How Do You Align the Customer Experience with Process Improvement?


John, IT Director for maintenance and support of Finance Reporting systems, was asked by his Line Head, VP for Finance Systems, to support a newly rolled out application and declined his request for headcount or downgrading service levels to his customer. Forced to operate at current resource levels with his increased workload, John is forced to optimize his operation by implementing process improvement in his organization.

Above is a typical scenario that forces process improvement—the buzz word in this climate of economic strain—into the corporate picture. Process improvement is seen as the magic pill that allows organizations the luxury of maintaining the status quo, while accommodating additional work from required growth.

Process improvement forces change and change requires adoption. The indoctrination of the stakeholders into a new process is greatly eased when the customer experience is taken into account in the process improvement, hence, the business case for aligning the customer experience.

The Focus

The reason for undertaking process improvement must always be the focus of all lower-level requirements toward this process improvement project. They must all align toward a goal and that goal must satisfy the project’s customer.

For example, in John’s case above, his goal is to increase capacity of his support organization.

A requirement to automate the collection of service requests would be a valid requirement. It releases a resource in his team to do the support work.

However, a requirement to replace the time-tracking system may be out of scope, as the majority of the likely reasons for having this requirement would exceed the scope of John’s goal to increase capacity of his support organization.

Since the customer is the ultimate benefactor of the process improvement project, it is important to identify a specific goal using tangible metric(s). Each of these metrics must contribute toward the fulfillment of the goal.

Using John’s case above, a metric might be a number of recurrent problems. If his team fixes problems well, they are not likely to recur, so this metric would be lower.


Where Is the Customer Experience Alignment In All of This?

Part of the task of determining requirements is ensuring that the customer is onboard with both deliberate and inadvertent effects of the change. The most ignored part of this activity is the impact to the customer experience. It is part of the adoption process to ensure that this customer experience alignment occurs.

Going back to John’s example, assume that one of the requirements of the process improvement happens to be automating the intake process of service requests by using an automated tool that happens to be a market standard.

Activities that might align the customer experience would be:

  • exploring how the customer might react to the new impersonal intake process
  • identifying activity tracks in the intake process that the customer might encounter that is not addressed by the tool
  • investigating failure points in the current process that need to be addressed

Conducting Voice of the Customer (VOC) research will help resolve this question. Listing the options in a quality function diagram (QFD) will help rank and prioritize the options.

In summary, to align the customer experience to the process improvement project, one must identify the tactical requirements of the project, calling out impact to the affected customer and supplementing the requirement set with additional requirements uncovered as a part of this discovery process.

Alignment of the customer experience is usually done after a preliminary list of requirements is gathered.

[eventPDF]Following are some things to remember to effectively align the customer experience with process improvement:

1. Integrate the alignment effort as early as possible in the requirements discovery process.

Call out customer impact to the affected customer as soon as identified during requirements discovery phase. For every requirement, determine the impact to the customer experience. Articulate the impact to the customer. If the customer accepts the impact without resistance, explicitly include a stipulation in the requirements to accept the change as is. Else, introduce an additional requirement to mitigate impact and tie this new requirement to the mitigation effort.

2. Prioritize the new requirements added as a result of #1 above with the rest of the requirements and using the same criteria.

The new requirement, even being the newest in the list, is not necessarily the least important. It just may have been overlooked because it was assumed to be self-correcting. Subject this new requirement to the rigors of previously identified requirements. That means, among many tasks, analyze the customer impact, assess whether or not the new requirement supports the process improvement goal and prioritize the requirement.

3. Identify and include newly identified stakeholders to the process.

In the process of requirements discovery, if impact is determined to a customer who is not in the stakeholder list for the process improvement project, recruit the new stakeholder into the process. Doing this will help break down barriers of resistance to the improved process. If you must exclude an obviously vested stakeholder, document the exception as intentional and offer a future remedy.

4. Validate your requirement set against the bottom-line goal of the process improvement.

Remember, the process improvement is being undertaken to achieve a goal. If the process improvement causes misalignment to the customer experience, and this fact was called out to the customer and they agree to overlook this, the improvement must continue on course.

All the requirements identified for the process improvement must deliver the bottom-line goal that the process improvement has promised. (I.e, If the goal for the improvement was to lower cost, and if, as a result of the process improvement, the cost has increased even with additional functionality, the goal has not been achieved.)

The Result of Aligning the Customer Experience with Process Improvement

The ultimate criteria for determining when a process improvement effort is well-defined is having a complete set of requirements that is cohesive and aligned to the ultimate goal. Requirements are complete when they communicate clearly to the customer, the impact to them of the proposed change; In other words, getting them on board with both the change and adoption plan or aligning the customer experience.

Proper alignment of the customer experience implies fewer surprises for the process improvement team. It also means clear expectations are set with the customer. The project plans are likely to be more accurate, estimates are realistic, and deadlines are met. This makes for satisfied customers and a higher confidence level in the execution team.

Also, it is important to note that process improvement is not a one-time effort. Besides the natural evolutionary nature of the process, it is usually not practical or realistic to implement everything all at once. The importance of the partnership with the customer, demonstrated by this alignment with their experience, cannot be stressed enough. It goes a long way toward forging a great relationship with the customer which does well to ease the next iteration of the improvement process.

Remember, success is how your customer perceives your product. Aligning his or her experience with your process improvement effort just confirms that you are there for his or her bidding. Customers that feel catered to will be happy customers. And, happy customers just mean we have done the job!

Summary of High Level Steps to Ensure Process Improvement Alignment with Customer Experience

In a project scenario, the following is a summary of steps in executing process improvement to ensure that the customer experience is aligned to it.

1. Focus on the goal for process improvement.

If one is not clearly articulated, guide your customer through the process of identifying it.

2. Set the baseline.

Make sure the customer agrees that this is the current process. No point in improving the process if the customer does not know where it is currently.

3. Gather requirements.
Identify requirements needed to make the goal in #1.
  • If new stakeholders are identified, expand your customer list. If explicitly excluding a customer, document the reason why.
  • Identify possible customer impact. If new requirements arise from this effort, subject those requirements to the same rigor as that of the original requirements. (Do they support the goal? What priority do they have? Check with your customer.) If merited, add the requirements to the list.
  • When complete,
    • Check that all the requirements are cohesive, and none detract from the process improvement goal. Illustrate to the customer with user-friendly examples to validate the requirement with your customer.
    • Call out a comprehensive list of changes to your customer’s experience. Make sure your customer is on board with the changes.
4. Execute to a specific requirement set.

Any change to the requirement set, even bonus functionality, must go through change management and be accepted by the customer. This is to mitigate the risk of more unexpected changes to the customer experience.