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Customer Service, Process Improvement

Some thoughts on “To Be” Service and Process Design

I’ve been having conversations with a couple of organisations recently about their thoughts on redesigning their processes. The two main areas of discussion have been about the role of IT and what is the service that their customers actually want.

The IT discussion is always interesting and it’s classic ‘chicken and egg’: which comes first, the process design or the technology? In reality it’s an iterative discussion because if you know what possibilities the IT brings, it can enable significantly different process designs. Conversely, the last thing you need to do is look for ways to ‘automate, existing processes. Michael Hammer, in Reengineering the Corporation, described the latter as ’paving the cow paths’.

With one of the organisations, they are currently designing a brand new service delivery process that will have to be low-cost to operate if they are to have any chance of running it without losing money. So, their historical approach of using paper-based systems for field staff to submit information to enable invoicing, clearly needs to be automated. Similarly, whereas in other parts of their business where they can afford to run a gold-plated service, the new process can’t afford this approach. They need to be much more radical in their thinking about not duplicating work done and increasing the value-add activities in the process. They also need to challenge rigorously, the business value-add steps, which do nothing for the customer, but historically have been risk-avoidance activities.

In the other organisation, the challenge is understanding what customers actually want. They are having conversations about the need for ’personal service’, i.e. customers currently interact with staff throughout the process (by ’phone typically) and staff take responsibility for progressing cases through the process. As in the first organisation, existing systems are heavily paper-based, so automation is clearly going to make things more efficient.

However, I think the discussion of ’personal service’ is flawed. They should be talking about ’personalised service’, i.e. service personalised to the way the customer wants it delivered, not delivery constrained by the way it’s always been provided.

Historically, that means customers ’phone the office (in normal UK working hours) and speak to someone. Given the fact that many of these customers are outside the UK, in different time-zones and all with Internet access, it seems more likely that accessing services at a time that suits them, via the Internet, would meet their needs better.

Of course, they can only resolve this debate if they have customer requirements data. Without this, it’s just guesswork as to what customers will value.

A useful model I have used in the past is the RATER model, based on Berry, Parasuraman and Zeithaml’s ’Determinants of Service Excellence’ research.

This can be used to find out from customers how much value they place on the five determinants of service quality:

  • reliability (do they do what they promise?)
  • assurance (do they instil confidence?)
  • tangibles (how do they ’present’ themselves?)
  • empathy (do they make it easy to do business?)
  • responsiveness (how long do they take to do things?)

One of the interesting things in the research is the fact that customers’ RATER priorities will vary depending on where they are in their buying journey. What’s important in the ’sales’ part of their journey is likely to be different to when they are signed-up and using the service.

For both the organisations mentioned above, I suspect tangibles and empathy are key in the buying stage, but reliability and responsiveness take over in the service usage stage.

A long time ago, Tom Peters introduced the idea of ’mass customisation’. He meant that organisations have to find ways to personalise services at the individual customer level, but do this in an efficient, cost-effective way.

So, it’s likely that both the organisations will have to find ’mixed models’ of service design and delivery. That will inevitably mean using technology to enhance the process and enable them to operate at low costs per transaction.

An important aspect of the To Be process designs will be identifying customers’ preferences early in the process and then signposting them to the appropriate route.

The more people they can channel down the ’self-service’ route, the cheaper their transaction costs are likely to be (assuming these processes are well error-proofed).

Self-service could include:

  • customers creating and managing their own online accounts
  • making online bookings to access services
  • providing ’solutions’ to problems via FAQs and downloadable guides

Assisted service could include:

  • web chats with people in the organisation
  • structured e-mail and web enquiry forms, dealt with by first line support people
  • telephone support

Any of these assisted support options may need escalation to 2nd line support if they can’t be resolved at the ’first touch’.

Finding out what the customer wants and will value, is key in making any of these design decisions. Otherwise, the risk is that processes simply get automated and customers get annoyed!

You might also like to read “Personalised services – a range of options


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