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The Voice of your Customer in Business Process Improvement

One way to operate your business at an optimal level is through Business Process Improvement, otherwise known as (BPI). For a successful BPI initiative, in an organization of any size, new or established, it is imperative that the voice of your customer be heard.

Business Process

One definition of a Business Process is offered by Thomas Davenport as follows: (1)

a structured, measured set of activities designed to produce a specific output for a particular customer or market. It implies a strong emphasis on how work is done within an organization, in contrast to a product focus’s emphasis on what. A process is thus a specific ordering of work activities across time and space, with a beginning and an end, and clearly defined inputs and outputs: a structure for action. … Taking a process approach implies adopting the customer’s point of view. Processes are the structure by which an organization does what is necessary to produce value for its customers.

All organizations possess most if not all elements of Business Process, regardless of the size of the organization. The extent, size, scale and scope will vary depending on the organization.

Business Process can be categorized into three main areas:

  1. Management Process: is focused on Strategy Management & Corporate Governance
  2. Operational Process: Is focused on the business’s daily functions such as Purchasing, Manufacturing, Sales & Marketing. This is the part that drives revenue and value creation.
  3. Support Process: Include Human Resources and Accounting

While these processes may seem independent of each other, they are not. The processes should not exist in a vacuum. Rather, they should be integrated with each other and aligned with corporate goals and objectives. For instance, Operational Process, such as your Sales and Marketing, should be closely tied to and aligned with your organizations Strategy. As such, your accounting function such as budgeting should support these Sales and Marketing efforts by providing adequate resources to meet your objectives. Human Resources, in turn, will strategically assist in acquiring the best candidates for the Sales & Marketing process. For the small business owner, who wears many hats, it’s important to appreciate and understand these relationships and utilize a best practice methodology.

Business Process Improvement

BPI is a way for any organization to optimize efficiency and results within the underlying process. It is a methodical approach to identifying current workflows, practices and procedures within a department(s), product lifecycle, service or group. Once the current workflows and practices have been identified (AS-IS Process), BPI seeks to improve upon it by eliminating waste, redundancy and maximizing utilization of resources. It closely aligns the new processes with corporate objectives (TO-BE Process). These objectives are both inward facing to improve operations/efficiencies and outward facing to improve the customer experience. Again, the ultimate goal is to do things right.

One simple way to begin a BPI initiative is to develop Business Process Maps. The map will outline the workflow or steps that are involved in performing a function by an individual, a group, a department or an organization as a whole within a process.

In the process map below, we see an AS-IS example of a common functional process within the Sales Process in the fishing industry: A tackle shop/dealer receives an order from a retail customer. In this example, let’s say it is for a fishing reel. The goal is to get to a TO-BE improved process.

The above illustration highlights a simplistic, hypothetical example of an AS-IS process for fulfilling a customer order. The idea here is that with a Business Process Map, you can identify your current process, improve it and build out a better TO-BE process.

Your next step is to build out the new TO-BE process utilizing a new Business Process Map. Customer feedback is essential to this. In many instances, technology will also play a role in the improvement.

BPI initiatives should include: Aligning process goals with strategy; Keeping the customer focus in the forefront of the initiative; Establishing benchmarks and measures to gauge project performance and milestones; And finally to assign project stakeholders who are accountable for the initiative.

The Voice of your Customer

One key consideration within any BPI Initiative is that the voice of your customer be heard. A happy customer is a return customer. And a return customer drives revenue for your organization.

Any good BPI initiative will include a set of customer improvements as key drivers and objectives (outcomes).These objectives will vary according to the underlying process that is being improved and customer needs.

If the objective is, for example; ‘Improve Customer Satisfaction by decreasing product returns; improve product quality and reduce defects to X level)’, you would seek to improve aspects of the Purchasing and/or Manufacturing Process. The objective here is to improve the customer experience by improving product quality.

But how do we know what the customer wants? How can we align our strategy goals with customer objectives? It is one thing to assume or have a conceptual idea. Going forward with a BPI Initiative armed with only ‘an idea’ of what the customer wants can be an expensive lesson in the end. Consider wasting time, money and resources on an initiative that doesn’t produce a significant benefit for either you or your customer.

Tools you can Use

One effective way to help eliminate a poor outcome and improve your chances for success in a BPI Initiative is to build Focus Groups around the process. Focus Groups help get to the core of what the customer wants and will be drivers of a new and improved process. They are inexpensive to launch and can be used effectively by any organization, large or small, new or established.

A Customer Focus Group is comprised of 4 to 12 people in general. It is made up of people from within your organization and customer representatives. Additionally, you can also run separate Focus Groups for your business partners, suppliers and channel partners.

The goal of your Customer Focus Group will be to explore what your customer wants, how you can improve existing operations/processes for that customer(s) and if there are opportunities for new products/services. These meeting can be done in person, via conference call or over the internet via web conferences. They can be held as often as needed. Usually, there is one person who will lead the direction of the groups meetings from within your organization; however you can rotate team leads per group meeting as you wish. The sessions should be focused, allow for open communication between members, be free flowing in nature and most importantly be fun.

Other tools organizations can use in collaboration with a BPI Initiative are Enterprise Feedback Management (EFM) and Customer Feedback Management (CFM).  Both are software programs that enable you to drive and receive feedback from your customers, partners, employees and project stakeholders. In addition to standard questionnaires and surveys, these programs are configurable, allow you to build in user based permissions, authoring and security into discussions and within documents.

Parting Thoughts:

As the economic landscape ebbs and flows, and customer needs shift, it is important to stay ahead of the curve and your competition. Business Process Improvement offers a great way for your organization to compete at an optimal level in your market.

Works Cited

1. Davenport, Thomas. (1993) Process Innovation: Reengineering work through information technology. Harvard Business School Press, Boston

Don Sedy 2010

  1. July 24, 2010 at 2:24 am

    Here is more information on the topic. Specifically it’s an article on Streamlining, Improving, and Integrating Your Business Process:



    Brett Miller

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