This afternoon, we had a problem with a critical tool that we use. I am currently on the road, running from meeting to meeting, but I had to address the problem, it was impacting our people and work they were doing.
I called customer service, got a very good agent. Unfortunately, the answers she was giving me weren’t satisfactory so I asked if I could speak to a manager. She was pleased to have me do so, but couldn’t transfer me. “We don’t transfer these calls to managers, I have to send a note to a manager and someone will get back to you. But if you can give us several ranges of time, we will try to get back to you during those time frames.”
They had designed a process that enabled them to manage the workflow and priorities in a way that made them most efficient.
The problem was, it made me very inefficient. In this case, the time I had was “right now.” I had a small gap between meetings and I needed to solve the problem. Through the end of the week, I would have difficulty carving out time when I knew I would be available. I was scheduled in meetings, in airport travel, etc. I knew I had some little slots available here and there, but unless we could set a precise time, it was difficult to make sure I could be available without massively changing my calendar.
So while they had designed a process that was very efficient and effective for them, it was unworkable for me–the customer. Based on their customer engagement/experience model, the only way I could get my problem solved was to change my schedule (the time I was spending already was burdensome).
This type of thing is pretty common. It’s not limited to customer service, but I see it in sales, marketing, customer service and other parts of the organization. We design our programs and processes around our efficiency and convenience, not the customers’.
Some simple examples. We have a global business, expecting customers to contact us in a central location, say the West Coast of the US. We put “office hours” at 9-6 PST. But customers on the East Coast may want to talk and even place an order at 9 EST. Or we’re a customer in Paris, so we have to wait until after 6PM Paris time until we can place an order.
Or all our contracts, documentation, and so forth is in English–but we want to address a global market.
Or we only accept payments in USD, not in local currencies.
Or we design our account coverage based on what’s most effective for us, not the way the customer wanted to buy?
(Or we are managers with a global team and we schedule calls during our business day, so the poor people halfway around the world have to get up in the middle of the night.)
Organizations (and individuals) tend to be very self centered, though we may claim we are customer centric. We design things to optimize our efficiency and convenience not the customers’.
If we want to maximize our effectiveness in connecting with customers, what would happen if we designed our customer experiences starting with the customer first? What if we designed the experience to make them most efficient in their ability to communicate and work with us? Then, working backwards, we designed our processes and approaches to be effective and efficient for us. It’s a pretty simple process, it’s called being easy to do business with.
It’s funny, but most of the time, when starting from the outside, working in–starting from the customer perspective, what we design, is actually more effective and more efficient than if we do an inside-out approach.
As an example, some years ago, we were helping a very large organization redesign how they handled strategic accounts. They had teams working at the major locations of each customer, and territory sales people handling smaller offices of these customers (along with the rest of their territories). The process of managing these strategic accounts was very complex and resource intensive. They wanted to find a way to improve the account coverage, but reduce the complexity and expense in their current model.
So we suggested, “Why don’t we engage the customers in these strategic accounts to help us design how they want to be sold to?” The results were profoundly different than what they might have designed from the inside out. Their original design for covering their largest most important customer resulted in a design of roughly 50 full time sales equivalents to cover the account. 3 teams of roughly 10 people each at the major locations, and territory people assigned part time responsibility in the smaller locations.
When we designed it from the customer perspective, we found some interesting things. First, the customer really appreciated being involved. Our client was a strategic vendor, so it was in their best interests to get great sales coverage. Looking at things from their point of view, understanding they had the greatest needs for sales and support, how they made decisions, and other factors, we developed a design with 23 full time sales equivalents–27 fewer people than the inside out design. We had 3 teams of 5 people in the major locations, and a team of 8 inside sales people–split between two locations to cover everything else.
This design mirrored the way the customer bought, made it more efficient and easier for the customer to buy, as well as significantly reducing both the complexity and costs our client had in covering that customer. Within 18 months, the smaller team was able to grow sales at a faster rate than they had ever done before–all because they had a customer driven design of their engagement process. We saw similar results across all their strategic accounts.
It’s important for us to be efficient and effective. It’s more important for our customers to be efficient and effective in their ability to engage us. If we start there, usually the result is far more effective and efficient for both of us.
Did my problem get solved? Yes, it did, I decided not to follow their process. I designed a process that was very efficient for me. All it took was a 2 minute conversation with the executive assistant to the CEO and my problem was solved.
See there’s another thing that always happens–the customer always opts for what makes them more efficient and effective–despite anything we do. So if it’s calling the CEO or finding another vendor, the customer will always be efficient. So it really makes sense to start with what they want to do anyway. It’s really a win-win.