Why Process Improvement Might Not Have The Impact On Customer Service That You’d Hoped!

Blog | Business Process Improvement

In today’s highly competitive market, businesses know they need to deliver customer service excellence to compete. Constant improvement and change seems to be the new norm – with new technologies and techniques offering incremental improvement at every stage of the customer service journey.

A typical change journey will often start by looking at process improvement, but before you launch down this route there are some things to consider….

Identify the problem
Effectively, process improvement is problem solving… so that means you need to be clear on what the problem actually is.  It’s easy to start from a position of internal focus, such as ‘reduce costs’, without fully exploring what is the reason for those costs in the first place, or what the impact of a cost reduction programme on customers might be.  Be clear on the ‘problem’.  It might be that inefficient systems or technology mean that there are lots of manual interventions within your current process.  So, to be able to solve that problem, you should go right back to the beginning of the issue and start stripping back the layers.  Look at what you want the result to be and work backwards, should we start from scratch?  For example, would a new system that could automate more be better than adding another layer of human intervention?  Yes, there might be initial disruption through migration and embedding, but long-term the result should be better.

Process looked at in isolation doesn’t always result in better outcomes
So, once you’ve identified the problem you need to solve, make sure you are not considering it in isolation.  Look at all the factors around the problem, and, although it might sound obvious, make sure that common sense is engaged.  Have you ever received a letter from the bank or the post office telling you about an underpayment of 10p?  It’s incredibly frustrating when you consider that the cost of the postage alone for the letter is over 50p!  It’s clear in these types of situations that someone has set up automatic tolerances on their systems without considering the impact – on both the bottom line, when it comes to debt recovery vs costs, and in terms of customer goodwill.  Recovering this ‘debt’ will end up costing the company more than writing it off, both in terms of physical cost and customer experience – an unexpected outcome!

Process planned ‘from above’ is often bound to fail
Bringing in a ‘change consultant’ or appointing someone internally who works in isolation is a quick route to failure – you need to ensure that those involved in delivering the process and change are engaged at the very beginning of the project and are working in partnership with you and your team.  Your people are your best resource during projects like this – they can help you to identify the customer pain points, the points of inefficiency and can also act as a sense check, making sure that changes aren’t going to be implemented that might have a negative customer impact.  It’s often the ‘brain that has the problem, that also has the solution’. Giving your people a voice and listening to what they must share from the beginning will help with any change – you will have a cohort of engaged and enthusiastic cheerleaders from inception to when the project starts to embed across the business.

Remember: Efficiency + Effectiveness = Success
Efficiency and effectiveness are both essential ingredients for successful process improvement.  One or other of them in isolation won’t lead to better results – only when you look at both together can you get the results you want. But what is the difference?  Being effective is about doing the right things, while being efficient is about doing things right. A very efficient process might mean removing all the customer touchpoints that customers want – the ones that guide them through the processes – and the result might be increased customer complaints. Or indeed it might be about adding in extra stages to make sure you collect every bit of data you might possibly need, but it creates a longwinded and painful customer experience with the same outcome. The same goes for a very effective process – it might deliver great customer service in the first instance – but, if you don’t collect the data you need to operate, it will result in more customer complaints when you can’t bill correctly or the product you deliver goes to the wrong address.  All great process improvements need to consider both elements in tandem – what do I, as a business, need to effectively deliver my product and service, and what is the best way to get there?

There are many examples of where ‘process improvement’ exercises have resulted in higher costs and poorer customer service.  But by engaging common sense, involving the right people, making sure that you are looking at the ‘whole’ problem, and communicating the change consistently and thoroughly, these issues can be avoided.