How BPR and Six Sigma use the Voice of the Customer


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Whilst it is true that the intent to include the customer is well established within process methodologies, the measurable output remains focused on customer satisfaction and traditional research metrics. For instance, companies would qualitatively assess’ where our stakeholders want to be?’ and ‘what our customers needs are against a cost benefit analysis.’

customer-voiceIndeed, in Qualtec’s 2005 global survey on Six Sigma initiatives, 92 percent of companies stated that they factored in customer requirements, 54.2 percent stated that they employed a voice of the customer performance improvement system and 50 percent were looking at alignment with customer issues as the next area for performance improvement.

However, the approach to problem resolution lacks robustness for while understanding customer needs is key to programme success there is an over- reliance on a market research process that falls short of the detailed assessment regime attached to other BPR and Six Sigma processes.

Certainly this lack of customer focus has been highlighted as a cause of concern. Commentators such as Davenport have stated how a ‘failure to understand the customers’ viewpoints in any business re-engineering project is a key point of failure.’ Likewise, most research seems focused on ‘internal implementation issues rather than the fundamental failure of customer understanding and how to embed this in re-engineering work.’

Nonetheless, in spite of this failing, there are what might be called half-hearted attempts to correctly embed the voice of the customer in Six Sigma and BPR processes. Unfortunately, beyond vague applications of outside contractors, focus groups and needs identification there is very little in the way of process control and specifics behind what should be the guiding rationale for all BPR and Six Sigma initiatives.

However, this is not true of every initiative. Some of the more enlightened certainly talk about ‘customer experiences’ and ‘customer expectations’. These are typically those organisations that are most aware of the importance of innovation, not just process efficiency19. Starwood Hotels, for instance, talks not just about innovation but the need to execute across business silos rather than efficiency within specific processes. In this case, taking a more ‘experience-led approach’ ‘the group’s lead conversion rate jumped from 8 percent to 33 percent during the first month of the new sales system’s operation.’

It has also been noted in the literature that even where customer satisfaction is treated as the key metric for improvement there is a recognition of ‘experience value’. According to Citibank CEO, ‘as improvements increase, expectations increase. Customer perceptions will change and they will drive you to places you never knew existed.’

This customer led approach has also been extended to include the internal customer such as in the 2000 implementation Six Sigma at Ford. Recent approaches have thus tried to redress the balance, arguing that ‘customer support should be a key ingredient in process redesign efforts; the tendency being currently to focus on workflow without consideration for the customer.

Indeed, customer support ‘must be part of the change plan as they are the reason for transformation in the first place. An organisation would in fact not need to change if customers were already delighted.’

Therefore, innovation changes can be delivered but only where the concept of customer experience and its delivery are understood and embedded within BPR and Six Sigma. This is essentially the next movement in re-engineering initiatives, how to be efficient yet also create value for customers through innovation; a movement that is ideally suited to Customer Experience Management.

Steven Walden
Steven Walden is Director of Customer Experience at leading CX firm TeleTech Consulting (which includes Peppers and Rogers, iKnowtion and RogenSi). Steven is instrumental in efforts to develop the CX practice promoting thought leadership and CX community engagement and IP development. Prior to TeleTech he was Director of CX at Ericsson, developing their Experience Management Centre and also Head of Research specialising in emotion and journey mapping agency side.


  1. Dick Lee: Steven – unfortunately, Six Sigma is well-suited for addressing only one aspect of aligning with customers – “how” work is performed. In the O/S (office/service) environment, where most customer-centric work behaviors occur, the “how is the least important of four process dimensions: “what” work should be done (which extends all the way out to product/service development); “who” should do the work (organizational alignment around customers); “how” work should be done (90% of Six Sigma’s focus) and what “enabling technology” will be needed to support new process. Addressing less than 25% of the total equation is working with one hand behind your pack and the other partially disabled.

    Outside-In process approaches do a far better job of aligning work with customers.


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