Change culture is the driving force in process improvement initiatives. The culture must support the fundamental ideology behind the reason for an organization to exist. And as we all know, every organization exists to fulfill customers’ needs and wants in one way or another, because they for that service.
Process improvement requires right kind of organizational culture to support it. Here are few key ingredients that you can consider while building your organization for better process improvement results:


Have genuine focus on the customer – the customer is everyone’s business, no matter what function person has in an organization. Even people in “internal roles” should be doing something that enables others to serve customers. Always seek customer satisfaction and value through fulfilling their needs. Make your employees to understand that customers will always want something, but even more important is to know what they need. Serve the cause, not the effect

Your organization needs a culture, where focus is on mastering processes from a customer-oriented perspective – Build in competitive advantage in delivering value to customers. People do what they are rewarded on, so make sure that you give out the goodies for right reasons. And you do not necessarily need to give bonuses; just pay the salary for delivering successful customer outcomes.

Have data- and fact-driven management – Clarify key measures for gauging business performance, gather the necessary data and analyze it using key variables. You get what you measure for. Build your balanced scorecard from customer-oriented perspective and make sure everyone sees and understands those results. With every KPI ask: “How does this help my customer to succeed?” That will help you to think internal matters of an organization from customer-oriented perspective. If something does not contribute to providing great customer experiences, get rid of them.

Create boundaryless collaboration culture – Break down organizational barriers to improve teamwork throughout the organization. It might be best to have truly process-oriented structure in your organization, so that everyone gets what he or she need to do provide profitable customer experiences. Do not support old-fashioned silos that prevent people from collaborating.

Require proactive management – Set goals for providing customer experiences, review them frequently, establish clear priorities and focus on problem prevention rather than resolutions after the fact. Have your people anticipate problems before they even occur. Cost of fixing a cause of problem is lower when detected earlier.

Support a drive for perfection, combined with a tolerance for failure – You must be willing to try new ideas and approaches that have some risk of failure in order to make changes leading to perfection. Just make sure that you learn from your mistakes that you will make on the way. If you cannot extract a teaching from a failure, you better stop trying. No failure is a failure, if you learn something from it; it is just a way not to do that thing (like Edison concluded while trying to create a light bulb).

These six things mentioned in this article are quite big issues to handle, but they underlie most of the successful process improvement initiatives. Which one of these cultural factors is strongest in your organization? And which one weakest?

Spend few minutes on evaluating, what can you do to strengthen the weak parts and make an action plan to do it.


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The goal of 6-Sigma is to achieve consistent, reliable, repeatable performance in areas that affect effectiveness and efficiency. Effectiveness measures meeting the customer’s needs or wants and efficiency measures the cost of meeting customer needs or wants.  Let’s go through DMAIC from the customer’s viewpoint.

6-Sigma has five steps, summed up by the acronym DMAIC. In following, bullets are the traditional way of thinking in 6-Sigma and explanation below is the customer perspective.

1) Define the company’s processes and customer needs. Processes are the ways that companies take inputs, add value and deliver outputs.

Every business organization is all about their customers, every governmental office is all about serving citizens and every not-for-profit organization is all about serving people related to their mission. Thus, we can say that the customer experience is the process for every organization in one way or another. For customer process inputs are their true needs, added value is the way that those needs are taken care of and delivered outputs are customers with fulfilled needs. It is not about what customer’s want, it’s about what they need. And for customers processes are the ways that organizations take care of their needs.

2) Measure process effectiveness (meeting the customer’s needs and wants) and efficiency (the cost of meeting customer needs or wants).

How do you feel when you are send a customer satisfaction questionnaire with 50 questions? Or you are asked to answer questionnaire, which doesn’t really ask anything you would like to answer to? Well, your customers will feel the same way if you do that. Customers actually want measuring process effectiveness to be as invisible as possible to them, but at the same time as efficient as possible. You shouldn’t ask the customers how long did you wait in a queue, because from their viewpoint you should know that. You should also know how long they are willing to do that. If you want to have feedback questionnaire, it should ask only: Will you use/buy our services/products again? Would you recommend our services/products to your friends/family? And then ask the appropriate “why not” -question if the customer wouldn’t. Rest you should figure out with continuously bothering the customers.

3) Analyze the data in an attempt to identify the causes of variation in the process.

