Crafting Happy Processes


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The Native Americans believed every creation had a soul. A tree possessed a spirit in the same way as a horse, bird or human being, which engendered a feeling of oneness with nature and a focus on conservation. While the buffalo was killed for its meat and other uses, it was also revered for having a great spirit.

Organizations that create loyal customers look at their service processes in a similar way. While they know, of course, that an order entry process is not “alive,” thinking of it in that fashion – as a living, feeling, organic system – helps ensure it is designed and maintained in a way that best serves the organizational “tribe” of customers and employees.

A “live” perspective ensures key service processes receive the proper care and feeding so they don’t fall into disrepair and consistently deliver the kind of hassle-free, friendly service experiences that create distinction in the market. A cornerstone of supply chain management is the integration of people (employees and customers) and technology with process.

Processes Defined

Processes can be defined from two perspectives. From the inside of the organization looking out, they are a collection of procedures, resources and practices that constitute and govern a complete system. From the outside looking in – the customer’s perspective – processes are the steps (and sometimes hoops) companies “put customers through” to get the products or services they need.

A hotel has a process for check-in. While the operation (“check-in”) might start, from the customer’s perspective, when he or she approaches the front desk and end with room check out, for the hotel the process might start with reservations or someone alerting the front desk the hotel was overbooked. And it might not end until the night audit has done an operational review and balanced the shift. There are many process steps invisible to customers that need to be well-designed and executed to ensure good end-to-end service experiences.

Cumbersome processes are the bane of customer loyalty. Most customers –whether business to business or business to consumer–would prefer to simply snap their fingers and instantly get the product or outcome they desire. Of course, we can imagine some masochistic customers who simply can’t get enough bureaucracy, irritating paperwork or exasperating delays (“I only stopped by to see if you had some more forms I could fill out” or “I called for just one reason–so you could put me on hold again!”)

A process might be governed by a set a procedures (fill out the application in triplicate or listen to 10 voice response unit options before making a choice), a collection of regulations (complete in one hour and provide a copy to security) or even certain laws (enter into the company ledger). But while the primary role of processes is to ensure service is delivered in a consistent and efficient fashion, there is no bylaw stating they should also make customers want to pull their hair out.

How to Make a Process “Happy”

What do we mean by a “happy” process?

The term “happy process” originated with one of our international clients. We were grappling for a way to explain the meaning of process alignment as a part of developing company wide standards and norms. Our client thought about the end result and suggested that one outcome of alignment might be “happy processes” – procedures and practices designed in a way that create a kind of unexpected joy for customers and employees because of their simplicity or ease of use as viewed through the customer’s eyes. Think also of what would make a process happy if it could come alive—it would work well, it would work well with other processes, it would make a difference, and it would gain the admiration of its caretaker. The label proved to be a powerful metaphor that contributed greatly to helping employees understand the desired outcome of a company-wide process alignment effort.

There are a number of principles for creating happy processes. Remember: a happy process works hard for everyone—the customer, employees, leaders, the organization…as well as its “fellow” processes. Below are seven principles for process happiness management.

1. Processes must be viewed from the customers’ perspective. The customers’ perspective trumps processes built for internal convenience every time. A financial services client was going through the first steps in developing system-wide standards when the CEO heard about the excessive wait times customers were experiencing due to limited levels of authority mandated for branch employees. No one was certain when and/or why these levels of authority existed other than they had been around a long time. When questioned they were always deemed as “necessary” or “convenient” for organizational risk management purposes.

The CEO set about making immediate changes to improve the customers’ experience while still maintaining an appropriate level of risk management. He selected a small group to meet with him the day they returned from their off-site, examined the necessity of the policies, and was able to initiate revised policies that improved the customers’ experience (e.g. reduced customer wait time) while empowering certain employees with more authority. Appropriate risk controls for the firm were maintained.

2. Processes must be in sync with the organization’s vision. If the vision is about “responsiveness,” then every process must be crafted to facilitate “responsiveness.” Processes must also always defer to the organization’s core values and standards. Values and standards take precedence over processes and procedures. The organization’s vision, values and standards should serve as filters against which processes are tested to ensure they are aligned with what is most important to the organization. If speed of delivery is a key customer loyalty driver and reflected in the vision and a standard, then the organization’s processes need to stand up to a test of “speed of service”– using the customers’ definition of speed.

3. Processes must facilitate great internal service, not just external service. The creation of “silos” and shaky handoffs between internal departments hurt process “morale.” Silos can be real or just an attitude. In either case they are a barrier to great service because they prevent the smooth transition of customers (internal and external) and/or issues that impact customers between steps in a process. In the case of a tie, external service trumps internal service. In other words, when designing a new process (or reviewing a process for alignment) the needs and perceptions of the external customer should be viewed as a priority over the desires for ease and efficiency of the internal customer.

