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

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.

If This Then What is the future of Workflow and BPM?

IFTTT (If This Then That) is a service that lets users connect multiple different mobile apps based on a simple rule. “This” is the process trigger, “That” is the process action. Today the tool lets users rapidly create connections between 71 applications or what IFTTT calls “channels”. The simple workflows created between channels using the IFTTT rule are called recipes and can be shared within an IFTTT community.

iftt

So what’s the big deal?

In the BPMS suite we’ve been executing simple and complex business rules like If This Then That for years. The emergence of IFTTT is important because it does two things that BPMS does not do well; integration and simplicity.

Many business processes cut horizontally across organizations and as a result touch multiple business applications. There is thus an ongoing drive among BPM and Case Management vendors to continuously enhance their integration capabilities. This is however a continuously moving target and integration remains one of the greatest obstacles for the successful deployment of both cloud and on premise BPM solutions, often adding considerable cost and time to projects.

When it comes to the integration of cloud and mobile applications into business processes the difficulty multiplies. We are only just seeing the emergence of smart process applications and on demand business processes. Mobile BPM applications have emerged with integration to back end systems but is any BPM vendor doing mobile app to mobile app integration?

Mobile and cloud app integration is a key IT battleground. As business software users we regularly use mobile apps and on demand software to address business problems. This consumerization of the business IT landscape however sits uncomfortably with IT heavy BPM projects.

IFTTT radically simplifies the process of stitching together and automating web services and as such throws down the gauntlet to other business applications that are heavily reliant on application integration.

Consistent with consumerization IFTTT empowers users to integrate and develop their own workflows. It doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to expect this simple IFTTT rule to be extended to support more complex rules and events and ultimately encroach into the market for workflow and BPM applications.

IFTTT Channels

IFTTT Channels

Why has the BPMS Market Stalled?

The BPMS MarketAccording to a recent Gartner report after years of double digit growth the total BPMS market declined by 1% in 2012 to £2.3Bn.

So what’s the reason for this decline? Gartner propose quite a few reasons including M&A activity in the BPM vendor market creating uncertainty and the hype surrounding other SMAC (Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud) technologies that has had the effect of putting the BPM baby in the corner.

While many of the reasons for the decline proposed by Gartner are valid in my opinion I think there have been two primary reasons for the decline:

The Cloud

BPM was late to the cloud market and remains today primarily an on-premise play.  There were a variety of reasons for this delay and my own thoughts on this can be read here.

For IT leaders evaluating or executing on their cloud strategy a meeting with a BPM vendors pushing on premise deployments must raise some concerns. “Should I really be considering an on-prem BPM investment at this time when my gut instinct and my execs are telling me to focus on the cloud?”

In the long term there’s no need to panic. The BPM market is, I think, in the process of making a right hand turn. As more demand BPM and Case Management process applications emerge e.g. BPaaS and smart process applications, underpinned by a BPMS growth will re-emerge.

It’s the Economy Stupid

Many of the IT planning and funding decisions for 2012 will have been made in 2011 when the economies of both the US and Europe were still struggling to recover from the crash of 2007. The EU continues to recover extremely slowly and it’s noticeable from the Gartner report that the BPM market in Western Europe actually declined by almost 7% in 2012. The economic impact hasn’t just been felt by BPM vendors. Outside the BPM market the Business Intelligence market growth slowed considerably from the approximately 17 percent rate experienced in 2011 to 6.8% in 2012.

What do you think? Is this a temporary blip in the BPMS market or the first sign of a much bigger problem?

BPMS - No Need to Panic

BPMS – No Need to Panic

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

BPM – Have we been flying upside down?

I was watching the current season of Mad Men last night and a bit of dialogue struck a chord. Ted Chaough was flying his new colleague Don Draper in his small private plane to a meeting with a client. After some bumpy weather Ted uses an airplane analogy, “Sometimes in life you think you’re the right way up when in fact you’re upside down. Gotta check your instruments.”

Mad Men - Ted and Don

Mad Men – Ted and Don

This got me thinking about BPM. BPM has for a long time been regarded as a strategic play. It’s often said that successful BPM projects require both cultural and strategic change within organizations. Establishment of BPM centers of excellence, back office integration and the optimization of processes that cut across multiple departments all require that the organization and its employees are in sync and are willing to review established practices. But all of this takes time, effort and significant cost, creating barriers for widespread BPM adoption, putting the BPM suite out of reach for many smaller and medium sized businesses. All this time we’ve been recommending building this huge BPM ecosystem within enterprises and have then wondered why BPM has struggled to take off.