From organization’s internal perspective it is important to analyze the variation in processes. From customer’s viewpoint they are actually the first ones noticing the variation; long before your measurement systems, because they will suffer from the effects. The more you can prevent variation, the better. But it is not only about measuring and analyzing. It is even more about reacting to that variance. Organization needs to deal with the effects and remove the cause. When things go wrong, your customers will expect you to do something about it. And world’s best organizations are working on that proactive, they will know and deal with the problem in real-time for customers. For example when thinking about IT systems, your customer should not be the first one noticing that your servers are down causing him to not be able to access the system.

4) Improve the process by doing things differently.

And with different, customers mean fulfilling their needs better. Mathematics on analyzing the processes is not enough to tell you how to improve processes from customer experience perspective, especially if you have not measured the right things from the beginning. Try to find the optimum number of customer interactions and that will lead to increased revenue, lowered costs and improved customer service simultaneously.

5) Control with measures to make sure the improvements stay in force.

Control the customer experience at all times. You have to make the customer everyone’s business in your organization from top to bottom (in the hierarchical world) or from customer to outcome (in the process world).

Here are few reflective questions for you to ask:

-       Is our organization thinking about the customer in every step of 6-Sigma DMAIC?

-       Do we evaluate every processes right to exist before optimizing it?

-       Do we measure the right things that provide successful customer outcomes?

-       Do we control our processes based on right measurements?



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Creating better customer experience can be very cumbersome or very easy depending on how complicate methods, systems or ideas you want to use. Below are some ideas for you, how to improve customer experience through changing your business processes.


Put some real meaning into the term ‘customer engagement’.

Do not just say you are ‘engaging’ with customers by responding to their social media comments. Let them really talk and start using their ideas to show that you really are listening. Many organizations are having success with online idea exchanges and communities where customers can offer their ideas on improving products and services. Not only can customers submit ideas about products and services, but other customers can support those or add their own ideas to the original one. This kind of activities can replace traditional customer satisfaction surveys with much more vivid information on what customers think about you.

Focus on creating the single-customer view.

Most people already know the big customer experience challenge is creating customer files with histories and links to pertinent information. CustomerThink, an online community, recently completed a survey of U.S. consumers and found that 80% had experienced what it calls “touch point amnesia,” which refers to experience when a returning customer calls a company with a problem and is treated like they have never been heard of before. Of that 80% from the survey, 50% said they were less likely to recommend the company and between 24% and 35% were less likely to actually make a purchase because of it. So, it matters that you treat your customers as individuals.

Push social media across the organization.

Companies are at risk of not getting true benefit from social media, which is important part of customer experience strategies, because it is controlled by marketing or communications groups. You talk to any CEO and they will tell you that the focus of 2012 is to get closer to the customer, yet social media itself is already a functional silo within the organization.While marketing and communication groups own social media, service is at the bottom level and managers do not even use any of these tools. It is not enough for top management to be involved, but they have to actively participate into building the profile for the organization.

Teach employees to have conversations with customers.

I think we should already know that scripted contact center agents are bad news. I received a brochure in mail for a new cell phone offer. I actually considered switching my operator and I phoned to them. When I attempted to ask the agent a question, I was instead given a scripted sales pitch. I didn’t make the switch. There are these companies that are driven purely by metrics and scripts, because they think that the way to make customer service successful is to constantly measure the cost of it. This just is not the right way to succeed with customers. You still need the metrics, but you should not base your customer experience on the wrong kind of metrics.

Understand when your customer might feel vulnerable, because those are precisely the moments when they can turn on you.

It is important to get ahead of those vulnerable moments when a customer is nervous or second-guessing their buying decision. Here is one example from real life: following up on the sale of a Internet connection contract  to make sure the customer understands what they purchased before they get the bill in the mail. Here is another example: a hospital in a small city recognized that most people’s stress level increases as they approach a hospital. So, it pipes in relaxing music to the parking lot to help people settle down before entering the hospital building.

Here are some reflective questions you can use to evaluate your customer experience:

  • What customer engagement means in your organization? How could you make it more worth-while?
  • Do you treat your customers as single-customers?
    Do have them tell you information that you already know?
  • Do your managers understand the power of social media and do they actively use it for the benefit of organization?
  • Do you use scripted talks to discuss with your customers?
    Do you evaluate and teach your employees to have meaningful discussions with your customers?
  • Do you understand those key moment of truths when your customers make decisions regarding your business?


