Monday, September 1, 2014

The Problem Solving Process - Step 4: Designing a Solution

Based on customer feedback (i.e. surveys, observation, interviews, etc.), you’ll want to form a hypothesis  for a potential permanent solution to your CX problem.  In many cases, this solution will take the form of either a design for a new process, or a re-design of an existing approach.  In either scenario, as alluded to in the previous post, and discussed in John A. Goodman’s excellent book, Strategic Customer Service (1), the decision to develop a permanent solution is a strategic one.  This is because you’ll be making a couple of choices, with each having implications for how to use your organization’s resources.  

The first choice is simply around whether or not to develop and implement a permanent solution.  In this case, the questions to ask are: 1) what’s the likely outcome of not addressing this problem and foregoing a permanent solution?  In the majority of cases, continuing to tolerate the problem will result in both customer and employee dissatisfaction; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  2) if we develop a permanent solution, what will be the effect on the company’s related resources?  These resources are typically budget and staff time, and this is where completing a sound financial analysis is important.  The financial implications of CX are critical, and they’ll be explored in more detail in an upcoming post.

Assuming the organization decides to develop a permanent solution, the second strategic choice revolves around the definition of the solution itself.  As mentioned earlier, in many cases, the solution involves the design of a new process, or the tweaking of an existing one.  While there may be instances where the solution to a customer dissatisfaction requires investments in new technologies (e.g. mobile apps, databases), or employee training and education, for the purposes of this illustration, we’ll focus on process design and discuss a couple of useful tools to aid in their development.

In 101 Design Methods(2), by Vijay Kumar, the Concept Scenario is presented as a “…series of sketches, illustrations, or photo collages used to express how that concept (i.e. solution) will be experienced by customers in proposed situations.”  Kumar goes on to say, “…Concept Scenarios work like an early field test…scenarios communicate ideas well and support (team) conversations.”  Kumar lays out how Concept Scenarios can be developed:

  1. Select concepts for scenario making.  As an example, in the proposed solution for our hypothetical retail situation, the team might imagine what a new floor plan for the cashier area might look like and develop a concept around how customers will experience it.
  2. Imagine the people involved and the context.  Imagine the key interactions or interactions that you want to show as a strong demonstration of the selected concept.
  3. Illustrate the scenarios.  Make a series of illustrations to show the imagined situations.  A suggested approach for developing the illustrations is to use Post-It notes with each component of the process depicted on an individual note (e.g. customer begins to approach the cashier area).
  4. Discuss the scenarios and build on the concepts.  Discuss how the concept is adding value to the imagined situation - its users and the context. 

Process mapping is a second tool that can be quite helpful in designing a well defined customer experience transaction.  However, as discussed in an article on the Process Excellence Network’s website (3), there are three common mistakes often associated with those new to process mapping…

  1. Applying process mapping on inappropriate types of processes.  Most organizations' business operation can be categorized into three types of processes: transformational processes, transactional processes and decision-making processes.  Transformational processes are most notably applicable in a manufacturing setting where inputs are “transformed” into specific outputs.  Transactional processes refer to the interactions of different input parties where they seek to generate specific outcomes. Call centre support and most sales activities are examples of transactional processes and typical customer experience scenarios.  Process maps are very effective for transformational and transactional cases where there’s a logical beginning and end.  Decision-making processes, because of their often ambiguous and open-ended characteristics, do not lend themselves to traditional process maps.
  2. The cause of process inefficiency can be caused outside the process being addressed.  This is, unfortunately, an often overlooked shortcoming of traditional process maps…we’ll come back to this in an upcoming post on Journey Mapping.
  3. Trying to create the “perfect” process maps (and forgetting why you’re process mapping in the first place).  Inexperienced process mappers sometimes bury themselves in process mapping analysis and forget the goal of improvement (i.e. improving the business) and instead focus on building ‘perfect’ process maps.

There are numerous other tools and approaches that can be used to develop CX solutions.  We touched on the Journey Map in an earlier post.  Given its importance in customer experience design (and that in a CX context, its more effective than traditional process mapping), an upcoming post will be devoted to this very useful tool.

  1. Strategic Customer Service, by John A. Goodman
  2. 101 Design Methods, by Vijay Kumar

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