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Never let the customer see into the kitchen. It ruins the magic.

The small differences that make the difference


A few weekends ago, I spent some time catching up with some friends I hadn’t seen for a while.  After spending an enjoyable few hours chatting and drinking coffee, we decided to continue catching up whilst grabbing some food at a local restaurant.  It was a busy Saturday afternoon, and we were worried that the restaurant might be full–but the waiter was extremely helpful and quickly found us a table.  As he seated us he apologised that the table was really near to the kitchen door, and it might be a little noisy.  This didn’t really bother us – we were happy chatting and generally catching up.


Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever sat right next to the kitchen door at a busy restaurant, but it’s quite an interesting experience.  Every time the door opened, I could hear orders being shouted.   The head waiter seemed to be doing an impression of Gordon Ramsey, barking orders across the kitchen which were then relayed by the chef with equal gusto.   I heard everything – how previous customers had received the wrong meals, how table 29 were still waiting for their drinks order—and how one of the other waiting staff just “wasn’t up to the job” in their opinion.   I learned about their booking process, that they hadn’t ordered enough of one particular ingredient and that they were running out of house wine.  I have to say it somewhat spoiled the magic.  A potentially fun experience was made less-then-acceptable by seeing too much of the ‘behind the scenes’ detail.  It would be a bit like seeing a mall worker in a Santa outfit take off his beard and light up a cigarette as he opens the door to a 1980s rusting estate car.  Some things should just be hidden from public view.


It’s not just about kitchens or Santas…

Putting aside some of the more controversial behavioural issues implied by the anecdote above, this is one example of an organisation exposing the customer to what we, as business analysts, might call “behind the scenes processing”.  I could see and hear the “processing” of information and raw materials that was taking place to serve meals and run a restaurant.   Yet seeing and hearing so much of the process rather removed its charm…. As a customer, I actually only cared about the output and the delivery.  I didn’t really want to hear the intricacies of how the kitchen was run.  I wanted some food and a restaurant ‘experience’.


Yet this pattern and this issue is much, much wider than restaurants and kitchens.  So often organisations of all sizes – whether mid-size or multinational – ruin the magic for their customers by imposing or exposing them to far too much “behind the scenes processing”. Imagine these scenarios:


“Error 123x: The address is illegal. Please type a legal address or contact sysadmin”:  You procure or write requirements for a software package.  Nobody properly defines the error messages.  A customer mistypes their e-mail address and receives a really confusing default error message.  Oops – The kitchen door is wide open! Part of the behind-the-scenes processing becomes visible in an extremely raw way.  And your customer has just gone…. (“Well, if they think my address is illegal then I’ll just go somewhere else”).

“Oh, you need the existing accounts team, we’re the new accounts team”: An organisation divides itself into silos, each with a different set of processes. A customer rings to query an invoice, but rings the wrong number.  He’s then told to ring another department… who refer him to the original department.   So he gives up.  Looks like the magic has disappeared, and we’ve heard the waiter barking orders the kitchen floor…

“My script doesn’t cover that, sorry”: An organisation provides its call-centre staff with ‘scripts’ and measures them on the number of calls cleared, rather than quality of customer experience. Plus it doesn’t train them on the products it sells – it relies on scripts entirely.  So the call centre agents (understandably) do the quickest thing rather than the right thing and can’t actually answer anything except the most basic question.  Whoops – the kitchen door is wide open now.


What this means for business and business analysis 

When working on business change initiatives and projects, it’s worth asking the question “are we letting our customers see into the kitchen”.   How much of the process do our customers have to know, see or learn?  Remember, a customer probably only cares about the output and the deliverables (and being kept up to date with progress).  At other times, unless the output is deliberately being co-created or unless the customer specifically needs or wants the detail, then it is often worth keeping the “kitchen door” firmly shut.


When defining new processes, we can ensure that project teams think about the customer experience in the first place, and keep the customer front and centre.    We can embed ways of collecting data to measure and benchmark customer satisfaction throughout the process too – and ensure we have the analytic capabilities to assess future change. When defining organisational change, we can help avoid siloed thinking.  And when implementing technology change, we can ensure that user experience is considered throughout.  The holistic nature of business analysis – considering how change impacts people, process, organisation and technology – can help us understand business situations or problems, define requirements and recommend potential solution options.


And in some cases, those solutions might be as simple and non-technical as ensuring that there’s no table by the kitchen door…



How do you make sure your customers can’t “see inside the kitchen”?  I’d love to hear your views and insight, so please keep the conversation going add a comment below. And if you like my blog, don’t forget to 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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