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The business process

Rather than listen to customers so much, managers need to become customers.

Rather than listen to customers so much, managers need to become customers.

I must admit: I haven’t exactly chosen the most interesting business topic to write about this month but believe me when I say that understanding your business process – how it works (or doesn’t), why it is what it is and how it can be redesigned – is crucial to business success.

The problem is that too many businesses structure themselves according to a hierarchy of functional units
- Kevin-James Fenech

The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), the international federation for standards in goods and services, defines a business process as “…a set of interrelated or interacting activities, which transform inputs into outputs”.

An input can be something tangible (such as raw materials, equipment or components) or something intangible (such as ideas, information or energy); whereas, an output is the finished product or service; that which is delivered to the customer. Perhaps a clearer definition is that proposed by Davenport & Short (1990), “…a set of logically related tasks performed to achieve a defined business outcome”.

The problem, in my opinion, is that too many businesses (normally long-established businesses) structure themselves according to a hierarchy of functional units. This means that the business is managed vertically with responsibility for the intended output being divided (shared) among functional units. The problem with this approach is that the end customer is not visible to all involved.

We have all experienced it: a large company or government entity flipping your “problem” or “request” from one department to another, meaning you – the customer – having to re-explain the “problem” or “request” each time you are “flipped” from one department to another; a process (excuse the pun) which leaves you frustrated and dissatisfied. This is what happens when a business is structured according to functional units without any thought of the customer and the customer experience.

The benefit of a business adopting what us consultants refer to, as the “Process Approach”, on the other hand, is that the end-customer is the main focus. That is to say that we re-design your company’s process with only one thing in mind: the customer and his/her customer experience. We find simple, practical and cost-efficient ways to deliver your product or service as efficiently and effectively as possible to the customer, cutting through bureaucratic fat and simplifying the business process.

This means introducing horizontal management, crossing barriers of different functional units and most importantly the customer only having to deal with one person, now-a-days, commonly referred to as a “customer representative”.

How do you know if your business process adopts the “process approach”? Typically or normally I’d expect to find the following at a business with the “process approach (1) Several jobs (tasks) combined into one; (2) Front line workers empowered to deal with customer requests or complaints; (3) The existence of multiple versions of the same process to suit different customer segments; (4) Work that is performed where it makes the most sense; (5) Non-value adding checks-and-controls reduced to the bare minimum; (6) A single point of contact for the customer; (7) Hybrid centralised-decentralised operations are prevalent; (8) Employees focusing more on their customers’ needs and less on their bosses; (9) Process teams instead of functional departments; (10) A flat organisational structure; (11) Performance bonuses instead of big salaries; (12) Managers that are coaches rather than supervisors.

I genuinely believe that if businesses focus more time and money on re-designing their business process – adopting the “process approach” – and making the customer the centre of their business that they stand a much better chance of beating their competition. Sometimes, the glaringly obvious (that which is staring right at you) and the thing you are most in control of is that which business leaders ignore or forget. We are always looking outwards and beyond for the next big idea when looking inwards (at the business process) is perhaps the best option.

At the end of the day, every business is about making its customer king and in return a business will benefit from increased customer loyalty, referral business and healthy (sustainable) profits. A business process, therefore, which adopts a “process approach”, is the surest way of achieving this. In the words of the American writer, Orison Swett Marden: “The golden rule for every businessman is this: ‘Put yourself in your customer’s place’”.

This advice may sound obvious and simplistic but in reality it is first-class business advice since only by doing so can you re-design your business process.

Lastly, and in the words of Michael Lanning, author of Delivering Profitable Value (1998 “Rather than listen to customers so much, managers need to become customers. This means, not asking customers for direction, but systematically learning what it is like to live the customer’s life; to be, think, and feel like the customer. Then and only then can managers infer what the most valuable resulting experiences could be for that customer [and only then can a business design or redesign its business process]”.

www.fenci.eu

Mr Fenech is managing director of Fenci Consulting Ltd.

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