Thursday, 31 May 2007

Customer Age Thinking It’s the YOU That Counts

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Several stories in the news recently bring hope that at last increasing numbers of firms are "getting it!" They are seemingly starting to understand what the real benefits of embedding BPM thinking can do for /will mean to them. For years we have been bombarded with marketing messages and TV commercials proclaiming "Me, me, me", the objective being if we keep telling people how wonderful we are then surely they will buy or keep buying from us. But, of course in a world of extreme competition the rules have changed and it no longer matters how good your company thinks it is – it is what benefit I can gain from using you rather than your competitor that counts.

For years the giant Coca Cola Corporation has traded on the slogan "Coke, it's the real thing", but alas as the company continues to see itself in decline it has decided to change its image and its slogan. It has now launched its new slogan "The Coke side of life" in attempt to appeal to a wider audience and of course play more to people's emotions. Of course there are those who might argue that it is madness to tinker with one of the world's top brands. However if your sales have been in reverse for 5 years then surely the message has to get through sooner or later – it is madness to keep doing the same things the same way and expecting different results! It will take quite some time to see how it works and more importantly whether they are using this message as part of a bigger internal transformation initiative. From an outside perspective it will be very interesting to see whether this change mars the end of traditional internal management controls and measures to an outside view, looking in on the business from the customer's perspective and focusing their efforts on reorganizing around the customer. So Coca Cola are going to switch to playing more on the emotions of their customers (and hopefully their staff too), meanwhile another well know brand has also switched its external messaging.

The Canon Corporation has launched a new series of TV commercials (at least in the UK), for years we have been bombarded with the slogan "If anyone can Cannon can!" but, who cares how good Canon Corporation is, what we are about is the problem or need we have at hand. It would appear that Canon are now realizing this too and have decided to switch to the slogan "With Canon You Can!", they are recognizing that it us not them that counts. From their advertising at least they appear to be starting to look at the world from the outside in. It has to be said that it can hardly be coincidence that as they embark upon this new line it is against the backdrop of slowing sales growth over the past three years (but in markets that are continually growing).

These initiatives are in stark contrasts to the ones underway at organizations such as Nationwide Building Society in the UK, Citibank in Germany or Capital One worldwide. These organizations too are making big changes in their public image and spending more time on the "You" factor, organizing their efforts around Successful Customer Outcomes. Why do they provide contrast? Put simply the three organizations mentioned here are undertaking the required business transformation at a time when their sales, profits and margins are all on the increase. In the case of Capital One, many people find it amazing that they should be questioning the very way that they do business, think of customers and motivate staff at a time when they are among the most successful players in their chosen market. They simply get it! It is a journey not a destination, if they cannot move to a business model where agility and constant innovation tied to customer needs, then they now that they will have already started the downward spiral.

For established organizations this is a very hard thing to see. Cultures build up over time and managers get promoted based on time served and experience in the "silo", rather than on fresh thinking, new ideas and radical change. This historical view of corporate management means that so many great names have still yet to fall. It will take time but those that do not change will fall. We only have to look at the Rover Car Company in the UK to see how it can work. Subsequent to the demise of Rover earlier this year a study into the management practices at Rover was undertaken by Cambridge University, and what they found was that Rover had been doomed since the mid 60's. They could see that none of the executive teams that led Rover over the past 30 years was willing to take the decisions required to ensure the company's survival. It was only a question of who would be at the helm when the company finally died! Will you be the one at the helm when history takes its toll on your organization?

An alternative approach to changing the reputation and culture of your organization was also tabled this week as NTL made a bid to Purchase Virgin Mobile. NTL touting the acquisition as enabling it to transform itself into one of the new breed of operators that will emerge – combining fixed and mobile phones with cable TV and internet provision. This on the face of it makes a lot of sense, becoming a one stop shop for the customer. But analysts were not so kind, as they read of the fact that NTL also proposed to re-brand itself as Virgin at the same time. The analysts recognize that in effect NTL is looking to try and mask its reputation for very poor customer service (there are numerous web sites out there run by disgruntled NTL customers as self-help sites!) by grafting on the excellent reputation held by Virgin. Apparently many see that taking on the task of making NTL more customer centric may be a bridge to far for Sir Richard Branson. Indeed one analyst, in providing advice to Sir Richard chose to use a quote from Warren Buffet, the undisputed king of successful mergers and acquisitions "When management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for poor fundamentals, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact."

