Chaos & Carnage: Losing Sight of your Customer

Earlier this week, divine providence led me to a chance encounter with an old friend.  Over a cup of tea, we found ourselves catching up on old times and believe it or not, discussing customer service!

My friend is a consultant – a highly sought after trouble shooter – who is paid significant sums by ailing companies to revolutionise their business and get them back on a high performing track.  For the past few months, he’s been working for a large company that’s recently realised it’s in complete chaos.  Initially a highly effective business supported by streamlined processes, there’s now an air of desperation – a business impeded by increasingly complex systems that frustrate rather than support their goals.

The throughput of incoming business has lagged to the point that they’re now adding to a hearty surfeit of outstanding work on a daily basis.  More work than you could shake a stick at… which might be the only thing they haven’t done to date to help solve the problem.  They’ve tried everything and anything, but nothing seems to be working.  And so, in comes the expensive consultant to sort it out.

So why do businesses often find themselves in these situations?  The answer is surprisingly simple… they take their eyes off the customer.

More often than not, a company will initially introduce processes that support the most effective path from A to B in order to serve and satisfy their customer.  However, over time, they find themselves in a natural drift – something gets added on here or something gets added on there… and before you know it, the once clean process is now looking like the system equivalent of Mr Potato Head.

The fact that things are added – in itself – isn’t an issue.  However, WHY they’re added on and why they CONTINUE to be added on is a problem.  All too often, bits & pieces are added on because of a non-customer need (e.g. admin want a 3rd copy of the receipt for audit purposes), an isolated business need (e.g. the Director wants to know for certain how many times the customer is asked whether they’d like to sign up for a loyalty card) or as a sledgehammer to crack a nut (e.g. rechecking the order slip because person A once signed it in the wrong place).

Not only do all these additions complicate a streamlined process, there is a tendency for them to stick to a process like limpets… never to be removed!  The audit might have passed, the Director is satisfied and Person A now signs in the right place, but the additions remain.

Most importantly, underneath all of this, there is no drive to satisfy the customer… it’s all about satisfying the business.  And while it’s important to strike a healthy balance between satisfying the customer and the business in any process, it’s even more important that a business stays conscious and doesn’t allow the natural drift towards its own needs rather than its customers.

So, my question to you today is… do your processes balance with the needs of your customers?


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