Maybe all this time we’ve been flying upside down. Maybe we should have been deploying rapid, pre-built or almost pre-built BPM applications, with clear business value and rapid ROI. Maybe we should have been searching for the quick win, to show off the potential of BPM suites before thinking about broader, more strategic process improvement.

With the emergence of BPaaS and Smart Process Applications it would appear that at long last someone has taken a look at the instruments.

The BPM v Case Management Debate – this time it’s in the Cloud

It’s happening again folks. Just when we thought the BPM versus Case Management discussion had been finally put to bed Forrester have gone round blasting their car horn and woke the debate up with their publication today of their Smart Process Application (SPA) wave. In this sequel the debate has moved to the cloud.

Forrester define Smart Process Applications as packaged process apps that encompass many of the characteristics we associate with case management business processes including collaboration and variability. SPA characteristics include ease of use with the ability to be modified rapidly in response to changing business and market conditions. Crucially they expect the cloud to be the primary delivery infrastructure for SPAs making them easier to deploy, support and continuously improve.

Cloud Processes

Cloud Processes

However an already established definition, BPaaS (Business Process as a Service) exists for business processes delivered based on the cloud services model. So what’s the difference between a SPA and BPaaS? Are they the same thing? Are SPA’s a subset of BPaaS? Or are we about to have another debate over transactional versus variable business processes, BPM versus Case Management?

Is BPaaS BPM in the cloud and Smart Process Applications Case Management in the cloud? Are BPaaS applications high volume, cloud based transactional business processes and SPA applications lower volume, variable, knowledge worker focused processes in the cloud? Do we really need another term added to the cloud services model?

In my opinion SPAs will be viewed as a subset of BPaaS, as enhanced BPaaS functionality in the same way that Case Management features are viewed as enhanced BPM functionality today. In the same way that some BPM suites offer case management today some BPaaS platforms will be able to offer SPA capabilities and others won’t.

(P.S. Click here if you want a free copy of the SPA Wave)

Jose Mourinho – Football, BPM and Case Management

Like a solar eclipse it’s not often one of my hobbies and work align but a terrific blog post recently on the coaching methods of Jose Mourinho did just that.

For readers outside Europe or unfamiliar with football/soccer Jose Mourinho is pretty much the most successful club manager working in Europe today having won league titles with teams in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain and the European Champions League 2 times.  Witty, charismatic, controversial, Mourinho is equally at home on the front or back pages of newspapers and is pretty much a publicity generating machine.

The Special One

The Special One

From a football point of view he’s also quite strange in that he never had a top flight playing career. Mourinho instead arrived in professional football management, at a young age, via a career path that included spells as an internal assistant and coach and not via the old boy’s ex-professional footballer network. As a result it’s not a surprise Mourinho’s coaching methods are slightly different from his peers who entered management through the more traditional route.

Mourinho’s coaching focuses on replicating specific situations within training so that when they occur within a match situation the players instinctively know how to respond. Nothing new here you may think. The key point however is the objective of these exercises is not to produce a robotic, inflexible playing style but instead to improve player decision making. By locking routine game situations into procedural memory or the subconscious the mind of the player is clearer when unexpected situations occur within the game.

Mourinho’s method, as defined by Corriere della Sera columnist Sandro Modeo, is instead structured but open, robust but plastic.

Sound familiar? Well it should if you are familiar with BPM and Case Management.

In the same way that Mourinho locks specific game situations into a player’s procedural memory BPM and Case Management applications automate routine or predictable processes. By automating routine processes BPM and Case Management applications not only reduce execution costs but free knowledge workers to focus on where they can add most value. Like Mourinho the objective of Case Management is not to deliver robotic inflexible business processes and employees but to deliver processes and employees that have the flexibility to adapt in response to a unique or unplanned situation.

Whether we are talking about nature, business or football the ability to adapt is what separates the best from the rest. It’s much easier to adapt when we are not distracted by other tasks. So while he may not be familiar with BPM or Case Management Jose Mourinho is certainly using the same principles.

Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho

 

BPM and the Internet of Things

For a while I associated the term “internet of things” (IOT) with some pretty depressing applications such as fridges that automatically order food or televisions that recommend what to watch based on previous viewing behavior thus trapping owners in death spiral of both eating and watching rubbish. In the past year or so IOT appears to have left its teenage years behind and begun to develop some maturity..

From insurance to medicine IOT applications are starting to spring up and deliver some significant benefits to users. For example in car telematics devices which monitor driver behavior and adjust the insurance premiums accordingly are becoming widely adopted, especially as a way of reducing premiums for young drivers. Some telematics providers include an accident service with the black box device alerting the insurer in the event of a collision.

In medicine we are seeing perhaps the most rapid adoption of IOT from smart pill bottles that can alert patients and can notify care providers if the bottle isn’t opened to heart monitors that allow health providers to continually monitor a patient’s heart rate, transmitting data to remote application where it can be interpreted by a doctor or consultant.

So how does all this apply to BPM? Fundamentally all of these smart devices are capturing data, whether it’s about themselves or their users. What’s the point of capturing all this data on whether granny has taken her pills, your driving performance or your personal health if it still takes ages for someone to find, analyze and route the data to the right person. As we can see from the telematics use case what is necessary is for the IOT device to trigger processes.

This is where BPM and the delivery of IOT process solutions come in. Just like with enterprise social networks the BPM tool has the potential to turbo charge IOT adoption. By taking the captured data and applying it directly to processes we can significantly enhance the value of IOT devices. What if the data from the heart monitor automatically triggered a new medical case or doctor’s appointment once a certain threshold was exceeded? What if the pill bottle alerted a carer or next of kin? Could we soon reach a point where an ambulance arrives to pick you up before you knew you were ill?

In reality IOT process solutions will be a mash up of multiple technologies from BPM and Case Management to Business Intelligence and Data Analytics delivered by multiple horizontal and vertical solution providers depending on their area of process expertise.

Once regarded as a back office application BPM is now firmly established in the front office through integration with CRM and ERP and increasingly through the delivery of mobile process applications BPM has also started to invade the customer realm. IOT integration simply represents the next phase in this journey.

Alert me when I’ve drunk too much!

Forrester v Gartner and the Future of BPM

Long regarded as the software equivalent of the offside rule in football, BPM might just be starting to get interesting. At long last there appears to be some debate happening in the BPM world with a gap emerging between analyst firms Forrester and Gartner on how they see the future of BPM (and Case Management).

First of all Gartner applied the paddles to the BPM corpse earlier this year with the announcement of their iBPMs (intelligent Business Process Management suite). They state that a iBPMs suite has all the features of today’s BPMS complemented with more advanced technologies like advanced analytics, business intelligence, social media and mobile applications. iBPMS use cases will integrate more analytics, social and mobile capabilities into processes making them more intelligent.

Confusingly though Gartner describe iBPMs as a new usage scenario, stating that it should not be compared with their previous BPMS MQ, yet they go on to state; “Our research indicates that the IBO use case represents the future of BPM tools and is experiencing rapid adoption.”

If Gartner have revived BPM Forrester might just have lobotomized the patient, completely changing its personality and how we will view BPM moving forward.  In contrast to Gartner, Forrester have a leaner, packaged, application vision for BPM and have defined a new process category called Smart Process Applications (SPA). These are packaged process apps that encompass many of the characteristics we associate with case management business processes including collaboration and variability. SPA characteristics include ease of use with the ability to be modified rapidly in response to changing business and market conditions. Crucially they expect the cloud to be the primary delivery infrastructure for SPAs making them easier to deploy, support and continuously improve.

Forrester’s confidence in the SPA market is such that they have put their neck on the block stating that they expect Business Process Management suites to be renamed “smart process platforms”.

So what’s my view? Who’s right Gartner or Forrester?

The cloud and the app. internet, as is the case for many SW applications, is a game changer for BPM. In our personal lives we are used to obtaining SW on demand, with little or no configuration required. We will and increasingly are expecting the same of our business software.