In the final analysis in all organizations, large or small, we face a choice. Either to continue to focus on the idea that continual cost reduction based on traditional financial measures will save us from the stockholders and the deserting customers and that process improvement will make the difference. Or to start out on a radical journey that will certainly lead to the removal of unnecessary waste, while changing the very fabric of our organizations in order to ensure that we deliver what the customer needs, when they need it, and at a price they can afford. Further, that we use Process as a vehicle to enable us to better understand where and how that customer value is created and we switch to looking at our business from the outside in through the eyes of those customers. Then we reward our people based on a measurement system tied to the achievement of those customer successes and not on the basis of doing what I am paid for.

The choice is yours, nobody can force you to take the steps, but when faced with the choice of survival or extinction it would be a very foolhardy executive or manager that ignores the writing on the wall and focuses their attention on YOU – the customer.

Note: This article first appeared in 2006 on Mark McGregor's series of articles on


Living In The Age Of The Customer

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"There is only one boss, the customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else."

Sam Walton, founder, Wal-Mart

Sam Walton expresses it so well, as of now the customer is "King". If we accept this reality, then we have to ask ourselves, how do we treat this King?

It is a fundamental question and one that will have a profound effect on the way we do and operate in business for decades to come. It will also impact the very way in which we live our lives as individuals. In our presentations and classes the single biggest challenge for attendees seems to be how to get their head around the concept of dealing with the customer as King. They give the impression that in most of their organizations the majority of employees don't know who the customer is or how what they do supports the efforts of the organization to deliver on promises for the King. Yet, those same students and audiences are consumers too! And they are continually sharing their bad experiences in class. Some even laugh about their bad experiences as customers of their own organizations! Occasionally of course we get people sharing their good experiences too.

Good customer experiences are what it is all about. Any King wants to be treated as such and made to feel like a King. Interestingly, if you search back into your own buying experiences you will find those good experiences, how did you feel? Good right? So what are you doing to create those experiences for your customers?

Now think back again to your own great experience. What made it good and what was different about it? Chances are that the experience occurred when something went wrong and somebody assisted you in a way that both made things right and made you feel good about it.

As we reflect on this we should start to see a number of things. Firstly, it was a person to person experience, which means "People" are crucial when it comes to creating great customer experiences. Secondly, the fact that a person put it right means that within your own experiences, that company had provided enablers that allow the person to engender those good feelings. So we know that companies already have the innate ability to delight customers and generate great experiences. Those companies do know what a "Successful Customer Outcome" looks and feels like.

The third thing we can note, and possibly the most significant for bean counters, is the fact that that it occurred after we had a bad experience. Many readers will see where this is going in that we need to learn to think from the "outside in". But, just for a moment we can allow ourselves to look at things from the inside out, something that should be easy as we spent most of the past 100 years thinking this way. So from the inside out, how much time, money and resource did that company waste in generating the bad experience that triggered the good experience? How much waste does your organization generate in trying to deal with bad experiences and how much profit goes down the drain as a result?

Perhaps like the Intercontinental Hotel in Montecasino, Johannesburg – you provide training courses for your staff in how to handle complaints and customer relation issues. When meeting with the management of that hotel recently we asked the question "How much cheaper would it be to fix the causes, rather than paying the price and generating the waste in dealing with the consequences?" It seemed that this train of thought was a revelation to them, but you could almost see the dollar signs in their eyes and hear the cash registers running. They are not "organized" to be able to think that way.

So it is all just a matter of allowing people to think from the outside in, understand our customer needs and organizing around them. Well yes and no. You see it is not quite that simple, in the first instance for our people to deliver those great experiences they need to understand the organizations strategy. That strategy in order to inspire them to act needs to explicitly state the role of the customer and how the company plans to deliver on their needs. They also need to know that the processes that the company either has or will put in place are designed to deliver those great customer experiences. This means we need to add "Strategy" and "Process" to our list of attributes we need to work on.

So we can now see that in the age of the customer, the customer is King. This means that we will have to create and share an outside in strategy that will allow us to organize around the King. This strategy has to be communicated in ways that allow our people to buy into it and understand how what they do supports it. Then by using smart processes to enable our people to deliver successful customer outcomes, we can change our organization to support them, resulting in increased revenue and profits. There is one final observation to share at this stage and that is around "leadership". In order to inspire and execute on such a strategy then organizations need to look to leaders not managers in order to deliver. People do not respond well to mangers, but love to be inspired and motivated by good leaders.

Subsequent works will look at the issues of "Strategy", People", "Process", "Organization", "Leadership", and "Successful Customer Outcomes". But for now perhaps you would like to ask yourself the following questions about your own organization.