4. Process changes driven by “economics” must be scrutinized for their impact on customers before an accurate return on investment can be determined. Too often organizations evaluate the economics of process change solely on the “ROI” of their investment in the process change itself without attaching value to the impact the change may have on customers. This is especially true if the impact on customer loyalty will most likely be negative. For example, enterprise resource planning (ERP) or manufacturing resource planning (MRP) initiatives too often are evaluated almost entirely on the basis of the cost of technology and change management without a careful analysis of their impact on customer loyalty. The result is a loud cry from customers about substandard service after implementation which unfortunately causes customer loyalty to drop.

5. Processes must be regularly updated to insure they reflect customers’ ever-changing expectations for service. The top 10 most important processes – those deemed to have the biggest impact on customer loyalty — must be singled out annually for an “alignment check” and tune up. Today customer expectations change at supersonic speed as customers are influenced by their experiences with organizations of every type and effectiveness. Staying in touch with these ever changing customer service expectations is crucial to an organization’s success. Just as you would expect a complete check up from your doctor during an annual physical, so too should your most important processes undergo the rigors of an annual evaluation of their effectiveness at delivering or enabling service to customers in an appropriate fashion.

6. Processes that cease to achieve their purpose must be eliminated before their continued presence fools someone into thinking they are needed and they begin to fall under “special protection” by their custodian. Processes that have been in place for an extended period tend to become overly respected and can become thought of as “untouchable”. We are reminded of a client that failed to pay attention to how difficult it was for customers to connect with employees in their organization by telephone until one day they were jolted into awareness by a potentially very large referral source for new business. To our client’s horror, the potential source described his ridiculously complex journey through an antiquated VRU (voice response unit) portion of the telephone system and his complete frustration in being unable to find a way through the maze to a real person. The organization immediately gathered a group of senior leaders and took them on a similar journey via speakerphone. Their embarrassment and irritation grew as they played the role of customer and became increasingly frustrated at the hurdles they had created for their customers in trying to reach their very talented employees. The VRU programming, which had been effective when implemented, had grown stale and had become a very large irritant to customers. An annual “check up” and “realignment” of processes could have prevented the occurrence of this situation.

7. Processes are never completely “happy” unless they are employee friendly. Leaders are responsible for the “morale” of processes, not the process’s custodian or owner. Research has shown that engaged and loyal employees are needed to drive the type of service that produces loyal customers. Just as you would use filters to ensure processes reflect the organization’s service vision, so too should you use employee engagement as a “filter” for testing a process’s impact on the employees who are affected by it. We know that executive leaders closely monitor an organization’s customer service dashboard for indications of fluctuations in customer loyalty. They also must review customer intelligence for evidence of fluctuations in the alignment of processes. When the intelligence indicates the need for a process review or redesign, it is senior leaderships’ responsibility to implement such an initiative. The process owner’s role is to ensure the process is working exactly as designed. Often process custodians will sense the first signs of “unhappiness” in a process because they are so close to daily operations. They may sound the alarm of a process entering the realm of misalignment, but it is senior leadership’s responsibility to ensure any adjustments necessary for realignment are in fact realized. If process “morale” is left to the process custodian, their closeness to the process will many times prevent them from seeing that change is required.

Customer loyalty isn’t possible without corporate standards, norms and processes that are all aligned with the vision. If processes are designed only for internal convenience and not for the customers’ benefit – if it’s impossible to track down live help in voice mail menus, get problems resolved without multiple call backs or hand-offs to other employees or find what you need quickly and efficiently on e-commerce sites — then those processes are working at cross purposes with your vision.

Customers relish reliability — that is, they want assurances that experiences will go as well or better than they expect, each and every time, without any surprises. When all processes are “happy” and aligned with the vision, it builds trust that bolsters customer confidence. And from confidence and trust spring loyalty and strong word of mouth.

Process improvement and process alignment also play crucial roles in culture change efforts. As employees attempt change, they find themselves “plowing new ground.” This uncertainty naturally causes people to look for assurances that their pioneering efforts are relevant and valued. A major source of that solace comes from evidence that leadership is committed to the change. If employees find themselves continuing to use the same old processes and procedures, it signals that the change is only lip service. They will likely dismiss the change effort as cosmetic and operate as they always have.

The secret to maintaining processes in a state of “happiness” is to remember they are means, not ends. They are the ultimate servant in the quest for customer loyalty. Treating them as a common slave will only result in process acquiescence and ultimately customer distain. But treating them as a contributing partner will yield process alignment and customer loyalty.

Chip Bell
Chip R. Bell is the founder of the Chip Bell Group ( and a renowned keynote speaker and customer loyalty consultant. Dr. Bell has authored several best-selling books including The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service and, with John Patterson, Take Their Breath Away. His newest book, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service, will be released in February.


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