Let me begin by transporting you back in time to a tense boardroom some 20 years ago. A major reorganisation of a software giant has failed to deliver the intended benefits. Cue the post-mortem and there has been several hours of discussion by the senior managers in the room. Confusion still reins, but suddenly the company founder, who has previously been listening intently to the discussion, seems to have had an epiphany.
“What you are telling me,” he says, “is that the senior managers in this company, who are making commitments, have no idea how this company operates?”
The room is filled with a deafening silence until one senior project manager bravely replies, “On an operational level. That is exactly what I’m telling you.”
Unsurprisingly, the organisation in question no longer exists. Soon after the meeting it was subsumed by a much larger software provider. Perhaps, what is even more staggering is that the anecdote above is by no means an isolated one.
Due to the high demands placed on leadership teams by the investment community, internal challenges, and other issues requiring attention - many leaders lose touch with the ground level work occurring on a daily basis.
The above example serves to illustrate the important of knowing your business, those who work for it and, most importantly, your customers who purchase your goods or services.
Why you should always listen to the customer
Success does not come to those companies who prefer to make their decisions in the boardroom ignoring those who work in the trenches with the customers. And it often eludes those organisations who prefer to pay consultants to tell them what their customers are thinking, instead of asking them themselves.
In my experience, it is not about gathering data and analytics. It’s much simpler than that. If you want be an innovation leader, you need to always have the ‘voice of the customer’ in your ear.
But how do you do this? Well – there are three simple steps that you should follow. You should:
Gather information on the customer from a number of sources in order to eliminate biases and capture an unblemished view of the customers’ needs and preferences
When you have analysed the data, ensure that you build the voice of the customer into all your products and services
Finally, make sure that everyone in the company – from the receptionist to the CEO understands the voice of the customer and is able to communicate exactly what that is both internally and externally. This ensures the customer is top of mind when decisions are made.
Enhanced Customer focus that will set you apart
But curiously, there are some enterprises out there that have followed these three critically important steps, but have still failed.
That may be because they have ignored a much more subtle ‘disconnect’ that can be just as harmful.
In a world where the pace of change can be unrelenting, most organisations, who have customers and stakeholders, don’t necessarily know or study the many different customer touchpoints.
But why have they neglected to do so? It’s almost unbelievable to consider that many companies don’t have a fluent knowledge of all their customer touchpoints. After all, customers are the reason for the existence of any business. They are an organisation’s lifeblood. They are the people who choose what products and services to buy, and ultimately are responsible for determining the winners and losers in a competitive market.
But it’s easy to get lost in large enterprises with their many different business lines and multi-layered managerial structures. And, therefore, it’s even easier to lose sight of those all important customer touchpoints.
Take a large multi-national oil company for example. Most of the big four (ExxonMobil, BP, Shell and Chevron) have thousands of staff. They are split into different business divisions. In most cases - Upstream, Downstream, Chemical and Natural Gas. And in each business division, there are many business lines.
At an enterprise with so many different business-lines, which are often split across different geographies, you could be working with many different groups and entities. The result is that there may be customer touch-points that you may not even be aware of.
Perhaps the greatest challenges faced by companies is when an ‘indirect' customer touchpoint emerges.
Imagine you work for a cellular phone company for example. You may be concentrating all of your efforts on selling phones, but you also have a responsibility to your customer and to safely dispose of his or her mobile when it is no longer fit for purpose.
Not only this – but it is illegal in the United States not to do so, because the materials inside a mobile phone are toxic. So if companies don’t take this into consideration, it’s a potential touchpoint which has been left unmanaged and unutilised.
But what this example really illustrates is the understanding the importance of Process, as it is the Process-Focused Enterprise, which is the future, and not the organisation which operates a command and control structure.
In this particular example, if the telecommunications provider adopts ‘process ownership’, it means that one person owns an end-to-end process. The beauty of process-focused assignment is that no step is missed out. The final step in this process, therefore, would be to ensure that a customer’s phone is safely disposed of or recycled.
To please the customer, you must understand their perspective and how they interact with your company from the inception of the relationship to the completion. To the customer, the full experience is how they determine whether they will buy your product or service again.
When do I need to map?
People often ask me at what point should they map the processes in their business. For me, the answer is fairly simple. As a senior manager, do you know what everyone in your business is working towards on any given day? If your response is negative, then you need to employ mapping.
The importance of Process Mapping
Put simply, if your goal is to delight the customer, then you need to know and comprehend all the different customer touchpoints in your business. And the best way to do this is to understand the different processes (both internally, externally and by incorporating customer connections throughout) is to use mapping.
Let’s take a high-street retailer for example. Imagine that you pay the store a visit. Now, let’s map out the different ‘customer touch-points’, which are as follows:
Customer visits store to browse
Customer purchases product
Customer uses product
Customer disposes of product.
All of these steps are customer connection points in some way. Either the customer is directly communicating with the retailer, or they are doing so indirectly in the way they utilise the product.
But not everyone runs a retail store. Therefore, from a process stand-point, before you begin mapping, you should ask:
What is our process structure?
What are all our processes that interact with the customer?
How are we delivering value through our processes?
To conclude, you need to be able to identify the inputs and the outputs. Secondly you must be able to identify what the steps to follow and also the performers.
The detail you uncover is very rich because it creates the foundational perspective that will allow you innovate and effect change in your business.
Stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll demonstrate how processes can improve clarity for the customer, by presenting you with a real-life case study and, most importantly reveal how customer focused process innovation can work for you and your business.