1.    Does everybody know what your company's strategy is?

2.    Is that strategy centered around your customers?

3.    If people know your strategy, do they understand it?

4.    As you talk to people, are they inspired by your strategy?

5.    Do people support the processes, did they design them?

6.    Are they rewarded based on process and strategy or just on activities?

7.    Can your company elaborate on what successful customer outcomes look and feel like?

8.    Do you train managers and analysts to be leaders rather than managers?

The answers to these eight questions will provide you with great insight and help you to understand where the gaps are as you move into the Age of the Customer and further works will help you develop ideas and plans to address the issues you are likely to find.

Note: This article first appeared in 2006 on Mark McGregor's series of articles on

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

How Hotel Operators Can Win And Retain More Customers

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In a recent article we talked about how the principles of Successful Customer Outcomes (SCO) and Next Practice could be applied to enhance the travelling experience of airline passengers, while enabling increased business success for the airlines themselves. This time it is the turn of the Hotel (or Hospitality) sector to come under the microscope (and hopefully benefit!) from our musings and observations.

As with the airline example, these thoughts and ideas are based on real experience, as you might imagine while flying all those miles we have stayed in quite a few hotels – and as you would expect had some very mixed experiences along the way.

Most amusing is to actually be delivering classes and discussing Successful Customer Outcomes in a hotel while watching things go awry and analyzing how the hotel staffs react to issues and opportunities as they occur.

Before we start to think about how the application of Next Practice might be applied in the hospitality sector, let us first step back and think once more about those Successful Customer Outcomes. The thinking behind it is pretty straightforward, if we focus our business around these then we will delight the customer and they will both buy more and tell more people how good we are (leading to more customers). So great, we win and retain more customers and increase revenues, but what about cost reduction and working out how we can actually deliver on these.

This is where the concepts of "Moments of Truth" (MOT) come in. An MOT occurs every time that a customer interacts with our organization, whether through systems, such as the web or with a person. Each of these MOTs will result in one of two outcomes. Either it will turn into a "Moment of Magic" where the customer goes away at least satisfied but hopefully delighted. Or it becomes a "Moment of Madness", one of those occasions where the customer becomes extremely frustrated and possibly even angry.

It has to be the goal of any company to ensure that every MOT becomes a "Moment of Magic" and there are a number of techniques that can be applied in process analysis and design to ensure that these opportunities are optimized. As any marketer will tell you these happy customers are likely to tell three to five people how good you were and to recommend you to their friends. In the alternative scenario, those same marketers will tell you that those of find the "Moments of Madness" will tell significantly more people not to use you, possibly as many as 8 to 10 people. In both cases the variance in numbers being proportional to how delighted or how angry they were.

So ask yourself, how many Moments of Truth do you have each day with your customers? And how have you organized yourselves to ensure that each one of them becomes a Moment of Magic? And if you should cause a Moment of Madness to occur how will you redress it to the customer's satisfaction.

Frustrated Customers

Few would argue that whatever part of the world we live in, the state is playing an increasing part in acting as a "Nanny" – telling us what we can and can't do and how we should behave etc. Well now it would appear that the corporate world has started to try and tell us how to behave as well.

In Post Offices, Trains, Airline Check in Desks and other places we are seeing a lot of money being spent on a new type of sign, I am sure you will have seen similar examples, if you haven't them look out for them they are there.

These signs read approximately as follows "Our Staff have the right o work in a safe and secure environment and we as a company have a duty to protect those rights. Accordingly, anyone acting in an abusive manner, or using abusive language or physically assaulting our staff will be dealt with/prosecuted." – of course I have paraphrased slightly rather than reproduce all the signs.

Before saying too much more on the subject I would just like to point out that violence to anyone can never be tolerated and as such deserves prosecution. But, what are the causes of this "mindless" verbal abuse that companies are referring too, I confess to having raised my voice on several occasions when told my flight was overbooked, or that there was no longer a room available or in other such situations, but how wrong am I?

As customers we pay for goods and services and surely have a right to expect delivery of the said goods and services? It seems that today that rather than focus and driving out the "Moments of Madness" our corporate "Nanny" has instead told us we have no right to complain, or if we do it has to be quiet and we should accept a non-resolution to the problem!

In most situations (I am sure not all situations) where such friction arises it is due to the fact that the organization in question has failed to deliver on a promise turning what are normally reasonable people into quivering wrecks. Perhaps instead of such "health and safety" signs we should make the obligation on companies to deliver on what they promise, thus eliminating the cause of much such behaviour.

So what SCO-inspired survival tips can we propose that may help the hotel industry, to avoid customer frustration and deliver ever greater value to their guests?

Eight Next Practice Offerings

Here are eight examples of SCO-oriented service offerings that might help the hotel operators to win and retain more customers. As with Steve Tower's list for the airline industry I am sure you could add to my choices. Perhaps you might even like to take the time to email me with your ideas. Most importantly however you should start to consider what type of list your customers might make for you.

