Add BPM to CRM to improve customer service, strengthen loyalty and boost profits

It’s no secret that BPM tools and methodologies can help facilitate internal-facing business processes. But as many business and IT executives are learning, BPM can significantly enhance customer-facing processes as well.

That capability is, of course, increasingly important in a service-based economy in which customers can easily switch providers. By applying BPM to customer-centric processes, companies can not only dramatically improve customer satisfaction but, ultimately, boost the bottom line.

The only caveat: Successfully combining BPM and CRM requires a new mindset that many companies may find challenging.

“The new frontier in the customer relationship is not just addressing their current needs, but anticipating the customer needs further downstream,” says Rick Rummler, a partner in the Performance Design Lab, a consulting and training company.

Customer-centric processes can involve anything related to ordering or servicing products, including loyalty programs or cross-selling. “It completely depends on the industry,” says Janelle B. Hill, a Gartner Inc. vice president and distinguished analyst. “It could [also] relate to listening to customers to get a better understanding of market needs for product or service upgrades.”

Rummler offers the example of buying training materials online. Customers are prompted to enter a shipping address. But perhaps a buyer doesn’t need all the materials delivered to one location, or maybe the customer prefers delivery in phases rather than receiving everything in one shipment. “If we’re able to anticipate the downstream usage of those materials, then we can potentially alter our process to better meet the customer’s needs,” says Rummler.

“A lot of the focus is on taking an ‘outside-in’ view as opposed to an ‘inside-out’ view,” Hill says. Traditionally, “companies were thinking about themselves; how to maximize profitability by customer. It was internally driven,” she continues. “Now businesses are starting to recognize that they can actually improve their relationships by thinking outside-in.”

That view involves adopting a new mindset, in Hill’s view: “It’s not so much about what can we do to make sure the customer is loyal to us but, more importantly, what can we do to demonstrate to the customer that we’re loyal to them,” she explains.

That approach involves adopting a higher standard for ensuring customer loyalty, with the underlying message that “we respect customers enough and value their business enough that we put their needs first, maybe even before prospective and new customers and before our own internal needs,” Hill says. Initially, that can seem like a risky approach, as it may involve decisions that slightly reduce profits while demonstrating the commitment to those existing customers. Ultimately, though, the company should see increased business from those customers.

Another important factor in using BPM for customer-centric processes is understanding the big picture—that is, the entire customer experience. “We tend to segment the customer experience based on professional functions or professional disciplines. Usually there are multiple groups involved in meeting a customer need,” says Rummler.

BPM provides the ability to understand the customer experience holistically, Rummler continues. “Without BPM, organizations don’t have that ability. The tendency is to break things down and each area applies its best practices,” he says. “Sometimes when you add that up, it doesn’t meet the customer’s needs.” By looking at the larger context, organizations can better understand specific processes to create a complete and consistent customer experience.

It’s also important to consider how processes are defined and implemented. This means letting people—both inside and outside your business—guide your processes, as opposed to the other way around.

Typically, “we have conducted processes by following the process as designed. Someone designed the CRM environment and imposed it on all the workers,” Hill says. She recommends instead that organizations design customer-centric processes as they are performed. “This is consistent with the outside-in concept. You allow a process to evolve by observing how the work is done by the people who do it and letting the workforce itself evolve the process,” she explains.

The “design by doing” concept is one side of Gartner’s view of social BPM. The other side is what Gartner calls “the force of the collective,” which Hill defines as “the external community, customers or prospects who have a collective voice that can influence your business.” Companies may even want to encourage the collective to offer insight into running the business, she continues. “The more socially aware your company, the more community focused and better corporate citizen you will be,” says Hill. “That will have positive impacts on overall business outcomes.”

“The technology is no doubt the biggest enabler of BPM—if it’s done right,” says Rummler. “The challenge is there are many very practical barriers to technology being able to play that role.”

For example, politics and budgets may prevent BPM technology from being adopted and implemented across an entire organization. Different functional owners may be willing to pay for the technology to put a process in place. “But if you don’t have someone who is willing to play the role in a way that is cross-functional, then technology can be there, but it’s not allowed to play the role that it can,” says Rummler.

The biggest hurdles to implementing customer-facing processes are typically internal ones, Hill says. One big challenge: cultural and corporate values that are entrenched in management behavior. “We’re talking about a pretty radical departure from how companies operate today. It’s a switch to a more open, trusting and empowered kind of corporate culture than is typical of many, many companies today,” she notes.

“Both the technology and message of BPM have changed dramatically in the last 20 years to allow the kind of behavior I’ve been describing—outside-in and social responsibility. We have those capabilities in the technology and in the methodology and best practices around BPM, but the world just isn’t getting it,” Hill adds. “I still find that the old legacy mentality is just so entrenched that it’s going to be a hard transition—and in some companies it’s going to be a long transition—in order to really change the way they work.”

READER FEEDBACK: Is your company considering combining BPM and CRM? If so, ebizQ editors would like to hear about your experience. Contact Site Editor Anne Stuart at

About the Author

Crystal Bedell is an award-winning freelance writer who specializes in covering technology. Contact her at cbedell[at]

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