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Companies Need Customer-Centric Business Process Engineering

Too many applications get deployed, and the customer is last to know.

Nearly every organization has an IT objective of making systems and processes more customer-centric, but few companies are “getting there.” Some of these failures can be traced directly to faulty business process engineering and QA. What steps can IT take to improve performance in these areas?

The clearest answer to this question is to get the customer directly involved.

I was a customer recently with a company that was planning to roll out a new program, but that wanted to conduct a beta test first with customers.

The purpose of the beta was to test the technology of the product -- but also the company’s customer-facing processes.

In other words:

  • Was the product easy and intuitive for customers to use?
  • If customers experienced a problem, how responsive was the company's help line?
  • Did customers like the product? 
  • Were issues resolved quickly?

The scope of this beta test impressed me -- and it reminded me of the shortcomings many IT QA processes have when it comes to ensuring ease of use for customers.

In fact, it reminded me of an online banking system that my own staff launched some years ago.

We wanted to include our customers in beta testing, so we recruited customers to participate in the beta. As customers called in with bugs, IT fixed software. Once we felt that the software had reached a level of maturity that it was ready for production, we cut it over.

But here is what we didn't do: We failed to test our customer support process for the product and we didn't focus on usability.

After production cutover, there were many calls that came in from frustrated customers. We hadn't anticipated the call volume, so our times to resolution weren't always timely.

There was also a second flaw in our testing: We had failed to model and QA the usability and ergonomics of the system.

When we went back to evaluate the help desk calls we had received, we found that almost none of the calls had to do with bugs in the software. They were related to usability.

This was what impressed me as a customer in the recent product beta test in which I participated. The company testing the product had constructed a 360-degree view of product functionality that included the customer experience (e.g., usability and time to resolution for issues).

More companies can adopt this approach if they take these three steps:

1. Design for usability

I have a friend who is a scientist, and she designs cockpits for commercial airliners. She focuses on making the instrumentation easy to use and intuitive for pilots.

This is in stark contrast to IT, where design focuses on functions and features, but not so much on usability.

2. Recruit outside customers to beta test applications

Too often, IT uses its own QA staff to test applications. QA runs through a checklist of application functions and features to make sure that all are working. There is also an integration test to verify that the new app interfaces easily with other systems with which it interacts.

Although end users might engage in some of the application testing, the step where actual customers beta test the application seldom occurs.

A better plan of attack would be to engage volunteer customers in a trial run of a new application -- and to solicit input.

3. Refine your QA process so it includes end customer testing and ergonomics

Early in my IT career, I was called upon to figure out why a state-of-the-art application wasn’t being used by customers. The problem was the application’s complexity. It was hard to use. We cut away two-thirds of the drill-down screens, and soon every customer was using it.

This app had gathered dust on the shelf for over two years. All of this could have been avoided if the original developers and QA staff had engaged with customers in the first place, testing for ergonomics and ease of use.

Summary Comments

Almost every company has a goal of becoming more customer-centric.

Over the past five years, the IT strategy for becoming more customer-centric has been to gather all the customer data from disparate system silos throughout the company so a unified customer data repository could be accessed by employees that gave them a 360-degree view of the customer’s end-to-end interactions with the company.

Analytics like these are valuable -- but at some point, the customer experience must begin by making it easier for customers to do business and to interact with the company.

This means QA’ing applications for ergonomics and usability that delight customers, and that make them want to continue to do business with you.

Related Content:

IT’s Pivotal Role in Customer Service

Has Your Business Defined Customer Experience Correctly?

Reinventing the Customer Experience, One Process at a Time

Editor's Choice
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer