Category Archives: customer-centric process

Why Don’t Companies Base Head Count on Meeting Customer Requirements?


I just read two news articles this morning of the type that make me gnash my teeth and shake my head. Both involved Fortune companies planned to cut staff by the thousands based on bad financial results. Say what? To these companies, I ask, “Why were you carrying so much excess staff you could do without?”

Most service companies carry double-digit percentage excess staff. Likewise for product companies in their back and front office settings. How do I know? Process redesign, streamlining in particular, plays a primary role in helping clients meet and exceed customer requirements. And we constantly find excess staffing over-distributing decision-making authority, leading to employee disempowerment and creating excess bureaucracy, both of which drive customers nuts. Today’s customers want to deal with well-trained, empowered employees and as few of them as possible – and on the web an increasing percentage wants to research and order commodity goods without any personal contact.

So how does head count typically change after streamlining? By a negative 15% to 20%, in our experience. But rather than streamlining, most organizations throw people at problems, and the more they add the less efficient and effective work becomes. So instead of streamlining to create a win-win for both company and customers, they create lose-lose by overstaffing.

Why do they do this?

Book Research

Before asking leading questions (and using your answers), I should share that I’ve started a new book exploring the inherent conflict of interest between buyers and sellers and how it should influence customer-centricity and CEM. The working title is “I am Buyer. You Are Seller. That’s the Problem,” and I plan to solicit input using Linkedin, CustomerThink and my blog. If I want to quote someone directly, I’ll ask first.

First leading question: Is designing customer strategies and enabling process to suit “average” customers (customer models) consistent with customer-centricity and CEM – or should sellers be designing “process-on-demand” (term from my Linkedin colleague, Bob Starinsky) that accommodates each customer individually?

Are We Witnessing the “Half-Life” of Customer-Centricity?

The optimist in me says, “Probably not.” The realist in me suspects we are, for several reasons.

-Customers were initially grateful that many companies appeared to be searching for comity. However, buyers now appear to be moving through this phase, which I call “play nice.” Now they’re seeing through the many insincere seller efforts to look and sound more customer-centric and becoming more cynical and mistrustful of sellers than ever. Hence, an increasing percentage is no longer “playing nice.”
-Influenced not only by transacting business over the web but by not seeing the “what’s in it for them” from forming relationships with sellers, many buyers are trying to minimize contact with sellers, preferring efficiency over spending time interacting with sellers.
-The more latitude sellers give buyers to “have it their way,” the more idiosyncratic customer behavior becomes – to the point where finding common approaches to satisfying varied customer preferences is becoming very difficult. “Process-on-demand” (term coined by my colleague Bob Starinsky) is beginning to replace customer best practices.

I’ve gone into much more detail in a new white paper, titled, “After Customer-Centricity Comes…?”


Please know in advance that I’ve “trampled over” a number of customer-centricity’s sacred cows, and even more of marketing’s. But please don’t shoot the messenger :-).

Layoffs – Where’s the Learning Curve?

One touchy subject inevitably arises when we design customer-centric process. And I hate to see it happen.

Redesigning process from the customer inwards produces an ancillary “benefit,” which to many execs becomes their short-term ROI justification. While new process designs are adding new value to customers, they’re also streamlining the organization, which can dramatically reduce front and back office FTE requirements, raising the specter of layoffs.

While we always consul clients to first consider using temporary functionless staff for special projects, then reabsorbing them to create “no hire growth,” some layoffs inevitably occur. One of our clients, post process redesign, eliminated 600 front office positions, and our process reworking contributed to the eventual closing of multiple plants. Worse yet, overall demand in their industry was declining, leading to very slow growth.

Two things really bug me about this situation. First, too many companies practice “boom or bust” staffing. They lurch from overstaff to understaffing, because they don’t have a clue how to avoid either excess. Second, necessary layoffs often cut people but not their functions or positions. Process streamlining should reduce functions and positions and does not target specific workers. And in neither case are they learning anything from experience. They just keep repeating their destructive practices.

Not a pleasant topic at all, but I just read an excellent post an excellent post by Ron Ashkenas (co-author of “The GE Workout”) that spot on addresses both things that bug me. If the subject’s relevant, I strongly suggest reading it (link below).

