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Saturday, 8 August 2009

Mapping the customer journey

Why don’t large organisations treat their customers like real people? You know what I mean: here are some examples:

You walk into a major fast food chain. The two staff who are serving happen to be in conversation together. They neither acknowledge you nor break off their conversation to serve. Eventually one of them does serve you, but with obvious ill grace...

You ring your local council with a query about waste recycling. The person who answers is polite but distant. You can tell they don’t really want to answer the question. They suggest you look it up on their web site. You explain that you don’t have web access. With an audible sign, they look up the information and reel it off too fast for you to write down the main details, so you have to ask them to repeat it...


You go to your local bank wanting to open an account for your daughter. They tell you that you can’t do this without proof of identity, so you return on another occasion with a student ID card. They hardly look at it and tell you that they also need proof of address. You politely mention that this wasn’t mentioned last time and ask if there is anything else you need to bring. With obvious reluctance they look up something in a folder and tell you that you also need to bring proof of identity and address for yourself. They give you a leaflet entitled “Open an account for a child”. Why didn’t they give you this on your first visit...

Need I go on? Do you recognise this? These individuals aren’t at fault. They are reflecting the pervading culture of their organisations. These are organisations that make speak of customer service, but they don’t treat their own staff like real people, or in any way illustrate what customer centric service looks like.
Large organisations are complex, so they have to divide their functions into departments. There are internal departments: finance, personnel, IT. There are customer-facing departments: call centre, reception, counter services. Each department has its own hierarchy, and in extreme cases acts like a separate entity within the organisation. Some organisations even promote internal competition between departments.
This leads to “silo mentality”. The staff in the department think “vertically” – that is, they think about the processes and functions within their department, and design them to suit the department. Some may actually try to think about the customer, but if they do it’s from that limited departmental perspective.
Of course, for the organisation to work at all, there have to be links between the departments, but these often cause problems of their own because as soon as you have to communicate information to more than just two or three parties, the network of (possible) interactions can get very large. Communicating information is difficult at the best of times, and as Keith Devlin explains in his excellent book “Infosense” the different perspectives (or situations, to use his term) can cause the same pieces of information to be interpreted in different ways. (This is a fascinating subject and may form the basis of a future blog entry).
The diagram here illustrates this structure.

This leads to even more complicated processes within the departments, because not only do they have to support the functions they provide individually, they have to take account of inter-relationships. For example, counter services will have to link with finance, and the call centre with service engineers, etc. The customer can very easily get “lost” in all this. Especially when you think of how the customer interacts with an organisation. They interact across the organisation – horizontally rather than vertically. They don’t see the functional differences between the call centre, service engineers and counter services – they are all just parts of the “journey” the customer travels across the organisation. Here’s a very simple example: The customer comes in to purchase some goods, e.g. a new cooker (counter services). The counter staff need to check availability so they use their IT systems to check the warehouse. The item is not in stock, so they give the customer and order number and an approximate date for delivery and place the order on the ordering system. The warehouse place an order (using their different ordering system) and eventually the item comes in. Delivery takes place, with a service engineer on hand to install the item having been issues a job from the delivery IT system. The engineer gets a sign-off from the customer and enters details of the delivery and installation in his IT system. Afterwards the customer notices some damage to the paintwork, so phones the call centre to get this fixed. The call centre enters the call on their IT system (usually a customer relationship management system, or CRM). An engineer comes out to inspect the damage... and so on.

This “customer journey” has touched several parts of the organisation, and as far as the customer is concerned, it’s all part of the same journey. But look at my (very simple) description of how the organisation works: no fewer than five IT systems. The chances are that these systems aren’t very well joined up in the back ground, if at all. So each part of the organisation sees only a small part of the total customer journey. The chances are the organisation doesn’t actually record or measure its work on the basis of the entire journey, so it has no way of knowing how well the entire journey has been serviced.

I’m not saying they aren’t interested in customer service, but because they measure the wrong things, they don’t get the holistic view they need. Call centre staff, for example, will be measured on things like how quickly the phone is answered, how many (or few) calls are abandoned. Service engineers will be measured on numbers of jobs completed, parts used. All these measures are proxies for aspects of customer service, but they can become the focus of the work and actually make people work to the targets and not the customer! (For more in this, read the controversial and interesting views of John Seddon, whose systems thinking approach attempts to change this target mad way of working into an holistic customer centred one - you can read more about it by following this link to John Seddon's Vanguard web site).

So how should organisations change in order to serve their customers better? Well one way is to start gathering information about how the customer experiences the organisation: literally, map out the customer journey, and at each touch-point note what the customer’s experience is (and how they feel about it). The diagram here shows an example drawn from actual work done on jury service in the UK. (It's taken form work on Customer Insight from the Cabinet Office and HMRC - you can download the materials from the Cabinet Office site, using this link).

This kind of mapping gives immensely useful information about how the customer experiences the organisation, and where there are “low points” that need to be fixed. It’s a tool that can help organisations to start to think about their customers in a more holistic way, and to join up their services internally. Used alongside the systems thinking approach, it can form the jump off point for service improvements. (Systems thinking being the methodology one would use to do the improvement work).

Isn’t this all just common sense?

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