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It would be nice, if it were possible to have process improvement initiatives without any problems. However, that is not the world we live in. Process paradise can run into several problems. Watch out for these potential snakes hissing in your process garden:

“Step on the snake’s tail and it will bite you.”  The customers are the most important stakeholders for any organization, because they pay for the organization to exist. So, do not step on the tail of that snake or it will bite you back with poisonous teeth. Process improvement is to be used to provide better customer experiences.

“Culture of snakes.” Many people do not like change, but culture of change is very important for process improvement.  All the employees of your organization must be convinced that they are in the change business. People who believe that process improvement is not their job create problems. It is impossible to retain old habits of working when world around organization changes all the time due to globalization, Internet, etc.

“You cannot use a submarine to kill a snake.” Watch out for mismatch between new methods or tools and the work. Remember to apply proper project management techniques to direct your 6sigma initiative’s scope, standards, schedule and levels of risk. Start with end in mind.

“Focusing only on the costs of snakeskin boots is not effective.” Do not use process improvement solely to do cost reduction. Cost is just one factor in the equation, although it is important. Do not be so focused on cost that you overlook opportunities to add customer value. Remember, that cost comes from doing things that do not benefit the customer.

“How many stripes does that snake have?” Management can become more fascinated with statistical measures than with the actual process, not to mention the customer. Management has to understand that better quality does not come merely through the use of more sophisticated statistics. It is also about the colors of snake’s stripes.

“Finding the snake’s lair is a serious job.” Process improvement also can fail if teams do not care about root cause analysis. The natural tendency for people is to jump from identifying a problem to finding a solution, without first addressing the root cause. You may kill one snake, but you are leaving rest of them to appear again.

“I don’t care about the snakes!” Lack of top and middle management commitment will cause serious problems.  Implementing a process improvement program requires top management’s support or otherwise you are doomed to fail.

“I’m blaming the other snake killers!” Consultants can help to adapt process improvement methods. A greater danger is that the entire responsibility for the process improvement program will be put on the consultants. Management must accept ongoing involvement and do their share in snake killing. Consultants can help in showing the flashlight into dark lair, but management has to walk in it

“Be gentle on the snakes and tell them to leave the paradise.” Do not neglect the so-called “soft skills” of communication and human interaction. Great statistical measurements will not do you much good, if people lack meeting skills, cannot communicate and are not able to work together. Also put strong emphasis on customer communications.

“Indifferent snakes do harm.” Employees need training that creates true behavioral change, not programs that just hand out information. Information and skills are worthless without being put to practice.

“Holding the snake from the tail will cause problems.” Poor quantity and/or quality of training will cause wrong working habits. Process improvement program needs sufficient, appropriate resources, including training, so people learn to use new tools and methods properly. And this means everyone in an organization.

As you can see, many kinds of snakes can live in process paradise. If any of them seem familiar to you, maybe you should spend few minutes thinking about what are you going to do about it? Remember, it is not the thoughts, but the appropriate actions that you will take after thinking, which will bring the results to your garden.

PS: No snakes were harmed while writing this article :)


Get Janne Ohtonen's latest BPM book for free at http://addvalueto.me/download-a-free-process-leadership-book/

I started to write my PhD thesis on Business Process Management (BPM) capability factors a year ago. First thing I came across was that there are loads of different methods and terms like Process Excellence, Performance Improvement, Six Sigma, Business Process Reengineering, Lean, Business Process Engineering, Customer Expectation Management and Business Process Management in the process improvement domain. And all of them claim to be the best one!

I can believe that out there are many process professionals who switch back and forth between different methods fearing that we are simply involved in a consulting activity that will have a new name in few years, and feeling confident that we are well on the way to being a profession with a recognized core body of knowledge and best practices.

It seems that at the moment Business Process Management (BPM) is most likely to evolve as a sustainable concept that embraces all of the earlier methods, that is supported by an established body of knowledge and best practices that is recognized and embraced by organizations worldwide. Frankly speaking most of the BPM methods do not differ that much and that is the reason why we begin to see new terms like “Lean Six Sigma”, “Lean and Kanban”, “Six Sigma on Steroids”, etc. All those are joining the different parts together to make one method. Business Process Management has never been any one single term, it’s been always little ambivalent. It contains bits and pieces from many of other methods, thus it is a great candidate for a common term.