Confusing ISO with Process

Can companies with inefficient, even “broken” process successfully go through ISO-certification? Over the years, I’ve encountered a number that have, which answers the question for me. ISO certifies that quality standards are in place, but it’s a poor indicator of how high the standards are and whether they’re the best the company can do. ISO certification also fails to gauge whether process has been designed to optimize customer experience, despite including numerous customer-related standards.

Nevertheless, organizations frequently confuse the two. Any thoughts on why?

Squishing a Round Process Foot into a Square Technology Boot…Not!

While I don’t want to sound like a process guy forever ragging on software companies, here we go again. After completing an enterprise process redesign; identifying explicit technology enablement requirements; conducting a search to find the best application fit (we will have to integrate two systems), we selected Company X, which assured us they would tailor their implementation to what we’ve already done and where we are.

Baloney (or is it bologna). Sales transitions the job over to the implementation team, and then we receive a cookie-cutter implementation plan that starts with (get this) 4 days of meetings with me and my client’s management team to redesign our process to suit the software. Wow! Breathtaking arrogance! Then we meet resistance when we ask for a “sandbox” so client managers and I (haven’t implemented this one before) can start identifying what functionality we’ll use and what we’ll hide – plus familiarize ourselves with the interface and start pulling together the data they’ll need to configure the system our way. Hey, why do we need that. They’ll show us how we’ll use their system, after they straighten out our process.

They’re now starting to catch on, but it’s truly hard for them to comprehend how our process, designed before we met them, should drive their technology. Foreign concept, totally. Sometimes I have to pinch myself and remember we’re still living in the past. Before customers started taking over buyer-seller relationships. And before we realized process has to drive technology, not the other way round.


Please click through to our site for more about building customer-centric organizations.

Can an Organization Shift from Company-Centric to Customer-Centric Without Redesigning Process?

Rephrasing the question, how far will customer-centric attitude and desire to help customers take an organization?

In my mind, not very far. Yes, process is my practice focal point, but I don’t believe I’m being biased. After every customer relationship audit, I come up with change recommendations that can be categorized as: “behavioral;” “process-based;” “process plus technology” based. The latter two categories almost always dominate the list.

What do you think?

Please click through to our site for more about building customer-centric organizations.

Problems Implementing Customer-Centric Process Reflect a Larger problem

We can talk customer-centric process specifically until we’re blue in the face, but if we can’t manage process in general it’s all talk. In among the best blog posts I’ve read in memory, Thomas Olbrich of Taraneon Consulting in Hamburg picks up on a conversation comparing U.S and European process we started several years back – and elevates it to a new level of perception. If you’re wondering why implementing customer-centric process is so tough, you must read Thomas’ incisive remarks.

A lightly edited excerpt:

“BPM in US companies has two extreme positions and practically no middle ground: either processes are a top management topic, but as an abstract concept only; or, process lives only at the business analyst and operations level – lots of work in the trenches of daily business but so buried beneath methods and tools process fails to get noticed. Accountability for processes? Nada. Process organisation? Nada. Middle management as the link between business strategy and processes? Doesn’t exist.

“By contrast continental Europe prides itself on its wait and see approach (nastier minds than mine would call it complacency or even ignorance) with the consequence that once they do pick up on an idea someone’s bound to come in to tell them that it’s old hat and they should be looking at what’s new instead.”

If you’re wondering why implementing customer-centric process in either continent (and elsewhere, such as in Australia) is so difficult, you must read this.

More Companies Are Deigning Customer-Centric Business Strategies, But Then What…?

Although far from a majority, the percentage of companies with customer-centric strategies continues rising. But then what? Well, in so many cases what comes next is a major disconnect. Once the customer-centric intent is established, next should come customer-centric process redesign (including designing enabling technology) that should change intent into action.

Unfortunately, what does happen instead is process design that covers its cost-control roots with a customer fig leaf. Companies wheel out production-based process schemas practiced by production-trained process designers and get production-based process – that adds only tangential benefits to customers.

Personally, I’d rather train process untrained people in the principles of customer-centric process and turn them loose, rather than bring in the Lean/Six Sigma troops. What do you think?

FYI, here’s a link to an excellent CustomerThink post addressing this issue by Joseph Drager ( I’ve added my 2 cents.