Like the software equivalent of Mr. Creosote Gartner’s iBPMS vision sees BPM moving in a different direction, continuing to expand and devour every new or emerging business trend its path. But is a BPMS really the best place for advanced Business Intelligence, Analytics and Social media capability or is it better to integrate with best practice elsewhere?  By adding all of these capabilities are we not continuing to make BPM more complex? Gartner’s iBPMS is a useful BPMS capability reference but iBPMS fails to address many of the issues holding back the wider adoption of BPM suites.

Gartner View of BPM

             Gartner View of BPM

Business process on demand, whether we call it BPaaS or SPA is the future of BPM.  BPM suites will continue to play an important role but increasingly as a cloud based engine for the delivery of on demand pre-built process applications rather than as an on premise application.

BPM in the cloud and BPaaS/SPA transform the business case for BPM applications extending the target market to small and medium sized organizations.  Increasingly organizations will look to these pre-built, good enough, on demand process applications rather than deploy and design their own in house processes. As a result I think Forrester’s leaner SPA vision rather than Gartner’s bloated iBPMS view represents the real future of BPM.

Forrester View of BPM

                                                              Forrester View of BPM

 

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!”

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.

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

Case Management and Customer Loyalty

What do customers hate most about bad customer service? Well according to this survey by ClickFox a few common things get customer’s blood boiling. The top three were:

  1. 42% hate having to speak with multiple agents and start over every time
  2. 17% hate being kept on hold or not getting what I need on the first try
  3. 14% dislike rude or inexperienced representatives

Let’s address each of these issues in turn, understand why they occur and how the issues could be addressed.

  1. Multiple Agents and having to start every time. In the perfect scenario the customer would only have to speak to one agent who would be able to completely understand their problem and resolve it at the first point of contact. In reality this isn’t possible. For example in many larger organizations with multiple product lines or services the first line of service exist to triage the problem or to resolve the most common problems. Resolution at the first point of contact  in many organizations would not be possible without a great deal of training. Whether we like it or not the issue of multiple agents is here to stay. The big opportunity for service providers is to better manage the frustration of the hand off and eliminate the customer having to start afresh with each new agent. What if we could deploy a customer service solution that could manage the end to end process, orchestrate multiple employees and integrate with multiple line of business applications and eliminate having to restart the process with every new service agent?
  2. On hold. Ok everyone hates being put on hold. In reality when put on hold the agent is probably frantically switching between poorly connected business applications to retrieve the customer information. What if the customer service representative had a 360 degree view of their customer?  What if the customer  service agent had rapid access, via their desktop web portal to customer information where ever it resides in the organization?
  3. Rude or inexperienced representatives. I found it interesting that rudeness and inexperience were tied together in this response. I’m of a firm belief that customer service rudeness and inexperience are closely related. In many occasions what the customer feels is rude service is in reality an employee tied by his or her employer to inflexible business processes. The employee has no authority or empowerment to use their initiative to resolve the customer issue. This lack of empowerment leads to high staff dissatisfaction, high employee turnover and ultimately inexperienced representatives.  What if the agent was able to go off script, to modify their process if necessary in flight or choose alternative paths or approaches to resolve the customer problem? Would this empowerment higher employee satisfaction, lower staff turnover and eliminate the perception of rudeness and inexperience.

The three customer problems outlined above are all classic reasons for deploying a Case Management solution. The objective of case management applications include the integration of multiple line of business applications, the delivery of a 360 degree customer view and employee empowerment. Management of many customer service interactions is done today using CRM applications that quickly run out of steam when asked to manage anything more than a simple workflow and don’t adequately address the top three issues above. When we integrate CRM with a Case Management business application however we have the opportunity to address these customer problems and begin to transform how customer service is delivered.

Is the 360 Degree Customer View Still Valid?

In a nutshell the 360 degree customer view is the ability to provide your service agents with all of the information they need to make a decision. At a basic level this means presenting the agent with all of the data relevant to the case on which they are working, as well as historical data on the customer e.g. previous incidents, other account information, purchase history. Multiple business applications and customer databases mean that even today for many organizations a basic 360 degree customer view, showing current and historical customer data, has been difficult to achieve.

In order to make the best decision on behalf of the customer and their organization agents need more than just historical and current customer information they also need future projections for the customer for example their estimated lifetime value and their potential to churn. Agents also need to be aware of current organization business targets as well as real time competitive information to for example validate customer claims about a competitive offer. Thus the 360 degree customer view is evolving extending beyond current and historical customer data to encompass future customer predictions, an organization perspective as well as competitive information.

