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Process Doc Opportunity #2: Customer Variation

Overcoming the Unintended Burger King® Syndrome

Burger King logoThe fast food restaurant Burger King is noted in marketing circles for its great and not-so-great advertising campaigns. Perhaps their most successful slogan was “Have it your way.” The value proposition in their battle against McDonald’s was simple: We will make your burger the way you like, not one-size-fits-all like the other guys.

Of course, in order to make that work, Burger King’s processes and kitchen layout were created to deliver customized burgers quickly. Unfortunately for many organizations that are customer-responsive, customer-specific activities are not planned as thoroughly. Ad hoc changes –some of which were intended to be one-time events– add complexity, cost and have a negative impact on overall customer satisfaction.

Orion has been fortunate to support process improvement and member satisfaction initiatives for multiple public pension agencies across the United States. A public pension agency manages retirement services for public employees like teachers, police officers, administrators, etc. These employees are the agencies’ members. The business environment is usually very member-focused, meaning staff will go the extra mile for their customers be they the members themselves or the departments (e.g. Police) the members work for.

Customer focus is certainly a worthy attribute… but it can go too far. On a process-by-process basis, introducing and maintaining many exceptions for individual customers can create a great drag on the system as a whole. Unless your processes are designed for mass customization (a la Burger King) then bad outcomes are likely. The next time the customer calls, a different representative may not know this customer’s special service workaround. That could make for an unhappy customer or a customer who insists on always having a representative of choice. If the special service becomes the standard operating procedure – regardless of whether most customers need this workaround – then time and cost will be added operations. It may also be a net negative for overall customer satisfaction.

The same goes for corporate clients. A common process among public pension agencies is called Service Purchase. In some circumstances, employees can “purchase” more service time thereby moving them closer to their retirement date. At one of Orion’s public pension clients, the agency had several variations of their Service Purchase process. To some extent, this was expected. Different employers (police, teachers, etc.) will often have different business rules. However, when we opened up the black box, there were 15 distinct variations of the Service Purchase process. These could involve different workflows, different IT systems, different validation steps, etc. The complexity made life difficult for staff and members… and added no benefit for the “corporate clients.”

It was an example of unintended “mass customization.” To solve the problem, the pension system created a “happy path” business process for Service Purchase, then added employer-specific business rules to individual steps as needed. For instance, if the teachers and police had different interest calculations, then that distinction only applied to a single process step. The changes greatly improved cycle time while reducing cost and rework.

In the moment, it may feel good to cater excessively to customer demands –to go the extra five miles– but in reality, sometimes the right thing to do is make sure you have it your way, not the various ways customers may demand.

Unintended mass customization or excessive customer-based variation is one of the most important – and often surprising – revelations from a process documentation project. You open the box on a process that “everyone” understands, multiple versions may pop out like that old spring snakes in a can toy. Cut down on that “customer variation” and performance will soar.

Click here to learn more about Orion’s Business Process Documentation Services.

Click here to learn more about Orion’s Process Mapping training options.

Next: Process Doc Opportunity #3: Sequential Processing (coming soon)


Burger King is a registered trademark of Burger King Corporation.
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