How Can we Create a Streamlined Process?

Anyone who has tried to get things done in an organization has probably had two realizations:

  1. Everyone seems to have their own way of doing things
  2. It would sure be nice if this happened the same way every time

No matter what area of the business you are in, whether it be Sales, Marketing,  Finance, Production/Delivery (a.k.a. “Operations”), HR, IT, etc., there are ways your organization gets things done. These are your “business processes.”

When these business processes are as varied as the number of customers you have (be them internal or external), it can be confusing and frustrating for employees who want to be sure they are doing the right thing.  Still, it seems that the natural tendency is to accept that all customers have unique needs, and we as the business must accommodate those. 

It seems that the natural tendency is to accept that all customers have unique needs, and we as a business must accommodate those.

Is that really true?

Do we really need to accommodate all our customers needs in a unique way each time? When might we be able to push back and say that “this is how we do it,” and we are not able to accommodate a custom request?  Or that a custom request is going to require a custom fee in which case at least we are being compensated appropriately for our troubles (or the customer may elect to accept the standard process!).

Many businesses forget that they wrote (or have “tribal knowledge” for) their own processes.  And since they determined their own processes, they have the power to enforce or change them!

Many businesses forget that since they determined their own processes, they have the power to enforce or change them.

Additionally, not every customer is one you may want.  Some customers end up costing you more than the return they provide for your business – so unless there are some intangible benefits from serving them, it is actually better for your bottom line to cut your losses and screen these potential customers out early in your process, and in as automated a fashion as possible.

Take a great client that we are currently working with.  They have an online application platform to process requests for financial support, which is the product being delivered to their customers.  Our client has compliance requirements that must be fully understood and evaluated before they can provide this support, yet their original application platform allowed for multiple options and exceptions that had to be manually reviewed.

Every manual review resulted in further questions, which took additional time, and often created more confusion and back-and-forth correspondence than the level of financial support even warranted.

They had a tremendous opportunity to streamline this application platform.  Some requests they knew were low risk, and some were not going to be accepted without critical information no matter what.  They were able to clarify these “no-fly zones” with an up-front FAQ to reduce the application volume, and coupled that with a pre-application screening that included required fields to automate reviews to confirm the accuracy of key information.  If the financial support threshold was low enough and met specific needs, the review process was expedited.  If it was low enough and did not meet needs, it was automatically rejected.  If it was high enough and/or the applicant was part of a pre-determined “A” list, the requests would be passed on even if information was missing.

This process clearly will not satisfy all the potential customers of our client. However, it will validate the high-quality customers and screen out those that our client doesn’t want – the ones that sometimes cost more than they will ever provide in a return. 

The keys to creating a more streamlined process, then, are:

  1. Accept that not every customer is a desirable one
  2. Recognize that you (as a Business Operations Leader!) have the power to change your internal processes!
  3. Create processes that will quickly screen out low return customers and clearly leads customers through each step that you require
  4. Allow for flexibility with strategic or high-value customers
  5. Don’t forget to document the process and train everyone doing it so they do it the same way
  6. Establish and track a few key metrics to monitor both efficiencies and opportunities for future improvements (i.e. question categories for your high-value customers so you can try to improve the process such that those questions are eliminated)

We’re not saying that completing each step is easy.  However, the hardest steps are the first two – the internal acceptance and decision.  After that, the rest is “technical” or “tactical,” and there are lots of firms (like AJC!) or even internal employees who can help with the remaining steps.