Business Process Management Unplugged

Let’s unplug the technology, return to basics, and talk about how business process should be used to get and keep more loyal customers.

Creating Expectations Customers Didn’t Already Have – Maybe

Recently, I’ve discovered something that I had long thought about, myself – Hilton Hotels’ Homewood Suites chain has launched a product that allows customers to select the actual room they want when they stay.  For years, we’ve been able to select our own airline seats.  And, we can select our own seats for theater and sporting events.  And, now, our hotel rooms.

Perhaps deep in the recesses of our “traveler’s” minds, we’ve always wanted to be able to select our own rooms.  After all, not every experience with a hotel is consistent if each room we get is markedly different, and perhaps detrimentally so, than the previous room.  I know this from first hand experience since many times I will stay at the same hotel in the same city and get very different room experiences each time.

But, what Homewood Suites has done is reached out and identified a customer need that, if not overt in every traveler’s mind, certainly one that may make sense – just as advanced seat selection did with most airlines beginning in the late 70s and early 80s.

In the words of Steve Towers, this is Outside-In thinking.  Homewood Suites identified a need that customers may have started to articulate and pushed forward with it.  While it remains to be seen how much this need becomes a true expectation for travelers, if it does become one, Hilton has now created a standard for meeting it that other chains are going to have to follow or even exceed.

Which now goes back to my original opener – this was something that, along with other travelers I am sure, I thought was something hotel chains should have been providing for years but went along with the status quo because, well, no one was doing it.  What’s more, I am not a hotel expert – just a mere customer with a thought about a need that, now, someone in the hotel world identified and acted upon.  Now, having my own thoughts about being able to select your own room and layout does not prove that it does not take a subject matter expert in the hotel business to conceive of a need, it does suggest that being a subject matter expert in any business does not assure that you understand what your customers really need to be successful.  While it’s one thing to know your business it’s quite another to actually reach out to your customers and ask them “what can we do to make YOU more successful?”

Perhaps Homewood Suites just surmised what would make travelers more successful.  Maybe they didn’t actually sit down with customers to find out.  But, they certainly stepped outside of their usual world, put themselves in the shoes of their customers, and discovered a need, that may be the basis of a whole new expectation for all hoteliers in the future.

Social Media can be your best friend… or your worst enemy

Over the past few years social media sites such as Facebook, MySpace, YoutTube, Twitter and even your good ol’ blog here on WordPress have taken off.  And, organizations of all shapes and sizes have embraced this new form of connection with their customers.  But, getting tuned in to the social scene is no replacement for making sure you consistently strive to make your customers’ successful outcomes happen.

In early 2008, a band, Sons of Maxwell, flew from Halifax to Nebraska.  At Chicago O’Hare, a passenger on the flight to Nebraska noticed that the ground crew were “throwing guitars out there” on the tarmac.  When the lead singer, David Carroll, retrieved his guitar at the end of his trip, he find it damaged and useless.  What ensued was nearly a year long battle with United Airlines to get the guitar replaced.  After numerous phone calls from Chicago to India, his problem, many times, falling through the cracks at United, never got resolved.  In fact, United denied him any restitution whatsoever.

But, what David Carroll did after that should have companies quivering in the tweets!!!  He composed a song called “United Breaks Guitars” and posted it on YouTube on 6-July-2009.  Since that posting, the video has gone viral with over 2.9 million views.  United Airlines was placed in the unenviable position of having to respond, directly, to Mr. Carroll with after-the-fact reparations.  But, after-the-fact is too late and the damage to the organization’s reputation has already been done.  This kind of genie is impossible to get back in the bottle and it makes an organizations PR person’s job a living nightmare.

The lesson learned?  Social media can be a great tool for connectivity to customers.  But, if you fail to live up to your customers’ expectations for successful outcomes, you could become victim to a complaint letter broadcast around the world.  And, this cost in real dollars will certainly be far more than it would have been if you simply made sure that your customer’s outcome was successful in the first place.

Post script, I am going to publish a new page called “Unsuccessful Customer Outcomes” where, on occasion, I will post the most humorous, creative and egregious e-complaints as a museum, of sorts, and a reminder to all of us of what can happen when customers, armed with the social media tools of the day, are left with no other alternative other than an open attack on the organization.  Don’t let this be you.

Here’s the video for a little entertainment.

Is Cost Optimization why we’re in business?

Recently, I had a discussion about business process and cost optimization.  It seems in this economic environment, companies want to use business process to 1) justify layoffs and 2) optimize costs.  And, while those two objectives may be necessary in this environment, it’s not the only use for good business process.  What’s more, it should not be the primary use for it.

I heard someone once say that if a company intends to lay people off, it should just do so.  Then, it should use business process to figure out what to do next.  We shouldn’t use business process to justify layoffs.  And, while this is a discussion onto itself, the assessment is correct.  If a company is going to lay people off, it should just lay people off.  As for cost optimization, business process can provide relief.  But, NO company is in the business of optimizing costs.  

ALL companies are in the business of optimizing revenue… through 1) understanding what their customers’ expectations for successful outcomes are and making sure that the products, services and all the work (represented by their processes) are aligned to meeting these successful outcomes.  If a company does this properly, it stands a much better chance of getting and keeping more loyal customers now, and into the future.  For it’s survival it must do this and constantly re-evaluate itself relative to its customers’ expectations for successful outcomes.

Companies can use business process to optimize costs.  While this is a good use of business process management disciplines, it is only half the story.  And, it’s the half of the story that, on its own, will not assure that a company survives.  Business Process must be used to get and keep those loyal customers who will assure and “optimize” the revenue stream for the company, now, and into the future.  This economic environment, while difficult, presents great opportunity for customer-focused organizations to plant the seed of outstanding alignment to customer expectations.  Those companies that invest in the customer today in everything they make and do have a foundation for success well into the future.

Cap and Trade – In Process Management

What does cap and trade have to do with process management?  Recently, I was reading an interesting article about cap and trade for carbon in the eco-debates.  And, whether you are for or against it, there, I started to think about how useful it could be in our workplace and with our customers.

The “cap” part is really like a constraint.  It can be imposed on us by customers (we want x in y days) or by our own internal limits (resources, automation, knowledge).  The “trade” part is exchanging available resources to help us meet the cap.  

In todays environment, when companies are laying off workers, customers,looking for greater value in everything, are going to place even more demands on the business.  If we can understand what those demands are, develop a method to measure them and understand and define our own internal constraints, then we can create process based upon roles, rather than people, look to see where available resources are, leverage those resources to make sure our constraints are working at their maximum potential.  Then, when our internal constraints are struggling to meet the cap, we should elevate the constraint so that it can meet that cap… assign more resources to the same roles.

So, to do this, we need to understand what caps are imposed, what constraints we have internally, what our roles need to be to leverage those constraints to meet those caps and the exchange roles within the organization so that our most constrained points work toward meeting the caps.  When companies are laying off more workers, roles and processes need to be better disciplined so that customers don’t go elsewhere.