I recently had the opportunity to watch a craftsman at work. I visited a workshop in Hong Kong, where a master potter was demonstrating the art of creating a teapot out of a piece of clay. He worked mostly in silence, but I appreciated the multitude of small decisions he semi-unconsciously made every second, guided by his many years of experience, such as how to shape each piece, how to attach the pieces together, and where to shave off a tiny piece of clay. This was pure craftsmanship and art that, if automated, would never produce the same quality result.

When the piece was finished and set aside for firing, the master showed us some of his ready-to-sell products. Even though the pieces were all different shapes and sizes, I noticed he only had one type of box, and was stuffing quite a lot of paper and bubble wrap around each sold item. Someone from the present audience asked him, half-jokingly, if such finely crafted pieces would not deserve their own individual boxes, to which he humorously replied, “No need! Each item is fine unboxed, and that’s one less decision for me to make!”

A couple of days later during a meeting with a prospective client, our team at Cognition Shared Solutions LLC was facing quite a bit of resistance to our ideas from one of the client’s middle managers. His position was that in our Trilayer Business Process Analysis™ approach, we were ignoring all the fine decisions that he and his people were making every minute of their working lives. He resisted the idea of mapping out his team’s processes, as this would remove the “humanity and craftsmanship,” as he stated, from the workplace. He was the head of the customer service department, and our team was brought in specifically to streamline his team’s processes, as customers were complaining about long response times, and employees were unhappy due to high workloads and a lack of guidance.

Looking at these two situations, it is clear that not every process can be automated (or even mapped out), however, the boundary between human touch and process is often misplaced. The master potter understood this. He was selling finely crafted teapots, which stood by themselves. He chose not to focus on the packaging.*

The service center manager’s idea was less clear. He valued the human interactions which, to him, made up the core of customer service, and he was not entirely wrong. I think we’ve all been on the receiving end of an automated call, pressing buttons on the phone in the vain hope of talking to an actual human being. This manager’s call center was all human-staffed, and yet, it was struggling. The “humanity” was extended in his processes all the way to the back end, with each agent taking an individual approach not only to the customer, but also to the notes they were taking, their communication with technicians, scheduling of follow-ups, etc. In the end, the lack of well-designed procedures in this situation was not only killing productivity, but also the human touch, as the agents could not devote 100% of their attention to the client. Instead, they were spending a significant amount of time correcting issues.

As we delved further into the project, we were able to get the manager on board by introducing him to an approach similar to that of the potter. The service center’s processes were put into our Trilayer Business Process Analysis™ framework as follows:

  • Execution of each customer service ticket was captured in a business logic;
  • data flows were captured, and contact points between the process and data were clarified; and
  • a risk framework was introduced, capturing the different classes of customer tickets in tiers according to severity.

Subsequent measurements of customer satisfaction showed that clients perceived the service center as more human. How can that be possible? After all, the process’ replacement of human discretion was at the core of the operation. The key lies in the words of the master craftsman. Each customer service agent now had fewer decisions to make, like how to record the customer’s issue, who to contact, and how to schedule the on-site visit. The agents could now focus on the client, and on understanding the client’s needs.

In summary, the process does not preclude the individual approach. When properly applied, processes apply the human touch to the parts where it can be used as an expression of art, with fewer distracting and time-consuming decisions to make.

If you would like to discuss your business processes with our experts, contact us.

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