Most organizations invest heavily in their operational constructs and process engineering without realizing that some tools they use for their customer experience (CX) design can also be used for process design.
Previously in this blog series, we explained why in-depth customer interviews and observational research are great for understanding and building empathy with any type of customer, from purchasers and partners to, employees and other end-users. In this blog, we’ll focus on how customer understanding techniques native to the customer experience can also dramatically improve the effectiveness of your organization’s processes, specifically in the front office.
The front office is important to consider because it’s closest to the customer, which means it’s closest to revenue. It’s a vital part of how your customers experience your brand and create their perceptions of what to expect when conducting business with you. Research closes the gap between their expectation and your execution, and it helps you avoid problems that could negatively affect your brand. As a result, smoother front-office processes can dramatically affect your company’s performance.
Regardless of the rationale for creating or reengineering a process, whether front office or elsewhere in your business, customer interviews and observational research will better inform the decisions you will make and the processes you will create.
In-Depth Customer Interviews and Process Design
Process designers and engineers use customer interviews in multiple ways. First, in a more traditional sense, stakeholder interviews help designers better understand leaders’ and employees’ needs. They illuminate what works, what doesn’t work, work arounds stakeholders use, what would be nice to have and what the organization should avoid.
In this way, customer interviews help build a current-state understanding that illuminates pain points with your current processes. People most often use these to determine a desired future state, identify ways to future-proof their organization or both. When administered correctly, interviews with customers validate your designs, decisions or even hypotheses before you harden processes too much.
All of these positive results of customer interviews are especially important for front-office processes. Because the front office directly affects revenue, using customer understanding techniques to build smooth front-office processes helps prevent inadvertently creating a revenue shutoff, which can have short- and long-term consequences.
For example, if your organization undertakes a digital transformation and you’re planning to replace old tech with new tech, interviews with customers help ensure the changes don’t create frictions. This is critical, because with new tech comes new ways of using it for front-office teams. Replacing a legacy CRM with a new tool like Salesforce, for instance, requires users to learn new ways of working you may not have anticipated. In-depth customer interviews reduce those risks.
The key to executing customer interviews to achieve these results, however, is creating an interview guide and walking each customer through the new or expected process to ensure alignment with their expectations. To accomplish this, you may need some type of stimulus to illustrate how the new experience will differ from today. This allows you to collect direct feedback about the moments that matter to them.
Creating the stimulus — whether it’s sketches on paper, screen designs or a working model — requires a process designer or engineer, or a supplemental resource or team. Even a stimulus on paper will increase the velocity of your research by focusing on the future state experience rather than the current state.
These practices ensure that your actual end user or customer has a voice in the design process, creating more profitable opportunities across the board, including:
- Less risk of negative returns resulting from changes to the current state
- Less waste from existing and proposed processes
- An uptick in customer satisfaction and net promotor scores
- An uptick in employee satisfaction and retention.
Observational Research and Process Design
Observational research is one of the best customer understanding techniques to understand your current state and quickly form hypotheses and solutions in both qualitative and quantitative settings. Watching multiple groups of people performing the same tasks, individuals performing unique tasks, and — most importantly — in their environment, removes the natural bias that often colors qualitative research, as well as the ambiguity of quantitative research.
Call centers are a great example of this customer understanding technique because they make it easy to observe large teams of front-office workers in their natural settings. Trained observers can see individual behaviors, group behaviors and the result of management’s efforts to change processes in a natural and open environment.
When done correctly, observational research allows leaders to understand behavior patterns, personnel types and management styles. They can then use this understanding to create reusability and standards of work that maximize the use of people, technology and time.
Operational observations are also a very unobtrusive way of either validating or disproving what designers and engineers may hear during customer interviews. Whether your team observes that customers’ verbal comments align with their behavior or fail to align, you will create a better opportunity to design the right ways of working and of using your resources.
To that point, the outcomes of modern observational interviews create opportunities for both spontaneous and long-drawn changes to processes. Each has value, but in different ways. Spontaneous change removes immediate waste and any risky behaviors, such as workarounds or missed steps that can lead to legal woes or customer dissatisfaction. Long-drawn change specifically measures enterprise-wide cost-to-serve metrics a reengineered process will show, but that smaller, less transformative process changes would not.
Customer centricity is critical to modern organizational success, especially for your front-office interactions. Your front office is a vital part of how customers experience your brand and create their perceptions of doing business with you. You need the voice of both your internal customers (employees) and external customers to close the gap between expectation and execution, while ensuring that you’re not introducing involuntary outcomes that negatively reflect the brand and its products or services.
Our recommendation is to include the customer experience techniques of both in-depth customer interviews and observational research in your arsenal of process-design tools and to embed them into your current way of designing or redesigning processes. Interviews and observations will validate your perceptions and biases of what customers expect against what customers actually say and experience. The information you gain will allow you to create processes that reflect your vision for your organization’s future, help you better understand your impact, and decrease opportunities for chaos.