Customer Experience and Process Management: A Dichotomy?


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customerexperienceWe find ourselves at Customer Manufacturing Group at the intersection of two trends that are finally becoming mainstream conversations: customer experience and process management. As we discuss these topics with people, we notice their concern that the two may be mutually exclusive. That is, a belief that efficient process implementation precludes a great customer experience. We disagree.

A process is a set of activities designed to produce a particular outcome. Business processes usually are expected to run continually, and to produce the same outcome predictably. So how does great customer experience come at odds with efficient process? Failure to agree on the outcome the process is supposed to produce.

Despite rhetoric to the contrary, most companies still operate from an inside-out mentality. Further, the people who design the processes seek stability within the process. This occurs for at least two reasons: (1) most people prefer a stable environment, (2) it is easier to make a stable process efficient.

This causes most business processes to be rigid. How often have you heard someone tell you they can’t help you because the process doesn’t let them?

In the world of customer experience you have many variables, not the least of which is simply the variability within each customer. Process experts attempt to create a process that will fit all customers, or more realistically to force all customers to fit the standard process that was created.

And, as we have noted for many years, every process is perfectly constructed to produce the results it does. Some customer-facing processes have the ability to deal with “process exceptions.” That would be customers who don’t “fit” into the mainstream process but are either important enough or loud enough to call for “special” treatment. However, this is akin to the old “rework” processes in manufacturing, which did not help improve the process itself, but simply attempted to mask the root cause. And they are usually more expensive since “rework” is inherently costly.

To create and execute processes that offer a valuable customer experience one must recognize that the processes cannot be rigid or inflexible because the gosh darn customer just won’t cooperate (at least not most of them, most of the time). The key is to create flexible, adaptable processes that can accommodate the needs of your customers.

If you accept the Drucker-ism that the purpose of a business is to create and keep customers, then processes that support that are mandatory. Customer experience is now recognized as a key driver of that ability to create and keep them. Further research[1] has found that companies that provide superior customer experience produce better ROI for their shareholders. So what’s the issue?

Creating flexible and adaptable processes is more expensive than rigid processes. This is true, if for no other reason than because the skills required of the people in the process are greater if the process is flexible and adaptable. And people with more skills generally get paid more. So the idea is to great the so-called “Goldilocks process.” Just flexible and adaptable enough … and no more.

Two key requirements to create the so-called “Goldilocks process” are to (1) understand and agree on the outcome desired … from the customers’ perspective; (2) recognize that you cannot serve everyone with this approach. There must be a focus on attracting and retaining the right customer and having a method for helping the “wrong” customer shop elsewhere. If there aren’t enough “right” customers to achieve your business goals, that is a strategy problem not a process problem.

Describing the solution is simple: create customer-centric processes that are effective at delivering the customer experience promised. Once you have done that well, you can look to make the processes more efficient … as long as they continue to be effective.



  1. Mitchell –

    I’m very much in your corner on this, especially with respect to both getting and keeping customers who are the best fit for the company’s value proposition(s).. That said, it must also be understood, and acted upon, that there is a subconscious, emotional, and memory component to transactions and longer-term experiences and relationships. We are always mindful that perceived value, delivered wherever there is a touchpoint, is core to enterprise customer-centricity and needs to incorporate these elements.

  2. Since process and flexibility are uneasy bedfellows, there’s an optimization question at play. In my experience managing projects, the most flexible process is the one that’s least bound up in rules, scripts, steps, and flowcharts. Every call or contact with the company is handled at the discretion of the agent or person handling the interaction. If companies want something that provides unlimited flexibility, I champion having no process at all. It’s the only thing I know that will deliver that result.

    But most companies don’t want to deal with their customers that way, and though it might seem counter-intuitive, most customers don’t want it, either. The challenge is how companies can engineer processes (I admit, the term sounds as cold as ice) that give customers the perception that they are treated with care and respect as individuals, while ‘repeating and scaling’ that outcome. A narrow path on which to tread, and one that inevitably requires trading things off.

    My first recommendation is to widen the ‘strike zone’ – not “to produce the same outcome predictably,” but to improve the probability of a positive outcome. This is a more relaxed standard, but one that I believe is more achievable, and therefore, more realistic. First, ‘positive outcome’ must be defined, either by what it is, or by what it is not.

    Second, establish a process that will optimize [revenue / profit / customer wait time / low-churn] and stick to it, until strategic goals change, when it will be time to consider optimizing something else. I think the mission to “create a process that will fit all customers” is a fool’s errand for companies, since no two customers have identical needs.

  3. I completely agree Mitchell. I have described for many years that Customer Experience is all about ’cause and effect’ – what you do (as an organisation) will CAUSE your customers to feel the way they do about your organisation – the EFFECT. The inability of companies to align their business processes to the customer journey is the root cause of customers experiencing ‘random’ or ‘unintentional’ experiences. Obviously, there are still many businesses who do not even know they have a customer journey and the majority designed and implemented business processes without that knowledge.

    It is also no surprise that an increasing number if Customer Experience Professionals started life as Process Professionals (myself included) – CX and process management are definitely not mutually exclusive – they are inextricably linked!!

  4. This is spot-on, Mitch. The supposed dichotomy between experience and process is a straw man. The issue simply is whether you design a process that supports the customer and is externally oriented or if you opt for an inward-looking process that ignores the customer.

    While the latter all-too-often is the case, it does not have to be. If processes are built with the user experience in mind, this false dichotomy goes away.

  5. Wholeheartedly agree with everyone on this. Processes built from the customer outward is a huge part of customer experience.

    It is true that the nature of building tight processes will, by definition, impact flexibility, and this will in turn have some impact on customer experience. But that is where the people side of the equation comes in.

    Skilled, empowered, customer-focused individuals can compensate for the inevitable square peg – round hole situations. In fact, the research tells us that it is how we deal with those very exceptions that creates positive word-of-mouth.


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