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BPM: Theory to Practice

Tim Huenemann

Extreme Customer Interaction

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When analyzing processes, those that involve customers often get the most attention. For most organizations, customer expectations and satisfaction are of the utmost importance, and rarely can process management efforts be successful without keying in on customer interactions.

There are may facets of analyzing and designing customer-facing processes, and there are certainly no one-size-fits-all guiding principles for designing these interactions. You may want predictability and rigor to achieve thorough consistency. Or you may desire flexibility to meet dynamic and unpredictable customer needs. You may value simplicity for the casual customer over options for the frequent customer.

One aspect of customer interaction that I find isn't discussed as often as simple "customer satisfaction" is, how much knowledge do customers need of your processes, even your internal processes? To be satisfied and have expectations met, does a customer need to make a significant effort to learn the ins and outs and nuances of how to do business with you? And if so, is this effort rewarded with enough value so that the customer finds it worthwhile?

Some organizations operate in an environment that I call extreme customer interaction (for the obligatory three-letter acronym, use XCI!). They depend on hyper-tuned attention to customer-facing processes, and customers on their part take an equal interest in learning the organization's operations. My favorite example of this is Disney World. There is an entire cottage industry for customers to learn how to maximize efficiency and value, including websites, books, and smart phone apps. The publishers of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World even use custom-developed statistical software to design "touring plans" for various scenarios that minimize walk and wait time. It's an interesting topic for discussing queuing theory, especially when it's all in a large, contained environment, where activity in one spot affects the rest of the system.

Considering customer interaction, Disney World is a very controlled and precise operation, designed for a high volume, consistent experience. And it has long been admired for nice touches and its "magic." Its Fastpass system redesigned queuing processes for better operation and customer value. However, on the flip side, customer needs or problems that are off the beaten path and generally need more of a case management approach have in my experience (and based on reading many past versions of the Unofficial Guide) been more problematic. Not that customer service in general would be called poor, but it's an indicator of priority in process design. Overall, the design and management of Disney World's extreme customer interaction is a very interesting and some would say amazing challenge.

I will briefly mention one other XCI example: Southwest Airlines. The processes for making a reservation, getting a good boarding pass, and lining up at the gate are intimately familiar to customers, especially regular business fliers. Customers develop deep knowledge and skills in how Southwest's processes work. In this case, somewhat by necessity and somewhat by choice to get more value.

These of course aren't ordinary case studies, but we can learn from these examples when designing customer-facing processes and evaluating the desired and predicted level of interaction and customer involvement.

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This blog offers a true “practitioner’s perspective,” with issues and commentary based on real-world experience across many industries.

Tim Huenemann

Tim Huenemann is the senior principal for business architecture and process management at Trexin Consulting. He has more than 20 years of experience in process management and business-focused IT. In his consulting work, he helps organizations execute business strategy by implementing effective process management and IT solutions. He regularly translates BPM theory into practice, and practice, and more practice. Contact Tim at tim.huenemann[at]trexin.com.

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