer journey and ask yourself is this process working fine or does it need fixed, could it be simpler? Then move on to next process. Simplify business processes where possible. Ensure consistency of approach across multiple channels.
  • Automate business processes where appropriate in order to free up your employees to focus on the customer and where they add most value.

This brings me to my second step.

2. Empower your employees

It is impossible to predict and to define a process for every customer scenario. Customers are unpredictable. This is where you need your employees to fill the gaps your processes can’t reach. But they can’t fill the gaps unless they are permitted to do so.

Does your employee really need approval to provide compensation for poor customer service? Does he or she need approval to match the offer of a competitor? Do your employees have all the customer information they need to make a decision?

We know customers hate having to talk to multiple agents, rude or inexperienced staff and being kept on hold. They love professionalism and getting issues resolved at the first point of contact.  You won’t achieve any of this if your employees aren’t empowered. Your employees are the face of your organization, do you really want that face to be a demotivated, inflexible, rude one?

So how do we start to empower employees?

  • Devolve as much of the non-strategic decision making from the center of the organization to the periphery and to your customer facing employees. For example customer compensation decisions, renewal decisions, process changes can all be carried out at the edge of the organization.
  • Address customer data siloes. Ensure agents whether on the phone on in the retail outlet have access to all of the customer data to enable them to make more informed decisions.
  • Don’t tie agents to processes or fixed scripts.
  • Automate mundane or repetitive tasks to free agents to focus on process exceptions and unique, unpredictable customer problems.

So forget about six step customer experience plans, maturity assessments and decision matrices. If you want to start on a customer experience improvement journey the best bet is to do it one process at a time.

Is Customer Experience Really Business Process Excellence?

Customer Experience is a strange term for companies that basically execute their processes properly. The word “Experience” gives the impression that you enjoy using the product or service yet in our day to day lives we engage with the majority of businesses on a transactional basis. We are looking for efficiency and delivery rather than enjoyment. Failure to understand this has led many organizations down the wrong path of trying to deliver customer experience rather than what they should be focusing on, process excellence.

In part the cult of Customer Experience has been driven by lifestyle brands such as Apple, Disney, Nike brands we enjoy using because they are associated with leisure experiences. For the majority of businesses I engage with on a regular basis; banks, retail outlets, dentists, utilities all I want from them is efficiency and delivery on their commitments. Nothing more. I certainly don’t want my bank to start giving me discounted hotel bookings (they do), my ISP to give me tickets to the football (they did) or my dentist to give neck rubs (not yet).

Is it possible to have a customer experience at the dentist or with the company you’ve hired to unblock your drains? I go to the dentist to have a problem with my teeth fixed and I’ll return if they do their job properly and efficiently. Same goes for my bank. At the moment my own bank in the UK is so dysfunctional I’m impressed if they can switch the lights on in the morning. I’m currently in the process of switching bank because they failed in basic service delivery not because they failed to deliver an experience.

When I change banks I don’t want an experience with my new bank either. In fact considering the state of my account the less interaction with my bank the better. I don’t need coffee or some faux joviality from the agent when I’m in the bank. Like the dentist I want them to execute their processes as painlessly as possible.

In many cases I think that companies that are defined as leaders in Customer Experience really deliver Business Process Excellence. I’m not denying that Customer Experience doesn’t exist. Yes there are brands and companies that deliver process excellence and who are enjoyable to do business with but these tend to be lifestyle brands. For many businesses struggling to handle the double whammy caused by web retail and the recession and being seduced by Customer Experience I say forget about it. Focus on your business processes first.

Customer Experience – Do we really need more Governance?

A recent Forrester post on customer experience grabbed my attention. Governance: The Key to Customer experience management.

Do we really need more governance within organizations? Will more governance really transform customer experience?

A few nights ago I was at a restaurant with some friends and the waiter spilled drinks over three of our party. On receipt of the bill, we (half) jokingly asked the waiter if we’d be getting compensation for his error. The waiter said that he was unable to give us a discount or a free round of drinks as the manager wasn’t working that evening.

Governance is key to many business critical business processes and especially business processes requiring compliance to specific industry standards or legislation. As we have seen in the example above governance however can have a detrimental impact on customer experience. Governance locks employees into fixed, inflexible business processes which from a customer point of view can deliver a terrible experience.

Governance may help deliver consistency of service but what if that service isn’t very good to start with? What happens if we quickly need to change the process? Governance then acts as a roadblock or at least delays the ability of the business to perform a rapid change to procedures. Customer experience governance simply adds another management layer for the customer service representative to navigate in search for an answer.

It may seem naïve but surely every customer facing employee should perform their own customer experience governance. We may not be able to define it but we all know what good customer experience is. After all we are all customers. As employees do we really need more layers of management within our organizations telling us what good customer experience is?

From a customer experience point of view the solution should not be more governance, instead the business objective should be to devolve as many decisions as possible to your customer facing employees. Let your employees do their own customer experience governance.

Customer Experience – Using employees to fill the gaps processes can’t reach

Customer Experience is often defined as the aggregate of all of the interactions a customer has with your brand. From a business process improvement perspective the key word in this definition is “interactions”, that customer experience is determined over multiple interactions between the customer and the organization.

At some point in their interactions with your organization the customer will engage directly with an employee. Whether it’s face to face at a retail outlet, in a restaurant or via a service desk customer experience improvement projects must consider the needs of the employee.

In many cases however these customer facing employees at the service desk, at the checkout or employed as wait staff are your lowest paid employees. Yet these employees are the public face of your organization and have a disproportionate impact on the perceived customer experience. In addition the repetitive, inflexible and low paid nature of many of these roles means that they are characterized by poor staff morale and high employee turnover.

While BPM and process improvement technologies can go a long way towards delivering a consistent customer experience across the multiple customer touch points they can only go so far. It’s impossible to predict every potential customer interaction and automate it. At some point you rely on your employees to fill the gaps that your business processes can’t reach. Thus if your customer experience improvement project is to be successful one of the key objectives must be to empower and enhance the role of the customer facing employee.  This then becomes an opportunity for Case Management.

Case Management applications support your customer facing employees who fill the gaps your processes can’t reach. By devolving power and decision making authority from the center of the organization to your customer facing teams you can eliminate process gaps, manage unpredictability and through empowerment address staff morale, motivation and turnover.

Employees play a key customer experience role