1. Loyalty Programs

- Recognize Other Peoples Customers

Several years ago I was staying in a Marriott Hotel in the UK. I was sitting quietly in the bar waiting for a colleague when the manager approached me. "Sir, I see you have a tag on your luggage showing that you are a Hilton Gold Card Holder, have you considered a Marriott Card?" I replied that I had but did not spend enough nights in the Marriott to qualify and so unless I could not find a Hilton I tended not to use Marriott hotels. He took it upon himself to note my details and said he would contact head office and arrange for them to match my current level of membership. Well it comes as no surprise that for that year at least, I switched at least some of my business to Marriott. In the UK at least it is common practice for supermarkets to accept the competitions vouchers, so why then do hotels not take a leaf out of their book. As any frequent traveller knows, once you have accrued Gold or Platinum status with one chain it is very hard to justify using other hotels unless you have to. If the others want our business they will have to work harder to get it.

- Retain the Customer

Many frequent travellers have changing travel habits, one year you travel a lot and the next not so much, before picking up again. How frustrating is it to get great service as a Platinum member during your middle less travelled year, only to find that as your travel picks up you are downgraded again. This I suspect will be the case for me. This year I have been fortunate enough to travel as a Marriott Platinum member, but can see with only 60 nights in their establishments! I will be downgraded again next year. Of course they will downgrade me and like others I will reconsider where to stay next year based on what deals/memberships are available. Why then don't the hotels consider something like airlines do and put in place "lifetime" programs such that should you qualify over a period of years (or they decide they wish to keep your particular business) over you a "lifetime" membership at certain levels.

2. High-Speed Internet Access

Strange isn't it how the lower cost hotels are increasingly providing free high speed internet access, whereas in the same chain their up market brands still assume that it is acceptable to charge you large sums for the privilege. In the world we live in today it is not just the business traveller that relies on such niceties as high speed internet, even leisure travellers are increasingly seeking such service (especially as more and more people switch to using Voice over IP for their telephone calls).

Surely the time has come for the up market brands to realize that if they are to compete, even within their own groups, then this practice has to change. It is no longer acceptable to assume that people will pay a premium price for a hotel and service and then be expected to pay again for something that others at a lower cost provide for free.

3. Breakfast

I guess all travellers are different, but me I tend to eat lightly at breakfast time (yes, I know it is bad for my health, but then so is BPM ), so I find the free buffet breakfast offered at the lower range hotels quite adequate for me. Then of course as mentioned earlier, thanks to my Marriott privileges at the high end of the market they also offer me free breakfast, so why is it then that they (and others I believe) feel that if we stay at a mid-market hotel (In the case of Marriott I mean Courtyard) that they can charge us an extra $15 or $20 for breakfast? Of course this is good news for Coffee Shops who offer free internet access as we can simply leave the hotel and spend nothing and instead go across the road have a decent cup of coffee and a light bite, while checking our emails for free! Over the past few years many hotels have made great strides with their creative use of the "Executive Lounge" concept, but I think there is still some way to go before they truly get it nailed.

I was talking with someone who said the other week that as a Platinum/Gold card holder what they would really like is for the hotel group they are members of to offer free coffee/tea or internet access for the premium members whether they were guests or not. I asked what the point of this would be and they replied that if the hotel group could persuade the business people to meet more often in their hotels rather than competitors then they would increase the chances of selling more food, additional room nights and even more meeting events – what a neat idea.

4. Partnering

Airlines realized many years ago that they could not cover every destination on the globe and that they had to partner. Then later they started to allow their frequent fliers to collect miles and tier points on their partner flights. Yet still we have the frustration of not being able to find a hotel within our chosen chain or group in the location we want and so have to use another, with zero benefit (and usually with lower service because we are not a frequent customer of that chain.). So, how about hotels get in on the act too? They could start to allow us to collect nights and rewards, by them partnering to offer a broader reach. This will surely enhance their business as the one that offers it first will find that international travellers will surely reconsider their hotel habits.

5. Customer Feedback

Ever seen one f those signs saying something like "as requested by our frequent guests" or "in response to customer demand" or some such similar wording, ever wondered who it is they are referring to? I have. Like many who might be reading this, as has been said before I have over the last 15 years been a frequent guest of many hotels, yet not once have they ever contacted me. So who are these mythical guests, that is probably not fair as I am sure the marketing people have it all figured out. I just find it hard to see how not keeping in regular contact with your best customers can lead to your innovating product to cater for them and retain their business. Or do they spend disproportionate amounts of time analysing those guest questionnaires they always leave in your room? Who fills them in? I suggest that they are mainly filled out by infrequent guests who had that one great experience and do it as a thank you. Most of the business guests I have spoken too say they can't be bothered – usually after being asked to do so after getting bad service! So perhaps the surveys are self serving.

