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

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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

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

Politics – the 3rd Wave of Social Media?

Growing up, a recurring joke in our house was mum and dad’s inability to use our video recorder. I still remember the excitement of the top loading VHS arriving in the house and, as was the case with any new gadget, it was left to the kids to work it out. My brother took charge of the manual; I took care of the cabling and TV hook up. For the most part this arrangement worked fine. We had some great times with that machine. There were times however when we had forgotten to program the video and an urgent call home to get the football recorded was met with at best a recording of Brookside or at worst complete bemusement.

The same technology generational separation occurs regularly and is happening today with social media. Nowhere is this more apparent than in politics.

A few years back we saw the impact of social media on President Obama’s election victory but it would appear that social media for most established political parties remains an anathema. The success of Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement in this week’s Italian parliamentary elections off the back of social media campaign however shows what’s possible. Previously political movements and parties were formed by like-minded individuals, locally connected. Now local connections are no longer necessary. We can find like-minded individuals anywhere.

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A meteor shower in Russia is on our screens within minutes. I live in Ireland yet I talk face to face with colleagues in the U.S. on a daily basis. Horses from Romania are in my evening meal. We are connected as families, employees and businesses across countries and continents as never before.   While technology has made the world smaller, more connected it has also made our lives more susceptible to a wider spectrum of influences.

So it seems strange to me that while our personal and working lives are increasingly influenced by global factors our political structures remain organized on a national basis. Global warming and the financial meltdown show the powerlessness of national governments and nationally organized political parties. It’s only a matter of time before the establishment of continental and international political parties enabled by social media. In recent years we have seen tentative moves in this direction through the Green Party and the Occupy movement. Social media has been central to the national political changes in the Middle East.

The use of social media has experienced a number of waves, from its initial use in our personal lives to maintain bonds with distributed family and friends to its use in a business context to flatten organization hierarchies and remove business siloes.  Politics represents the third and potentially most disruptive wave with national boundaries proving to be irrelevant. Depending on your view point politics and social media is a match made in heaven or hell. Politics is about conversations and social networks take conversations to a hyper level.

It’s often said that social media has made customers more empowered than ever. Not only can a single customer refuse to do business with you they can also destroy your reputation in minutes through amplification of their issue on social media. This empowerment is extending to constituents as well.

The web and social media is borderless.  Politics will soon be borderless too.

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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.