A muddy airport floor and the forgotten link: People and Process

Drawing of people waiting in an airportI don’t know about you, but one of my least favourite parts of travelling by air is the experience of queuing for security.  I understand that it’s necessary, but the queues always seem so long, and inevitably the process involves removing shoes, belts and other random items of clothing.  Not only this, I clearly must look suspicious as I always seem to get singled out for a more thorough ‘pat down’ – which is never the most pleasant of experiences.

 

I was travelling back after a business trip recently, and I entered the dreaded security queue.  I was travelling with hand-luggage only, so I knew I needed to separate out my overnight bag (which contained liquids, deodorant etc) for inspection separately.  I knelt down to open my bag to grab my liquids, and when I stood up I was absolutely caked in mud.  I couldn’t believe it – the floor was so dirty that if you touched it the mud would cling like a magnet!

 

I was extremely surprised.  Being a keen Twitter user, I thought I’d give the airport some instant feedback.  They probably weren’t aware – perhaps a cleaner was off sick.  I won’t mention the airport, but I tweeted:

 

“You need to clean the floor in the security queuing area. I kneeled down and my suit trousers are now caked in dirt!”

 

I forgot about this, brushed myself down, boarded my flight and got on with some work.  When I landed, my phone chirped as I’d received a reply.  However, rather than looking to resolve the issue, the airport staff tweeted me back to describe how “challenging” it is to keep the surfaces clear (!).  I would have assumed that they would have used the insight I provided them to provide feedback to the cleaners or the cleaning manager – but it seems they didn’t, they just offered an excuse. An opportunity for continuous improvement was missed.  What a shame!

 

What this means for business and business analysis

Now, you might think I’m being rather self-indulgent by blogging about my airport gripes…and you might well be right… but there’s a serious point to be made about business and business analysis here.

 

So often organisations miss the opportunity to gain insight from their customers.  They spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars eliciting the views of strangers through market research… and they miss the insight that their own customers are giving them for free!  They spend millions on change programs delivering new IT systems and new processes and ‘bake in’ the inefficiencies in their existing processes, without considering what their existing customers are telling them.

 

How many front-line processes designs have you seen that cater for the collection of customer insight?  And how many training manuals cover what to do with feedback, data and insight that customers give (even if it’s not related to the immediate area that the customer has contacted here)? Sadly, the answer is often “remarkably few”.

 

Part of the problem here is that it’s hard to analyse the qualitative and free format insight that our customers give us.  They don’t give it to us in a structured way, and they might not give it to us when we want it.  Therefore, it might not be immediately available when we’re running change projects.  However, a key factor for those carrying out business analysis and those designing processes is to consider where the key customer touch-points are in the customer journey.  How might a customer contact us?  And what might they tell us?  And how can we capture and analyse it?  Good process design and investing in analytic and analysis capabilities can help.

 

Bridge the gap: Break down silos

Much has been written about the danger of ‘silo thinking’ in the past, but in mid-size and larger organisations it can be difficult to remove functional boundaries altogether.  What is more important is to encourage collaboration and co-operation between them.  In particular, feedback relating to inefficiencies in one process might come in when the customer is speaking to an entirely different part of the business. It’s important that this feedback is channelled to the right area, for consideration and possible action. And it’s important that that feedback filters through as quickly as possible.

 

In my example above, my feedback clearly went to a “social media team”.  They had no idea about cleaning, and didn’t seem particularly interested in passing the feedback on.  They might not have been empowered to do so, and in fact they might not have known who to pass it on to.

 

Let’s illustrate this with another example: Try telling a bus driver that the font on the bus timetable is too small, and the layout is confusing.  They’ll probably agree with you, but say the decision is made ‘up in head office’ and they have no input.  They have no channel of communication to raise the issue.   Nobody had considered that front-line staff might provide valuable feedback from customers.

 

In summary: It’s ironic that those who are closest to the customer are often furthest away from decision making about the very issues that affect customers the most.  This is a trend that we should change in business.  Designing processes that capture and route feedback to the right place is key, this allows informed decision making.  And good process design (through thorough business analysis) helps enormously.

 

I hope you’ve found this blog post interesting. I’d love to hear from you, so please keep the conversation going add a comment below. And if you like my blog, please subscribe.

 


This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions

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Stephanie Cracknell

While I always feel you make good points, it wasn’t until the very end that a sentance really caught my eye “Designing processes that capture and route feedback to the right place is key”. Great point, and I feel one that is missed way too often in the process! Thanks for sharing

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