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Process TestLab: Is your customer alive?

I, the customer, hereby promise that I will never change my mind once I have placed the burden of delivery on my supplier. So help me God.

Customer integration, Outside-In, consumer-orientation, social BPM … the list of terms describing the shift from process silo thinking to a more inclusive approach is as long as the list of companies proclaiming that their customers have always been the centre of their universe.

Slight hesitation. Does that mean that the whole company is turning around the axis called customer or do they just mean the place where they left the customer dead and buried?

Imagine a simple order handling process in which an incoming customer order is first checked and the required product or service is then created in a number of steps before the result is shipped to the customer. Nothing fancy and nothing special.

When our clients validate this sort of process in the Process TestLab they usually do so to check if the process will deliver the desired result and how a process model would translate into a live process.

If the validation run leads to the intended result and the process steps/tasks used are logical and more or less aligned there’s an immediate temptation to sign off on the process. It works, it performs, what more do we need to do? And as the process was initiated by a customer order and the customer gets what he ordered it must be a customer-centric process. QED?

This is where we’ve recently added a little something to the validation scenarios: An unexpected customer change request that comes in while the original order is being processed. In 8 times out of 10 we observe the following:

First it’s consternation: Can’t be done, this sort of customer behaviour has not been provided for in the process.

Then the discussion leads to two possible solutions: Either cancel the original order and ask the customer to create a new one, or go ahead with the original order and tell the customer that he should have made up his mind before starting the process.

It’s at this stage that experience takes over: A clever employee will bypass the process to accommondate the customer. The result? A happy customer, a happy employee AND a lot of undocumented activities, no audit trail, possibly a failure to follow governance and compliance rules. To put it bluntly: You’ve worked outside the rules of your company. Do it once, it may be regarded as a heroic one-off exception and be tolerated, but do it more often (and successfully) you have in fact created an unmanaged, uncontrolled and unauthorized set of shadow processes.

The bottom line is that technically and logically in this example these change requests could be fulfilled. It is only the process design that limits the agility and flexibility that is essentially available.  In other words, the process is incomplete as it doesn’t take the dynamic behaviour of the customer into account. The customer – more often than not – is something we see stuck at the beginning and at the end of a process, totally ignoring the fact that not only we as vendors or suppliers have processes but that customers do as well.

So, when you check your processes, don’t only look at the business logic and process objectives but also ask yourselves if your static process models allow for dynamic behaviour. If you’re planning to provide quality processes, never forget that quality customers are usually alive.

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One Comment

  1. Chris Taylor says:

    Great post. We are often great at modeling the successful and alternative paths through a process but not so good at considering that the OUTCOME of the process may change. We say “ordered delivered” is the outcome assuming the initial order is the final order and not, “customer satisfied”…whatever that may mean. The reality is that a satisfied customer is one who can change, reroute, or cancel an order, and these outcomes need to have the same level of acceptability as “order delivered.”

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