Business Process Improvement or Customer Process Improvement?

Does your company need business process improvement?

Where is the focus of your process improvement project? Does it focus on:
– Business Process Improvement (BPI), or
– Customer Process Improvement (CPI)?

The aim of any organisation undertaking a process improvement project is to improve the efficiency of their operations and therefore reduce their costs and increase profits. Right? We might look at how our processes within the walls of our organisation fit together, maybe map out an “As-Is” and “To-Be” process map, and decide what to optimise. But is this all there is to it? Is this the smartest approach? If we can complete a process quicker, does this automatically translate to an overall improvement in business efficiency? And does an improvement in a specific business process automatically lead to more business or more satisfied customers? Would you even know?

The trouble is, unless a business improvement project starts off with a focus on the customer, then the best we are likely to achieve is an incrementally improved internal process. While this may be the goal, the gain, if any, from the point of view of the overall organisation is likely to be limited.

Focusing on improving an internal process might lead to staff being able to complete more tasks in less time. But without an analysis of where that specific process fits within your overall business objectives and strategy, you may well be missing a much greater opportunity to check if that process is even needed in the first place. In fact, completing more of the same task in less time could actually increase the burden on other areas of your business and hinder the delivery of your product or service to your customers, leading to a decrease in customer satisfaction. As someone once put it, “you may be doing things right, but are you doing the right things?” It may well be easier to make some incremental improvements to an internal process, but if you are not looking at the big picture, the rewards to your business, if any, are likely to be small.

Given that the reason for existence of any business is to serve its customers, the focus of any process improvement project should always start with the customer. We work to satisfy the needs of our customers. And this work is comprised of completing tasks within processes. But ultimately, anything that we do which does not directly contribute to meeting the needs of our customers is potentially a wasted effort and therefore a cost to the business. Losing focus on your customers leads to losing customers. The process to focus on is the customer; the customer IS the process.

So when you next look at improving your processes, think about whether or not you are aiming for an incremental internal business process improvement, or if instead, you are looking at the bigger picture and shooting for much greater gains for your organisation through a focused Customer Process Improvement project.
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