Top retailers, frequently run events for their best customers, inviting them to previews, discount nights and other things – to persuade them to keep coming back and also to enable them to talk on a one to one basis with the customers and keep an eye out for changing buying habits. It apparently also affords them a great way to pick up market intelligence on their competitors from the people who really know – the competitors customers!

6. Delivering on the Promise

It is an unfortunate fact that in the hospitality industry as in the airline industry, with the volumes of nights/seats sold, things will go wrong sometimes. As customers we actually do understand this, but it is your ability to resolve the problem speedily and to our satisfaction that will set you apart. I consider this as delivering on the promise, the promise that we said you could have a room and you will have one. We may not have one here but we will organise another locally and will pay toe any additional transport costs or difference in room rate. Or we are sorry that we have let you down and will compensate you with extra points/money or whatever.

Sadly, in most cases where such a secondary promise has been made due to a failure in the primary one, the organization fails to deliver. In fact I suspect that there will be staff at least two hotels in Canada reading this right now and thinking, whoops he means me/us – well I do and I don't. As I say sadly all too often this experience is repeated all over the world.

Again, the places to look at for inspiration on this are top retailers; perhaps a variation on their no quibble returns policy might be applicable?

7. Share Information

Before you say anything, this one can be seen as more of a personal gripe and one that is easily fixable with the right systems! If I have booked a room with your hotel through the web, using whatever booking process or site that I used, the chances are that I have already provided all of my name and address details. So please do not ask me to fill in the details on your registration form! What's worse please do not try to justify it by saying "oh that system does not pass us those details" or worst of all "Due to data protection regulations we are not able to access that information! We know what you mean, you mean the system sucks and we really can't understand why the technical aspects of this weren't fixed months/years ago – we have been telling them about the complaints from guests for ages.

Which raises another key way for hotels to improve their service; pay more attention to the feedback from your front desk staff and less from the hotel or middle managers? The managers see only the small proportion of issues that occur in the process, whereas your front desk staffs see them all. In any situation the best source of pain points will be with front line staff and they will also usually have some good ideas on how to improve the situation, very often at little or no cost.

8. Stop Comparing to Other Hotels

In any business we sometimes find ourselves focussing too much on what our competition are doing. In the case of hotels there are two parts to the case here. In the first instance your guests are your guests and they care about what you do and not about what the competition does – two wrongs do not make a right.

In the second case you should remember that you are not really in the hotel business you are in the service business and as such you should be looking outside the hotel sector at other industries where they are considered to deliver great service. Then armed with those ideas and innovations you can become the one that others need to worry about, rather than the other way around.

In this article I have mentioned the particular brands of Marriott and Hilton, where I stated that I am a frequent guest. The experiences are also borne out stays I have made at Best Western and Six Continent hotels as well.

These examples are taken both from our own experiences and those of people we have travelled with and coached for. The suggestions are not scientifically based, but are the results of people looking from the outside in. In many of the instances where bad service occurred it was put right, rarely though by an employee working within the system, but one who recognized the lifetime value of a customer and attached an importance to that value. Hopefully, if enlightened hotel chains take heed of at least some of the advice and ideas, then all of our future travel experiences might get a little bit better.

Note: This article first appeared in November 2005 on Mark McGregor's series of articles on

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Think Differently! 2007 World Tour

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To get and stay ahead of the pack in any industry or walk of life you have got to think differently. To simply think along the same lines as your competitors just means becoming stuck in a rut, and soon enough the daily grind becomes just that a "grind". I set out in 2007 to change all that! I had the desire to travel as much as possible working with as many people as possible, with the aim of helping them to think differently.

Whilst my main thrust has obviously been in the direction of BPM, Business Transformation and Process Modeling, I have noted that people are increasingly interested in gaining a better understanding of group/team dynamics and are more ready to accept that well motivated smart people can achieve more with a poor process than can smart processes employed by unmotivated people. It is this interest in helping people to think differently and to see things from an alternative point of view that seems to be driving me this year, and I get no bigger compliment than hearing someone say those immortal words "when you look at it like that!" – For that is when I know that they are hooked. Of course there is also that other great fact "mans mind once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions" – So they can't go back even if they want to

So far in 2007 I have already had fun in Canada, Belgium, USA and Sudan and as those who have been with me will attest, it is possible to have a lot of fun while learning and to gain skills that not only work in business but actually help to enrich your life as well. In fact the more fun you have then the more you understand and the more you learn! A true win win situation.