It is difficult for consultants to market and sell a comprehensive BPM solution because we are often dealing with organizations that seek to play one BPM approach against another. Customers are confused how is your BPM approach different from Lean or Six Sigma, and why should they use BPM at all. It is many times difficult to explain that BPM is a more comprehensive approach to process improvement than any single method and it is focused on integrating, aligning, managing and measuring all of an organization’s business processes and that Business Process Management includes the application of all the other available methods, where, when and how they are appropriate. BPM is an approach that is inclusive, not exclusive, of other approaches. So, it is not BPM against Six Sigma, Lean or any other but it is BPM with all the previously mentioned methods. Any good process consultant can use those parts of any method that will serve their customer best. Thus, my advice is not to take a consultant that is selling you any locked down approach, unless you are sure that it will fit your needs.

While writing my PhD thesis and taking courses on BPM in different universities, I have noticed that the trend that speaks mostly on Business Process Management’s behalf is the emergence of academic programs that are focused on understanding and teaching of BPM. Academic programs, when done properly, provide an objective and neutral source of information about process change. They provide research that invalidate some the claims of certain approaches being better than others, and validates those approaches that are proven to be effective when properly applied to specific situations. The BPM capability factors that I am doing research on seem to be valid over different methods also, process improvement being the most center thing.

The answer to the central question in this article in my humble opinion is that: “Yes, joining all the best BPM methods together is possible”. That model is still to be done, but clearly so many methods overlap each other that people are already creating hybrids of them. The best consultants know this and are able to help organizations in any way they can, most appropriately to the situation.


Get Janne Ohtonen's latest BPM book for free at http://addvalueto.me/download-a-free-process-leadership-book/

Would you like to create better customer experience for your organization’s customers by changing your business processes? Here are seven ideas what you could do to take your customer experience to the next level:

Make a connection with your customers: A personal connection with customers creates an emotional bond, regardless of the channel the customer is using. For example, many organizations have instructed their employees to greet customers within 15 seconds and engage those who would like to have a dialog about their interests. But be careful not to fall into that classical dialog trap: “Good day, sir! How may I help you?” … “Hi, no thanks, I am just looking around.”. How can you make your customers truly welcome?

Get rid of stupid rules: Get rid of any processes that hurt customers. “Getting rid of one or more of these rules can quickly and cost-efficiently increase satisfaction”, the Customer Expectation Management (CEM) professionals say. For example, using CEM Method hundreds of organizations have been able to get rid of useless rules that hurting the business.

Inject the unexpected into service or product:“Adding some small cool things to give service a twist is a simple and inexpensive way to give your customer experience a positive vibe”, suggests CEO of a retail company in Finland. She says that an imaginatively differentiated product or service can be an engaging element of the customer experience and can encourage recommendations. One hotel chain has greeting card under each bed, which says: “Yes, we clean here, too!”

Use online communities for your benefit: You can get really good insight through online communities and forums. Your customers will Google you, so why don’t you also? It is important to listen to customers’ conversations in social media to gain a better understanding of customers’ behaviors, needs, and preferences.

Find passion internally: You should search your organization internally for customer champions rather than only relying on outside experts. The best data and the insights that you need to carry out customer experience activities are right within your own organization. You should appoint  a customer experience leader and designate her/him to form and lead a centralized customer experience team.

Reuse the buzz that customers are creating for you: Nowadays many organizations  are realizing that when it comes to the Internet, social media, and online technology, they should take an “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach and go where customers already are. This way, customer discussions across multiple social networks are centralized in a single searchable space. In practice, this means that a comment or an article submitted by a customer on your Facebook page or Twitter feed becomes available to your website and other places, too.

Leverage analytics and reporting tools:  Too many organizations have gathered a lot of information in their CRM systems without using them properly. A quick way to gain a strong lead in customer experience is to use analytics and reporting tools to look at this information. For example, Best Buy used a reporting tool early on in the economic downturn to understand why more customers were applying for financing for their purchases, but there also was a drop in purchases costing more than 1,000 USD.

Here are some reflective questions you can use to think about how you could create better customer experience:

  • Do you connect with your customers in a genuine, meaningful way?
  • Do you rules or processes that you should get rid of?
  • Do you evaluate your customer experience periodically?
  • Do you have some little extra things in your services or products that customer appreciate?
  • Are people in your organization passionate to promote your organization online?
  • Are you reusing the good customer experiences that your customers share?
  • Do you use your CRM and customer data efficiently?


Get Janne Ohtonen's latest BPM book for free at http://addvalueto.me/download-a-free-process-leadership-book/