As Data Analytics, CRM, BPM and Case Management applications begin to coalesce we will see new attempts to deliver the 360 customer view. CRM applications will continue to be used to manage the customer data and are today being be extended using BPM applications to automate and remove the mundane customer processes from the agent workload and Case Management applications to allow agents to handle complex customer cases and integrate with multiple data repositories. Add analytics tools that deliver predictions about future customer behaviour and real time data on your competitors and we begin to see how the service desk of the future will look.

The 360 degree customer view remains a valid if poorly executed concept.  With CRM, BPM, Case Management and Data Analytics we might however be on the verge of reaching the holy grail.

The Ideal Customer Service Agent

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.

BPM and CRM – Inside the Social Train or Outside?

There’s a little known business proverb, actually it’s little known because I’ve just made it up. It says that in business it’s easier to urinate out of the window of a moving train than it is to urinate in. This is why businesses acquire or partner with other businesses rather than start up new lines of business or try and catch up themselves.

Social networks are throwing the rule book, of how businesses engage with customers and with themselves, out the window. BPM and CRM applications are right in the middle of this change with their responsibility for both customer and business processes. As a result many BPM and CRM applications are starting to add social capabilities, rebranding themselves as social BPM or social CRM platforms. But is adding social capabilities to CRM and BPM applications a sensible approach? Is this approach the business equivalent of trying to urinate into a speeding train?

In a previous post I suggested that successful enterprise social solutions will require a cultural change within an organisation. Successful social adoption must be enterprise led rather than by individual departments. Businesses must have a strategy for social adoption rather than acquire social capabilities via the back door through their BPM and CRM suites.

Not all employees will have access to the BPM or CRM application. Where is the value in a social BPM or social CRM application only accessible by a fraction of the organisation? If an enterprise social network is to be successful it needs to have enterprise wide reach, it must reach everyone the process can reach.

BPM and CRM applications should integrate with social applications rather than embed or mimic or social capabilities within their suites. BPM applications already orchestrate ECM, CRM and legacy applications so why would social applications be treated differently?  Why not integrate with the best of breed enterprise and public social networks instead of developing in house?

The social train has left the station, the best BPM and CRM applications can do is try and get on at the next station. Choo! Choo!

3 Reasons Why CRM Needs Case Management

1. CRM is Business Focused

The customer relationship has three stakeholders, the Customer,  the Organization  and the Employee.  CRM however has an business centric view of the customer relationship delivering tactical benefits to the organization in the form of better management of sales processes and customer information. CRM views customers in an abstract way identifying customers as a lead, a deal or an incident (link) but not as an individual.   When combined with CRM, Case Management applications allow organisations to meet the needs of all three stakeholders; the employee through increased empowerment, the business through reduced costs in handling both predictable and unpredictable processes and the customer through and improved case handling by service representatives and better personal data integration.

2. Customers Are Unpredictable

CRM applications assume that customers are predictable and that customer centric business processes are linear and can be delivered using straight through processing (STP). Customers are unpredictable (thankfully). When it comes to customer processes CRM attempts to shoehorn customers into a fixed script driven processes that are inadequate when an unpredictable customer request is received.  Customer processes must be able to handle exceptions and unpredictable requests. CRM is fine for handling low to medium volume, predictable customer requests but unlike Case Management CRM doesn’t handle the unpredictable.

3. Employees Must Be Empowered

Successful customer service organizations empower their employees. Customer service organisations can empower representatives by providing them with a 360 view of their customer e.g. purchase history, account/issue status, preferences, lifetime value, upsell opportunities etc. in order to make the right decision on behalf of the customer and the organization. Empowerment also means allowing employees to choose alternative paths towards handling customer issues maximizing the opportunity for resolving customer enquiries at the first point of contact. Case Management empowers employees, allowing them to choose alternate process steps for resolving customer issues and supports their decision making by integrating multiple data sources (CRM, ECM, ERP etc.) and presenting data context at the right place and at the right time in the process.

BPM and Case Management Cloud Integration

As well as introducing (to me anyway) yet another Gartner addition to the cloud taxonomy in the form of “integration platform as a service (iPaaS)” this article by Ross Mason “Will loud hit the wall without good integration?” poses some interesting questions for BPM and Case Management.

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