The next legs of my journey will take in Bangalore (June), Chennai (July), Mumbai (August), Vienna (September), London (September) and Las Vegas (October) – with hopefully others that I do not even know yet. For the ones I do know you can follow the links below to find out more (if you are there then make sure you come by and say "hello")

Bangalore: iCMG Architecture World 07

Mumbai: Instipet - Process 07 India

Vienna: 2nd Annual Telecoms Quality and Business Process Excellence Conference

London: Program, Project and Process Challenge

Las Vegas: T.B.A

This will be my second trip to India and I am sure will prove even more exciting than the first time, you see this time I will be making something of a spiritual pilgrimage while I am there. Perhaps not to everyone's taste, but I fervently believe that we have to look in all directions in order to truly succeed. There is much to learn about life and the way we think and act as individuals and much of that learning can be done by understanding more of the more ancient civilizations and sciences from India and China. But, more about that and the very kind people who are sponsoring me on my journey in later posts.

I do not believe that it is an accident that we are seeing a rise in the economic status of these peoples. I do believe that hidden in the depths of their cultures lie answers to problems we do not even know yet. Answers that if we listen and learn we can adapt and employ in our own and our business lives.

Now, you may not choose to follow the same path of enlightenment as me, but ask yourself – where are you looking? Have you set yourself the task of looking in different or unusual places, do you recognize that all the answers will not be found in regular business books or trainings?

I think that delegates to seminars and trainings over the past 2 years will agree that the lessons I bring from looking in these different places has helped them to both help themselves and in turn their employers – assuming that is that employers are still looking for happy, motivated staff (sometimes I wonder). Together we have found that nature has a pretty good handle on processes and that generations before us have already dealt with many of the issues that we have today. Together we have discovered that by making use of some of these ideas and learning's we can actually be seen to be ahead of the pack.

So if I am not yet visiting your country or city, then why not get in touch, who knows maybe I can try and spread a little happiness in your direction too (or maybe you just want the plain vanilla BPM, in which case that is OK too) – It might cost less than you think!

Sunday, 27 May 2007

CEOs and Customers

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Why Process Management is a Boardroom Issue

Few in business would argue that the success of CEOs like Sam Walton, Fred West, Herb Kelleher and Jack Welch has been pretty amazing. They have delivered some pretty outstanding results for their shareholders. But, unlike many CEOs they have delivered this through customer understanding rather than pure financial and risk based management approaches. The result is that not only are costs kept under control for enhanced productivity, but sales revenues have grown impressively above the norm too.

In the current climate there is much focus on Process of Business Process and the how and why it is needed in order to improve and transform business. For the most part however the responsibility for doing the work and delivering the results has been delegated down the organisation, or in some cases outsourced altogether.

There is no doubt that a well managed process centric company is more agile, more able to keep costs under control and to better understand the value of any investment they might make. But, are they in a better position to deliver real growth? It is this author's contention that in the final analysis it is revenue growth that will deliver the ultimate long term returns that investors are seeking, as well as providing the security of employment that employee seek. To merely utilise Process Management in any form purely as a cost or risk reduction strategy, is to squander the real competitive advantages that it can bring.

It is also pertinent to ask at this stage if and board of directors really believes that when outsourcing using the label BPO (Business Process Outsourcing), they are really outsourcing processes? A quick scan through the financial and business press will reveal many deals being done, but it also appears that in reality they are just outsourcing departments or functions based on the traditional structure. Indeed for many organisations to outsource business processes or even processes is probably impossible. Why? Because at this stage so few organisations have actually mapped their business processes, so if they don't know what or where they are in the organisation, then how can they be in a position to outsource them!

So, if we are to accept that being process centric enables greater agility and better financial control, then we can see the value in making use of techniques in this area.

Hopefully we can all agree that revenue growth is a key to long term financial success.

Then we come back to the customer centricity of our aforementioned CEOs, each of whom attributes much of their success to an intimate relationship with and understanding of customer needs.

When we start to put these together we can start to see that perhaps it is the combination of customers and process that equals increased revenue. Well certainly these two things have a major bearing, but studying successful organisations also brings up another two factors as well, those of culture and organisation itself.

It would appear that the equation for long term success looks more like:

Customer Knowledge + Customer Centric Processes + A Culture of Service + Customer Oriented Organisation = Superior growth in Profitable Revenue Growth

When looked at in this way we can see that this is not a responsibility to be delegated or outsourced, this is an equation that should be managed from and by the CEO and the board of directors.

Outsourcing of non-care activity has a valuable part to play in serving customers and investors efficiently; we all want to know that we are getting our products and services at the best possible price. But as customers we do not expect the responsibility for serving us to be outsourced.

