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Friday, 4 December 2009

Allowing for the human element

When people must work with business applications and processes, it seems there is continual need to strike a balance between completely rigid process definition (when people become pure input / output devices) and completely ad hoc behaviour (no repeatability, management etc.).

This is one of the themes being taken up in the BPM world at the moment. For example as Jim Sinur recently pointed out:
Today BPM is really into preplanned and rigid process models. While the underlying technologies are agile and explicit rules and processes are being leveraged, process models need to move from fixed to variable behavior. This will probably start with collaboration points in a mostly fixed process, work to loosely bound process snippets to dynamically created and executed flows that are bound by governance constraints. These kind of processes allow for BPM to extend its benefits to a larger group of work activity that is not so predictable. This will likely include collaboration across organizations and into value chains that touch different legal entities.
There is an interesting link to be made to some of the thinking published about how to improve quality and profitability in environments that rely on people interactions –such as customer service. For example Human Sigma looks at the effects of variability in the effectiveness of human customer-interactions

Human Sigma contends that as an organization tries to standardize processes and scripts for management teams to follow, scripting employee behavior does not really enhance the quality of the employee-customer interaction. In fact, it may worsen it by emphasizing the steps to do the job instead of the outcome the process is supposed to produce. [Six] Sigma followers look at the manufacturing world and conclude companies can improve processes and systems because the inputs they use to make things can be kept at predictable and repeatable levels. But human systems in business – such as the employee-customer encounter – do not conform to such predictable rules. Sales and service organizations in particular, with a high degree of direct employee-customer interaction, cannot expect to follow such conforming practices as those in the manufacturing world.
When we think about providing software solutions to support agent-customer interactions, there are therefore a number of important conclusions
  • We need to balance providing “enough” guidance to simplify and safeguard what a user such as an agent is doing, while leaving sufficient freedom for the user to be able to focus on the end goal- solving the customer’s issue - not the steps mandated.
  • The engagement level of the agent with the business has been shown to be key to quality and has a significant effect on the profitability of interactions. The desktop environment provides a very tangible example of how much the organization “cares” about its employees (or doesn’t).
  • Measurement and monitoring are key to understanding and improving the quality of interactions. The more we can do to understand the hard and soft aspects of customer service, the better chance we have of improving service and performance.
In fact this could almost be a manifesto for using enterprise mashups in the contact centre- building high quality desktops with the involvement of the business, guiding activities while providing freedom to act, providing the means to continually adjust!

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