Forget tick box exercises: "process professionals must deliver better customer outcomes" (Transcript)

Steve Towers
Contributor: Steve Towers
Posted: 02/19/2014

If you haven’t noticed already, your customers have so much more power at their disposal. They’re well informed. They can easily compare your prices with those of your competitors. And they’re vocal when things don’t go well. So what does this mean for process professionals?

"The focus of projects and the people inside organizations and enterprises is changing," explains Steve Towers, CEO and founder of the BP Group. "The dialogue is less about how skilled you are at a particular technique but how is what you’re doing really going to contribute to achieving those deliverables which are going to move the metric on the customer satisfaction Net Promoter Score?"

In this PEX Network interview, Towers explains why he sees customer-orientation as a growing trend within process excellence and the skills and capabilities required to achieve it.

Editor’s note: this is a transcript of a video interview and has been edited for readability. To watch the original interview, click here.

Everything should be oriented towards your customer!

PEX Network: What do you see as some of the key trends that emerging this year within Process Excellence?

Steve Towers: The focus in the enterprise is now more customer-oriented. There’s much more information out there now, so organizations are doing things like Net Promoter Score and using more advanced ideas arising from Net Promoter Score.

This means that the focus of projects and the people inside organizations and enterprises is changing. The dialogue is less about how skilled you are at a particular technique but how is what you’re doing really going to contribute to achieving those deliverables which are going to move the metric on the customer satisfaction Net Promoter Score? That’s a big trend.

The way I see that playing out, is that if, for instance, you bumped into the CEO and you have that 30 second elevator test. He or she is less interested now in how you’ve come in on time, to budget and achieved the deliverables.

Instead, they’re much more interested in how is what you’re doing going to contribute to our public delivery? And, more particularly, some of the challenges that they’re facing and being beaten up about, how’s that going to resonate out in the market, generally – how’s it going to move the marker for us?

PEX Network: Is there also an element of technology becoming much more important within the Process Excellence community?

Steve Towers: Being around as long as I have, you’ve seen technology dealt with in many different ways. What we’re seeing now is less discussion about technology, and more discussion about capability.

We’ve all seen on the internet that picture of the three-month-old child playing with the iPad, and I think the technology has moved in that direction: it’s less about educating people in the use of technology, and more what can technology provide?

As a consequence, some of the things that organizations are doing now, like embracing mobile platforms, are not about massive infrastructure investment. Instead, they’re about the utilization of the existing things that we’ve already got, in combination with the smart phone idea, so that people can access the systems.

That means they can become much more self-service oriented; they can do much more for themselves, as consumers who have much more information than they ever had before. So, the technology dialogue isn’t so much about: how do we build a massive enterprise system, it’s much more about: how do we provide the capability at the point of customer contact?

PEX Network: Now, going back to that focus on customer outcomes and improving customer satisfaction, what do you think is really driving that trend?

Steve Towers: I think that, at the end of the day, it’s a numbers game: you’re only as good as your last customer interaction. We all know the negative side effects of Twitter, and how something can explode.

But, in the same sort of way, good news travels just as fast as bad news. So people who are really performing well create an expectation. We can see that, for instance, in the airline industry, where progressive organizations very much know that the last interaction you had on the airline is going to dictate how many people you tell about that, but not only how many people you tell about, who you share that with in family and friends and where you’re going to put your business in the future.

The customer outcome is very important, and, of course, that’s very much allied with this digital capability as being able to provide at the point of contact.

There are some horror stories, though. For instance, I was hearing a story the other day about one particular US airline who were saying they’d done a customer survey, and the customer survey said people didn’t want in-seat films in four, five-hour flights across the US. Well, who on earth did they ask that question? Who said that’s what they wanted?

Whereas the smart organizations, which are much more focused around customer outcomes, actually go and figure out what the customers need, even when customers don’t know they need it themselves. For instance, when you sit down on, say, a WestJet flight, it’s a, really, quite different experience from some of those older, more classic, organizations that are still asking, what do you want?

PEX Network: How, in Process Excellence, then, do we need to shift our thinking in order to respond to those new emerging trends?

Steve Towers: I think there’s a big mind-shift underway, and we can very ably see that with those people who are involved with the Process Excellence community who embrace this idea of customer outcomes. They’re aligning their work to deliver customer outcomes, as opposed to those people who are still saying, well, what we did in the past in terms of our approach – whether it’s Six Sigma Lean, or BPM – we just need to try harder.

Trying harder isn’t the solution anymore, it’s about getting smart at what we do. You don’t need to embrace every aspect of the training that goes with process excellence, but instead the specific things that are related to your organization and the customer outcomes you’re trying to deliver.

For process excellence professionals, the challenge is to no longer be looking at the past and learning what people did, but more trying to anticipate the future, and get themselves in a position where they can really help their organizations at a day to day, tactical level, but more importantly, contribute those tactical-level approaches towards a strategic delivery – which is better successful customer outcomes.

PEX Network: Looking towards that future that you just mentioned, what are some of the skills and capabilities that you think process practitioners will have to have in order to make that a reality?

Steve Towers: We’ve always thought that we’ve got a list of techniques, and if we learn those techniques, we get a tick in the box and we’re qualified. That’s just a question of you might have learnt techniques.

The people who are really successful with Process Excellence at the moment are individuals in their organizations who have a capability which can embrace both a strategic level of thinking – where is the organization going, and how are we going to get there – and, in a day to day context, how the projects that we’re working on contribute to that higher level objective.

So this means connecting the dots between the day to day tactical things that we’re doing to improve business and project delivery, to the actual strategic outcome of the organization.

Not all people can have that skill set – some people are very good at the tactics, others are good at strategy. But the really good Process Excellence people, those people who get qualified, understand it’s about being able to connect the dots.

Steve Towers
Contributor: Steve Towers
Posted: 02/19/2014

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