Process Management can of course be delegated within an organisation, indeed in some ways it is far better executed with the organisation, the further down the organisation we go the better people are able to address the inefficiencies that may be present. But again we expect the company's management to take the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that all parts of the organisation operate as single coordinated unit. Processes Management that uses the customer as the key focus and customer related metrics as the key ones have a tendency to simply organisations, leading to lower costs and greater service. So, again we the customer benefit, meaning we are more likely to continue to do business in the future (and tell others about the organisation too!)

Customer Knowledge, is not about surveys and second hand evidence, it is about meeting with customers to understand their real problems and needs and using this knowledge to develop our products and services based on this knowledge. It is about creating an intimate relationship where customers are valued.

As Directors, let me ask you a question or two. You may be a top tier member of numerous frequent flyer and hotel guest programs, but how valued do you really feel? When did you last meet with or talk to the executives of those company's? It is not enough to go printing words and putting out gold loyalty cards. As customers we appreciate those that give us the most important commodity of all, someone's time and a listening ear that acts on advice.

Of the CEO's I mentioned each is reported to spend upwards of 30% of their time meeting with and talking to customers. The rest of their customer input comes not from management, but from the front line staff who are dealing with customers everyday – these people are such a valuable source of information, but are usually treated as just some kind of blunt instrument.

A culture of service is something that appears to be sadly lacking in the western business world these days. There is so much focus on numbers that we have forgotten to serve. Yet company's like Tesco and Virgin stand out both in terms of their financial success, but also the fact that these results have come as a result of a deep seating of the culture of serving customers. This is a trait that is evident in many Asian company's and will make it interesting to see as consumers how fast we choose to move our spend to organisations that do understand service.

The culture of service also touches on the issue of delegation, whilst you can't delegate the overall responsibility for customers, you can at least empower those of your staff to resolve customer issues at the point of occurrence, without the need to refer to management. You can ensure that the processes they work with are designed to enable them to serve customers better, you can change reward structures so that staff are better rewarded for serving customers than hitting pure financial targets or other non-customer relevant KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)

A culture of service is also far easier to achieve if you take the time to change your organisation chart, change from a functional hierarchy to one that is organised along process lines. This will enable your teams to support customers better.

It is the combination of these changes that enabled Sam, Fred, Herb and Jack to grow their organisations more successfully than others in the same market. But, they are not alone, for as we have seen Richard Branson and Terry Leahy also share many of these beliefs. To this list we could also add leaders like Sergey Brin & Larry Page of Google, Bill Gates of Microsoft, Lou Gerstner of IBM, Andy Groves of Intel and we know there are others too.

These are all examples of what can be achieved if the responsibility for Business and Process Management begins in the boardroom and is married to successful customer outcomes.

Saturday, 26 May 2007 Website Not Working

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A number of people have contacted me by phone and email regarding the web site not working. I too have noticed that it seems to have been down for a few days, but cannot shed any light on the situation. Like the rest of you I can only assume that there are technical difficulties. Besides retaining a small shareholding I have had no involvement with the site or organization since leaving them in September last year. Rest assured if I do hear anything then I will be sure to post it here and let you know. In the meantime if you are looking for numbers to contact people at the BPMG then I suggest that perhaps you try doing a Google search and then clicking on the cached pages in order to get at the details.

Friday, 25 May 2007

Sudan: An Unlikely Place for BPM?

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Recently, while the rest of the world "celebrated" Darfur Day, I was in fact in Khartoum, an amazing place and full of really great people. They tell me that two things about their country in particular seem to baffle people, one is that people do not realize that Darfur is in fact a place in Sudan (apparently it is not uncommon for Sudanese people to be asked whether Sudan is near Darfur!) and the second is when they talk about the river Nile. The Nile it seems from a western perspective is a river in Egypt, most fail to grasp that the majority of the Nile runs through Sudan and in fact Khartoum is where the Nile is actually formed, the meeting place of the Blue Nile and the White Nile.

The experiences I had in Khartoum will no doubt be discussed in a number of my posts, there was so much to share with you all that to try and condense all the experiences into one post would simply just not do it justice.

I will share with you that my hosts for the trip were DAL Group, the largest private employer on Sudan and with over 3,700 permanent and another 2,000+ temporary a significant size company by any standards. The purpose of the trip was to help the existing team evangelize and educate managers and staff on the benefits that BPM would bring to the organization. The task was accomplished during a one week period with a one day management seminar, lots of individual meetings with managers, some process training for teams and some mentoring for the main team, all of which we will discuss in later posts.

