Designing customer-facing processes that your people will actually use

Pinaki Kathiari

By Pinaki Kathiari
Chief Executive Officer

Designing customer-facing processes that your people will actually use

 

 

There’s a spa/salon that I’ve been going to for about eight years now. Every time the experience is always delightful and consistent. On the phone, I’m greeted by a live person telling me “It’s a beautiful day at Zanya Spa” and how may they help me.  They know who I am, how I like coffee, and its been this way since day one.

I think of this experience as I’m developing customer facing processes for my company. Wondering about what others have experienced, I spoke to people, and found several notable and interesting themes.

The learnings come from:

  • Industries ranging from retail, healthcare, technology, and professional services
  • Performing functions such as: mergers & acquisitions, social media, sales, and legal compliance
  • Affecting 25 to over 100,000 employees
  • With a level of education ranging from high school to doctorate degrees

Let’s dive in.

 

Understand that processes and standards are not a bad thing

These documents have gotten a bad rap. I can almost hear the internal groans when I use the evil words in the above heading. Moreover, it takes time to create processes and sometimes its easier to do the work yourself.

The truth is, it’s a good sign when you need to setup processes. It means you are having growth, it means that you have an opportunity to do more, and it means your business is scaling. This is a wonderful opportunity to let go and have people around you grow. Let’s embrace it, but let’s do it right.

 

Decide what is important for the customer experience

I’ve seen processes without thought about the customer experience. This can create a process that fits your business, but not for your customer. For example, who likes talking to robots when calling customer service?

Research other organizations. You can find inspiration from great customer experiences in other companies and industries (like the spa I mentioned earlier). You can also find examples of poor customer experience so you know what you don’t want.

Putting together a list of how you want customers to think, feel, and act throughout the experience will help you decide what’s important. You can take it a step further and use that list to map out how the process could support that experience. Mapping out the customer journey is an excellent exercise that I’ve used to design processes as well as digital user experiences.

 

Break it up into smaller phases

It can get overwhelming really quickly when you are dealing with large complex processes and multiple teams and departments. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Recognize this and break up the process into smaller phases. You can ask yourself a number of questions to help prioritize:

  • What is required for legal compliancy? (good to start here)
  • Who are the least experienced people?
  • What is low-hanging-fruit?
  • What is most broken?

There are many ways to divide and conquer and its important to think about the approach that works for you.

 

Put people ahead of the process

The right people are hard to find and even harder to replace. Processes, on the other hand, are easier to update. If your processes aren’t addressing the needs of your people, then your people will find a way around them. They’ll figure out hacks and circumvent the system. We all do it.

Put your people and customer first. The goal is to make their lives easier and provide them with value. Spend time talking to your internal teams and customers in the design phase. Have them not only provide input, but also circle back and get feedback. The more complex the process, the more you should vet it with them.

 

Get more by co-creating processes with your people

The above suggest that you talk to people and customers early. You’ll get the problems they face and design your process solutions around them. You then go through cycles of presenting and revising. This can take time and be ineffective.

We found great success when you take your people and customers on the design journey with you. People will always support a world they help create and that means better process compliance. Creating process with your people will get you ideas that you couldn’t get otherwise, save on review cycles, and create advocates and trainers that will back you up.

 

Have it do your peoples’ work for them

The trouble with most technology is the input mechanism. We design powerful systems and beautiful interfaces, but people still have to spend time and fill out forms. This is tedious and takes time.

Successful processes have reduced the amount of data entry and have shifted to automation, outsourcing, and machine learning. Create processes that that make life easier for your people. Make it “magical”. Successful examples I’ve seen include:

  • Using automation to guide people through the process
  • Developing search bots/spiders, that crawl and collect data
  • Outsourcing administrative/research work to freelancers or lower cost help
  • Uploading a photo and having the system interpret the data
  • Doing predictive math and helping to visualize the future

These are the more recent digital solution trends that my agency has been putting in place for our customers.

 

Create easy-to-digest and accessible guides

It is important to document processes that scale over multiple people. Because people will get frustrated and circumvent the process if it’s not understood or it’s not there when they need it.

Document processes in simple ways that your people are comfortable with. I’ve seen great examples of:

  • Flowcharts
  • Checklists
  • Do’s and dont’s
  • Discussion guides
  • One-pagers
  • Helpful hints
  • Templates
  • Quick reference guides
  • Best practices

These materials were available largely in digital formats and accessible from multiple sources:

  • Shared drive
  • Intranet site
  • Mobile app
  • Wall mounted monitors
  • Automated emails/mobile alerts

 

Make training fun

Once the process and systems are created, you must train and onboard people. Getting people together and spending time learning the process is an investment. Many times people don’t retain what they’ve learned and its up to you to maximize the training investment.

Make training time more memorable by making it interactive and fun. Some successful examples of training games are:

  • Having a game of “what would you do in this situation”
  • Role playing through scenarios
  • eLearning modules that are quirky and fun
  • Practice tutorials that guide people through an example
  • Recognition and rewards
  • Free food and music

One theme I’ve seen over and over is that peer-to-peer training works well. Onboard and train the key influencers in your group first. These are the people you should have been co-creating with when designing. You should actively seek out key thought leaders in the company and trained them first. They became excellent advocates who will find themselves teaching others around them.

Training shouldn’t be one and done. Do check in and get feedback from your people. Make adjustments to the process and give extra TLC for people in trouble. Coaching trumps training any day. If you have a large employee base, consider a ‘center of excellence’ model. This is where a group of people are the go-to resource for process compliance, consultation, and coaching.

 

Allow latitude for deviation and flexibility

Sometimes, stringent compliance is necessary. Other times, its not. There is a trap that I’ve found where we find ourselves attempting to predict or calculate all possible scenarios. This is nearly impossible. Processes should not replace your people’s ability to think on their feet and be creative.

Bake flexibility and creativity into your processes. Let people know where they can deviate and how to adhere to the process in their own style. This will help people be more comfortable, make it their own, and you just might be pleasantly surprised by some of the stories you’ll hear.

 

Launch and start tweaking ASAP

I see a consistency with UX design and process design; they are both an an educated guess on how to achieve an outcome. You won’t know if your hypothesis is correct until you’ve launched. Be careful not to delay launch by ‘perfecting the process’.

Launch as soon as possible because the best learning will come from its real life test. You can then begin tweaking and adjusting with real data and experience. Its best to organize a plan for improvement. Plan for both routine process reviews as well as urgent/important issues that may arise.

That just about does it.

To sum it up, processes are powerful tools if they are created and executed in the right way. Stay on your toes and God speed.

I huge thank you to the wonderful people from awesome companies like Johnson & Johnson, Kohl’s, Rackspace, and all those people I’ve ‘processed’ with in the past. You’ve all provided great insights and stories for this article.

Have a good process story to tell? Comment or contact me and let’s talk.

Process icon image create to Creative Stall from Noun Project.

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