Social BPM is Dead, Long Live Social Case Management

I participated in an interesting debate on bpm.com this week on the topic “has social BPM failed”.

First of all I don’t think social networking has any place within a Business Process Management (or Case Management) Suite (BPMS), the BPMS should integrate to best practice elsewhere. As I have said elsewhere on this blog I think social has its greatest opportunity within a Case Management and not a BPM context. Social BPM was always going to fail because BPM focuses on the needs of the business and not the knowledge worker. Social Case management is really where it’s at. Case Management after all is about empowering knowledge workers and giving them choices as to how they want to execute a case. Adding social capabilities to a Case Management platform empowers the knowledge worker to choose with whom, how and when they wish to collaborate.

Integration with a case management suite will allow organizations to extract value from their Enterprise Social Network (ESN) investment. Tools like Yammer, Chatter or Jive have limited value and will continue to struggle for adoption unless they are plugged into some actual work. Plugging social into knowledge worker based business processes helps people to establish and strengthen personal relationships, develop trust, reduce friction and accelerate the business processes in which people are engaged. Social integration has the potential to reconfigure the BPMS and Case Management suite for the post email world and the next generation of employees.

Enterprise social

Anyway looking at what some of the ESN vendors offer today I’ve had a bit of a brainstorming exercise and have come up with some features that could be delivered through the integration of the Case Management suite with an ESN platform. At a basic level all of these features are focused on enhancing knowledge worker productivity by delivering enhanced collaboration and support opportunities. Let me know what you think:

  • Enhanced collaboration and file sharing
  • Collaborative creation of content within a case
  • Automatic creation of temporary team workspaces or groups focused on a specific process or a specific case to facilitate the collaboration and sharing of ideas among co-workers
  • Runtime guidance from subject matter experts
  • Rapid access to shared content and content ranked on utilization by co-workers and teammates
  • Crowdsourcing or distributed problem solving
  • Social Stream and BPM work queue integration i.e. the Social work queue which many BPM platforms already offer today
  • Shared team folders and shared case management folders
  • Collaborative process design and continuous process improvement.
  • Leveraging social awareness to deliver automatic process routing based on availability
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Unsourcing – The Future of Customer Service?

Why bother outsourcing customer support when you can get your customers to do it for you. I’ve been watching the success of giffgaff with interest for a while. For those not familiar with giffgaff it is a UK mobile service provider where customers participate in the company’s business operations, specifically Marketing, Sales and Customer service.

As well as via the Giff Gaff community web page Facebook and Twitter provide additional channels for customer support. Support is provided socially, by fellow customers rather than using Giff Gaff employees.

This trend of setting up online communities to deliver peer to peer customer support has been dubbed “Unsourcing” and is not limited to Giff Gaff. The obvious reason for many organizations choosing to unsource is cost. Gartner estimates that using communities to solve support issues can reduce costs by up to 50%.

However viewing unsourcing as an opportunity to reduce customer support risks repetition of the same problems that have beset organizations who have chosen outsource their customer service to emerging economies, most importantly creating a disconnect between the organization and its customers. Simply viewing customer service as a cost center rather than for example an opportunity for differentiation and as a source of new product ideas is doomed to fail.

Unsourcing has a number of benefits. It allows Gen Y customers to interact with organizations via the social channels with which they are most familiar and to engage with fellow customers who share a common interest. In addition it creates a bond between an organization and its most important customers.

Unsourcing will become a key aspect of the customer service mix rather than a panacea. Organizations will still need to ensure that their customers aren’t left high and dry should they not get the right answer. If it’s a complaint they will need to ensure it is addressed as quickly as possible. They must monitor the channels to detect emerging trends, product problems or new product opportunities. In other words they will still need to tie the social or unsourced customer to business processes.

Social BPM – Reducing the Cultural Obstacles to Process Improvement

As BPM folk we are well aware that one of the major obstacles to BPM success is cultural. Most organizations are functionally orientated, organized on a vertical department basis; R&D, Manufacture, Customer Support, Marketing, IT, Finance, Sales and HR. Many business processes like warranty repair, complaint handling and order fulfillment however cut horizontally across many departments. As staff report to their individual department leaders naturally this is where their loyalty and commitment lies. Business process owners, if they exist, thus have the responsibility for the success of their process but none of the authority to ensure it is delivered.

A cultural as well as IT change is required if successful business process improvement is to be achieved. Organizations must begin to view the organization from a process rather than a departmental perspective.  Staff must perform the mental shift to realize that the department is there to support the process and understand that the business is in effect is the sum of its individual processes.

Outside of complete reorganization, businesses make regular attempts to facilitate this mental change. From goal setting to team building organizations attempt to forge stronger bonds between departments in order to improve process performance. In many cases despite initial good intentions to foster improved cross departmental bonds over time departments drift back to the norm.

This represents the big opportunity for Social BPM. Many commentators view Social BPM from the context of collaborative process design or the ability to trigger processes from social media events. While interesting use cases the major opportunity for Social BPM lies in its ability to support business process improvement initiatives by fostering closer alignment of the organization along process lines. Enhanced collaboration between departments facilitated by enterprise social networks help to blur the lines between departments, building trust and supporting the rapid sharing of ideas and problems. While organizations remain in their department structures enterprise social networks will help to improve interdepartmental collaboration ultimately improving process performance and the likelihood of process improvement success.

Social BPM thus represents an opportunity to eliminate one of the key barriers to success for many BPM projects, organization culture. Social BPM will allow organizations to deliver not only process change but mental change at the same time.

Empowered Customers need Empowered Employees

It’s now generally accepted that customers are more empowered than ever. What isn’t accepted is how we deal with this.

Customers have always had power. Power to take their business elsewhere. The perfect storm of web, social media and mobile technologies however has made it not only much easier to switch supplier but to also rapidly communicate your dissatisfaction with a product or service to the masses.

Trying to handle empowered customers through technology alone is a non-starter. It’s like trying to round up cats. Customers are unpredictable. Customers are engaging with companies via multiple channels, virtually and physically and trying to handle the multichannel customer by technology alone is impossible.

Many businesses are in a technology arms race with the customer always one step ahead. For example adding social capabilities to your business application stack may help you to sense problems better but it won’t make the customer experience any better. When one of your customer channels is direct face to face customer engagement it’s impossible to expect technology on its own to deliver a consistent multi-channel customer experience.

Empowered customers need empowered employees. Customer management is a dynamic, unpredictable, ever changing environment. Businesses need to empower their employees so they can roll with the punches.

So how do we empower employees?

  • Devolve decision making authority

Move decision making from the centre of the organization to your customer facing employees. Give employees the authority to choose alternative approaches to resolving a customer problems. Give employees the authority to resolve a complaint or an issue at the first point of contact. For example do senior managers really need to approve all refunds or give the authority to match a competitive offer?

  • Don’t tie employees to processes

Use business applications like case management that gives them options and allow employees to adapt or chose alternative process paths.

  • Support employee decision making

Use business tools that provide employees with a 360 degree view of their customer (customer purchase history, current contract status, projected lifetime value) and help them make better decisions.

Be realistic in your technology choices. Trying to handle customer processes by technology alone is impossible. Use empowered employees to fill the gaps where technology can’t go.