The core team (who you can see below presenting me with a gift of a traditional Sudanese Family Tree) have tremendous international experience and bring with them experience of the United Nations, Shell and Caterpillar among others and it was a great pleasure and privilege to have been invited to lead their BPM Awareness program. Thank You

Mark McGregor being presented with a hand crafted traditional wooden "Family Tree" by Gumma and the team at DAL Group

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Recommended BPM Books

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The most common question I get as I travel around the world is "What books do you recommend?" So as I started to put together this blog I thought that perhaps this was the place to start providing such a list. On the right hand column you will see that I have started out by listing BPM/Process books, all the books on this list are those that have been reviewed by, contributed to or authored by me. I did not think that the world simply wants another cut and paste from a directory. For convenience I include the initial list below.

Recomended BPM Books

Check back soon for the inside track on the companies I have been reading about and the books on these.

Finally I will add a list on some of the psychology/NLP aspects of business that interest me in my research into why some organizations work and others just don't get it!

Oh, and before anyone asks me do I really recommend all these books, the answer to that one is very simple – Read as widely as you can, make up your own mind and then plough your own furrow – there is no fun in just simply following the herd :-)

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

When Best Practice is Just Not Good Enough

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One of the management buzz words really getting a lot of air play and column inches these days is "Best Practice". Wherever you look and listen you will see or hear people writing about or speaking about the virtues of doing or being "Best Practice".

It does not matter what the type or size of your business, everyone seems to tell you that you have to adopt best practice and that if you don't you will surely be left behind in your chosen marketplace. Yet for how many of us does "doing" best practice feel wrong?

Perhaps we are not sure why, but something deep inside us causes us to feel uncomfortable with the idea. For many people they write it off as just resistance to yet another potential management fad. Well, I suggest you trust your instincts, your body is a highly complex organism and more often than not it already knows when something is wrong. In this case potentially very wrong!

Before explaining why I make the above statement, let's take a look at a few businesses and ask ourselves a few questions. The examples are simple and designed to help you connect with your own experiences and feelings.

Firstly, think about your banking experiences over the years, ever felt frustrated when transactions or interactions did not work? Now for many people travel is another one of those industries that seems to turn up more than a few "surprising" experiences, think of a time when you travelled only to be told that you could not get or have what you expected, usually after having paid for the very thing you are requesting. One of my other favourites is mobile phone companies; they always seem to provide strange customer experiences and more often than not, not geared to delivering the service I expect as a customer.

In almost every case if you think about it hard enough someone will have told you that they operate "Best Practice" or "Industry Best Practice", which seems all well and good except that such practices very rarely lead to great customer service – Try looking at best practice from another angle – Best practice means that we are only as bad as the bank next door, best practice means we are only as bad as the airline on the next counter or best practice means that we are only as bad as the other phone companies. In other words best practice does not mean we are good or better it actually means we are no worse then others in our market. When you are buying goods or services do you choose on the basis of things being no worse than others?

So now we can start to understand why it is that our feeling of unease existed, it was because we knew deep down that we were leaving something on the table. We knew we were potentially cheating our customers and staff, by pretending everything was alright and kidding ourselves that we are good.

So how then can we avoid the best practice trap? Well in the first instance we can make sure that we never settle for second best, as individuals we deserve better than that, as customers we have the right to better than that. Should anyone think otherwise then may I suggest that you take a moment to consider how many competitors you have and ask yourself if you were the customer and you had the choice would you accept second best from you when you could get great from someone else?

Having decided that only the best is good enough (sounds a bit like a "Milky Bar" kid advert!) then we must set out to redefine what the best means. The advice is to look way outside your industry and think about who executes the best on each of the component parts of your business. For example, if you were looking at brand and image, which companies do you see as having the best image? If you are looking at customer service, then who in the world provides the best service? in terms of quality what industry or company do you know that is admired for the quality of their product or service?

As you run through your answers to these questions, add ones of your own that are specific to the functions or processes that you operate in your business. Then when you have your list, which should include businesses from different geographic locations and multiple industries, you now have the ideas that you need in order to make your business a stand out success.

If you look with a positive perspective e.g. how you can adapt what they do to your business, rather than why it won't work for you, then you will have created a list of extremely powerful ideas that you can use to turn potential success into reality.

Your perspective is key here, you know that if you only look for bad things you can surely be confident that you will find them. However if you look for the good you can very often be pleasantly surprised in finding it. As any successful person will tell you being wrong and sure is nowhere as fulfilling as being unsure and getting it right sometimes.

So as you look out along your business journey, I urge you to give up on "best practice" and start out by applying the concept I suggest above and making sure you only apply "Next Practice" – only applying the ideas and innovations that help to make sure that your business stands out from the crowd, in return you run the risk of being seen as a leader in your market and of winning more business as a result of customers voting for you with their wallets! Surely a risk worth taking.