Thursday, February 25, 2010

Organizing Information for Customer and Client Services

As stated in the immediately prior post, our belief is that communicating information and organizing content is more effective when it is done in context.  The correct context from our perspective is the process people are trying to undertake.

One such example where this can apply is in the organization and delivery of customer service and support information.  In the January/February edition of Credit Union Business - a leading journal for CU management, David Austin of Contextware is featured in an article that addresses the opportunity for credit unions to customize content for their small business customers.  On the surface, providing customer specific content makes perfect sense as the needs of a small business customer are very different from the needs of an individual or family.  The challenge for credit unions is two-fold: identifying the content to provide, and organizing that content in a way that it is useful.

In this credit union example, if web content is developed to focus on what a small business is trying to accomplish (the how-tos of a small business vs. a menu of services offered by the how-tos of the credit union) then the credit union will provide greater value to their members and develop greater affinity and loyalty with them.

By asking what their customers can benefit from, the conversation now quickly moves beyond just basic financial services and to the broader question of what can the CU provide to help their memberships' businesses grow?

The CU now becomes a truster provider of information and partner of the small business rather than simply a provider of financial services.  As a trusted partner, the CU now has differentiated itself from the dozens of other banks and financial institutions that the customer could move their business to.

What type of how-to content do your customers need?

(click here to access a pdf version of the publication - the story is found on page 43 of the journal - page 45 as seen through the Acrobat viewer)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Business Processes: Communication vs. Automation

Business process technology capabilities (BPM, BPA) are overwhelmingly weighted toward automating the processes that they've attempted to capture. There's nothing wrong with this, and in fact, the 'language' of process provides modelers with a common platform for defining process flow, impacts and related systems -- regardless of the proprietary technology in use. You get the value of streamlining the exchange and delivery of data, errors are reduced, quality improves and transactions are speeded along their way. However, automation is just the tip of the iceberg.

The overwhelming majority of business processes performed in the workplace cannot be automated. Most processes being performed are a series of human interactions, with a high degree of subjectivity, and with technology and systems used to assist in the completion of a granular task, but not to perform the process in its entirety. Yet, if these 'human-centric' processes as Forrester likes to refer to them could become more repeatable, predictable and defined, the business would benefit. This is where BPM and its cousins fall on their collective faces. These technologies are utterly incapable of communicating "how-to" perform any of the things that they were designed to capture. They were designed to automate, not to communicate, and therefore they have no ability to easily translate a process for consumption by a large audience.

Most human centric processes are communicated through training/learning, experience and word-of-mouth. Technologies helping along the way (to communicate) include learning management systems, collaboration tools, content management and search. The challenge with these technologies (in general) are their fundamental lack of structure e.g. a content management system can be organized in a variety of hierarchical structures but once created, they are quite brittle to change; a learning management system is simply a delivery mechanism only as good as the curriculum and classes that are developed for delivery; search brings back too many results.

Contextware set out early on to solve the problem of communicating processes more effectively. And core to our belief is using process as a means to capturing and then also organizing the information that needs to be communicated i.e. the business process IS the context. The next few blog posts will highlight some interesting examples of how our core belief can be applied.