Where in BPM is the Customer?

This is something scribed three years ago just after the launch of the book ‘Customer Expectation Management – Success without Exception’.
Has anything changed? Well yes and no – however you be the judge.

The application of Business Process Management (BPM) is known to have multiple benefits that produce a hard return on investment (ROI). Automation, quality, compliance, management, and optimization of activities represented by business processes are the areas most often cited in this regard. Yet generally the focus of BPM started – and remains – as an “inside-out” perspective, placing hard limits on the benefits BPM can achieve.

At a time where customer satisfaction and loyalty have reached historic lows, and competition has reached its historical peak, the question must be asked, “where in BPM is the customer?” Yes, the customer is a missing piece in the vast majority of BPM practices and products. Management principles have traditionally approached business success from the inside-out perspective, concentrating on margin-based improvements. That made a lot of since during the time when internal activities suffered from substantial bloat and competition was limited by geography and time to market.

Yet over the years we have dipped into that well many times, and the well is about to run dry. Some statistics suggest as we continue to try to achieve the same percentage of gain through each improvement cycle, each iteration produces significantly less tangible value to the organization. It’s a funnel affect that just gets narrower and narrower through every cycle, leaving less and less real benefit for the business.

Meanwhile what is really driving business success? The answer, of course, is the customer. In the 21st Century Value Chain. It is the number of customers and the lifecycle of the business-customer relationship that determines business success.

Known as Customer Expectation Management, the setting of customer expectations and the delivery of those expectations without exception is the “secret sauce” behind the success of market-leading companies such as Virgin, Fedex, Zara, Best Buy, and Southwest Airlines, to name a few.

Many of these market leaders are not competing on price. Sure, their prices are competitive but that is not where their success lies. In many cases they are even able to charge a premium for their products because they are setting and managing customer expectations with a vengeance. They are telling customers what to expect, making their customers’ lives simpler and easier while delivering on these expectations with consistency.

Meanwhile, price competitors are stuck in a no-holds barred dogfight for the worst customer any business can have, the customer who buys predominately by price. There is no place where customers are less loyal and more demanding than in the arena of lowest-price decision buying.

Taking Customers to Heart
Yet BPM by-in-large doesn’t include the customer except as an adjunct to inside-out activities. Improving quality and streamlining processes can help reduce really poor customer experiences or align a business with the market expectation a competitor has set. But these are only secondary effects to the goals of reducing internal costs, increasing worker productivity and so on.

In an age verging on unlimited choice, global competition, and customers often livid with dissatisfaction, the only way to be a market leader is to be a customer leader. We all know that our businesses must have customers and we have all had our share of unsatisfactory customer experiences. In spite of this, why is it so difficult for us to quit viewing our business from the inside-out? Habit and tradition is all that is holding us back. Will we allow our history to determine our future? It’s our choice.

Is there a way to know if the customer is really part of the BPM practice?
Absolutely. Take a look at your business processes. All business processes have an outcome, right? So how many of your business processes have a customer outcome? What about the concept of a successful customer outcome (SCO)?

To fulfill its destiny of being the Next-Generation Business Enabler that its proponents want it to be, BPM must realign its focus to the customer. Business processes must focus on the customer, minimize potential points of failure (such as Moments of Truth, which yield either Moments of Magic or Moments of Misery), and produce successful customer outcomes at all points where the customer touches the business.

That’s the essence behind Customer Expectation Management. It is the critical element in the drive to increase growth and profitability. Traditional inside-out process improvement leverages customer success by maximizing the net positive effect to the organization’s bottom line but it won’t create success by itself.

The only reason we are here is to serve our customers and by serving our customers, making their lives simpler and easier, and helping them be successful we will make our businesses successful. It’s simple and straightforward. Focusing on the customer from the customer’s point of view is our opportunity to achieve the success we all want. It’s the experience we all want when we are in the role of the customer. It should be at the heart of everything we do and should be woven into the fabric of every application and system we use.

Will BPM be a cornerstone in the creation of success for your business?
It could be, but the question you should be asking yourself is far simpler:
Is the customer at the heart of your BPM plan?

The principles above are derived from direct experience and research within world leading companies. Prospective Certified Process Professionals gain full exposure to the techniques, tools and CEMMethod(tm) in the Business Professional programme

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