BPM's starring role on the customer-satisfaction stage

Editor’s Note: In this Q & A, ebizQ’s Peter Schooff and analyst Neil Ward-Dutton discuss using BPM to enhance customer relationship management (CRM). Here, in Part I, they talk about BPM’s role in improving customer experiences. In Part II, Ward-Dutton shares an example of a customer successfully using BPM to improve customer service. Ward-Dutton, co-founder and research director of MWD Advisors, is among Europe’s best-known IT analysts. This interview, excerpted from a longer podcast, has been edited for length, clarity and editorial style.

ebizQ: First, how can BPM directly affect customer experience?

There are so many ways. But I think a great way to think about this is to think about what it takes to deliver a great customer experience and then work from that.

So we can take it as given that people understand that [delivering a great experience] is so much more important than maybe it was in the past, given increased competition and everything. But what does it mean to deliver a great customer experience?

One of the big challenges here is the fact that the environment is getting so much more complex and people’s expectations are getting so much higher. So you think about what it takes to deliver even a consistent experience across in-store, on the Web, through a kiosk or mobile, and so on—and maybe even through third-party sort of syndications, or other websites, maybe Facebook properties, whatever.

Using all that in a consistent way to deliver a great experience is super- tough. So that’s the first challenge. When you consider that people's expectations are so much higher than they were, driven by increased consumerization and so much sophistication around online marketing, it’s clear that this is tough.

ebizQ: You’ve talked about a ‘hierarchy of needs’ for delivering a great customer experience. Can you discuss that?

There are three key components. The first level, the lowest level, is about being consistent. Even though that's the first level, that's not easy because what we're talking about is being consistent across all of those channels and venues that may be very, very different. To do that, everyone who interacts with the customer needs to have consistent information. They need consistent authority. And they need to be able to bring all this together at the right moment for the customer, regardless of the venue and the channel that the customers are coming in through.

So it's about integrating things like policies and procedures and systems across many brands, maybe many departments and channels. That's clearly something that BPM as a method and BPM technology can help do.) It's an integration story fundamentally. It's about integrating knowledge, systems, and people so that the foundation.

The second level in the hierarchy is about making it easy for the customer to do business with you. It's all very well to understand customers’ interaction history—what they bought, maybe what they looked at, where they might have had problems in the past—and to also understand where opportunities might be. But what about actually helping customers with sales inquiries, with problems, with returns, with complaints? How about providing notifications?

This is really fundamentally about, again, crossing venues and channels, drawing the customers in and letting them into your own processes in your own business. [Companies doing this are] not seeing the customer as being outside. They're actually seeing the customer intimately as a part of the work they're doing, and they’re making it possible and easy for them to go outside what may be the predetermined kind of things they would like them to do.

This is about really giving them the optimum flexibility across all these channels and venues to make inquiries and get sensible responses, to get their problems dealt with promptly, to deal with returns that may be unpredictable and complaints that may not fit into an easy category. This is really about bringing the process right to the customer and not being afraid to make them an integral part of what you do.

The pinnacle of delivering a great customer experience, once you're able to make things consistent and then make it easy for the customer, is to really go the extra mile. This [third level] is really about being prepared to deliver flexibly, and it’s absolutely driven from the customer's own point of view.

So you’re recognizing that customers are people, and people are unpredictable. Life is chaotic. You can't expect customers to always fit into a predefined structured way of working, where they always do things in a predictable order at the right time. Credit cards go missing. People can't make it home to take delivery of something. Someone, at the last minute, changes their mind about a product. You can't always do things in predictable ways if you want to really go the extra mile. You have to be prepared to embrace unpredictability.

This is really about managing process variation between customers and scenarios. It’s about taking the “customer-first” design perspective, designing your services around customer expectations. BPM has a really strong role to play at the heart of that. This is partly because a lot of BPM expertise and method are actually about thinking customer first, thinking what activities really deliver value for the customer. That’s a great starting point for delivering great services, and designing great services, and also then delivering great processes and experiences to back that up.

ebizQ: When we talk about “customer experience,” a lot of people automatically think of customer relationship management, or CRM. How are BPM and CRM really co-existing these days?

That's a great question because, I think, there's the kind of theoretical existence and then the practical one.

In practice, we find so many cases where the promise, the nirvana, of CRM is just never delivered on. CRM has become kind of reduced down to the bare kind of technical nuts and bolts, which is really about a system for recording customer interactions, but not even all customer interactions [just bits and pieces, depending on the channel]. You tend to find fragmented CRM implementations where some CRM technology is deployed for online and another system is deployed for mobile interactions. So you tend to get these channel-venue silos.

It’s very technology-centric. It's primarily about managing relations by recording the interactions and then having some simple workflows around making sure that both don’t get dropped.

A lot of CRM systems delivered quite poorly on the vision. So at the moment, they're fulfilling one key component—but it's just one component of what's required overall to deliver on that experience. You really need much more sophisticated [systems], what I would call “systems of coordination,” built around the CRM core to really be consistent across channels to make it easy for customers and do all that extra stuff.

See Part II of this Q & A for Ward-Dutton’s example of the BPM-CRM combination in action—and advice on pitfalls to avoid.

READER FEEDBACK: Have you used BPM to improve customer experience? If so, ebizQ editors would like to hear about your experience. Contact Site Editor Anne Stuart at editor@ebizq.net.

About the Author

Peter Schooff is a former contributing editor for ebizQ, where he also managed the ebizQ Forum for several years. Previously, Peter managed the database operations for a major cigar company, served as writer/editor of an early Internet entertainment site and developed a computer accounting system for several retail stores. Peter can be reached at pschooff@techtarget.com.

More by Peter Schooff

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