United We Stand, Divided We ? Lose Customers

In my October and December 2007 columns I discussed how integration failures between an organization and its BPO providers can create a negative customer experience, and how focusing on intended outcomes could help to improve such scenarios. In this column, I want to dig a bit deeper into how to achieve such a focus using the key assets of process, information, technology, and organization.

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In my experience the following approaches are crucial:

You can’t spell BPO without “business process” and one of the recent buzz phrases for how organizations operate their processes at a high level is, in fact, “process orchestration”. Although the phrase often focuses more on the workflow aspects of processes, I’m going to take a broader view of orchestration in a few areas:

Integrate state-fully – Organizations can outsource an entire business process or a subset thereof. Either way, it’s likely that the process needs to integrate with other processes residing internally and/or externally to that organization. Too often, process integration is viewed from a structural standpoint rather than process state. It’s the difference between asking, “How should we link these processes together?” and, “Under what conditions do other interdependent processes need to understand this process, and what do they need to understand?”

Incorporating process state considerations into integration plans can help alleviate issues like those I described in my previous columns. In my case, the organization’s BPO providers didn’t understand the state of my transaction, nor did they have crucial information when needed, and I had to perform the “integration” manually.

Instrument logically – I’ve touched on this in previous columns, and process instrumentation is key to understanding whether intended outcomes are being achieved. Since it’s hard to manage what you don’t measure, I believe sensory mechanisms are crucial to process orchestration.

In my case, such mechanisms could have helped alert the organization to the nature and “state” of my order and that there were unresolved issues. Some of you might think this is a lot of infrastructure to deal with a small number of exceptions, and I agree that an organization’s business priorities should hold sway. However, I’ve sent over $10M of client business to the organization, and my transactions totaled over $20K for my small business alone.

Considering the tools available to implement process instrumentation, and the avenues available to discuss poor service, an important question is how much is it worth to any organization not to fail its customers?

Operate resiliently – One definition of resiliency is the ability to adapt positively to change. Given my situation, the organization could have applied resources to understand the inherent disconnects, and then steward their resolution and ultimately produce intended outcomes outside of the “normal” process flow. The integration and instrumentation approaches I described earlier enable effective process performance, and can also help to provide resiliency. Why make good customers solve process issues?

Manage holistically – At a high level, business process management encompasses process definition, execution, measurement and refinement. In my experience, a holistic view of process performance relative to best practices, resource efficiency and other relevant aspects is an effective approach to ensuring intended outcomes. The conductor leads the orchestra together.

Conducting the Business Process Orchestra

As you might guess, the broader view of orchestration I’ve just posited must actually come to life within elements of information, technology and organization in order to help

achieve intended outcomes.

Here are some important points to live by:

Organize for accountability – Leading manufacturers use practices which enable almost any individual worker to “stop the line” to identify and fix issues. I maintain that this approach can be adapted to other types of organizations so that any person can take stewardship of a situation in order to step outside of the defined process flow in order to solve problems and reach intended outcomes.