August 20, 2021

3 Process Improvement Methodologies and the Problems They Solve

In a survey conducted by Zendesk, 92% of executives say they’ve had to rethink how they work because of the pandemic. Leadership is reconsidering how they structure workflows and engage employees. But what does this trend mean for customer service teams?

A cohesive workflow for your customer support team is important for everyone: team members, the company at large, and, of course, the customer. A dysfunctional process likely means unhappy clientele and a loss of revenue. By incorporating a process improvement methodology, customer support teams can continuously provide value while remaining flexible to change.  

What are Process Improvement Methodologies?

Process improvement methodologies are strategies that lay the foundation for the way teams structure their operations. Some of these frameworks are more philosophical while others require a step-by-step approach.

With so many options available to explore, how do you know which ones are best suited for your teams and the customers they aim to support? To answer this question, let’s dive into what process outcomes customer service teams should expect. Benchmarks include:

  • Increased retention
  • Reduced churn
  • Continuous growth
  • Measurable customer satisfaction

To meet these objectives, look for processes that promote collaboration between teams, clear communication, and access to information. Here are three process improvement methodologies that do just that.

1. DMADV: Establish or Strengthen Your Customer Experience

Six Sigma’s DMADV is a leading process framework for support professionals that can improve every aspect of their customer service. Use this five-step protocol to create goals around improving your customer experience. Each one should be backed by data and customer feedback.

  • Define: Understand the value your customers expect from your product or service. Generate feedback from your team about common pitfalls that make it difficult to deliver that value. Maybe your team excels at resolving tickets, but the issues creating the tickets get no attention.
  • Measure: Track metrics and customer feedback surrounding your product or service. Customer reviews, web analytics, and feedback from your team can all be used to develop a deeper understanding of how you can deliver value.
  • Analyze: After acquiring metrics, find opportunities for improvement. Maybe there’s a pattern that surfaces or a new-found reason customers are churning.
  • Design: Informed by the previous steps, create a workflow aimed at delivering the value your customers want. It could be as simple as creating an FAQ webpage or changing your company’s billing structure.
  • Verify: Pilot your new process, examine the outcome, and make final adjustments. Keep your ear to the ground by staying sensitive to customer feedback. Are they applauding your changes or creating even more tickets?

DMADV is a proven option, but it’s not an overnight savior. Only pursue DMADV If you have 6+ months to dedicate to customer research and product improvements. If you need to make big changes quickly, consider the following methodologies.

2. Lean Thinking: Remove Bottlenecks and Inefficiencies

The main goal of the Lean methodology is getting rid of inefficiencies while creating more value for customers. DMADV is best used to remove defects from your process, while Lean focuses on getting value to your customers as fast as possible. Although Lean is more of a mindset than a protocol, it’s usually implemented in five stages.

  • Specify value: This step is meant to uncover what customers want and why they turn to you to get it. Once you know what value you hope to provide, pinpoint what's preventing it from reaching the customer. Customer surveys, web analytics, and product data will help you figure this out.
  • Map: First, create a map of your current process—the one you want to fix. What steps do team members take, and where are the roadblocks? Maybe the new chatbot on your website is actually causing more tickets than it’s resolving? Look for opportunities to remove or condense steps to help the customer as quickly as possible.
  • Flow: Now that you’ve eliminated unnecessary steps, you should have a simple overview of how you’re delivering what’s important to your customer—this is called your value stream. Put your process map in action and physically follow the “flow” in real time.
  • Pull:  Since you’ve shaved off unnecessary energy, you can deliver your company’s value faster. As a result, products and services don’t need to be prepared in excess or ahead of time. Since you removed that chatbot, you can reallocate time and effort to your customers.
  • Perfection: With the root causes of your problems eliminated, this is the time for polishing. Revisit each step until you’ve created a streamlined process.

Although the goal of Lean is to remove inefficiencies from your team’s process, it’s always important to remember how changes affect your customers. What may be more efficient for your team isn’t always aligned with the customer experience.

3. Kaizen: Align Siloed Teams and Their Purpose

Similar to Lean, Kaizen is more of an ethos than an actionable strategy. Rooted in Japanese culture and business, its main principle is continuous improvement. Because Kaizen is an idea, there’s really no specific tool or template to start with.

One way to fold Kaizen into your process improvement goals is by hosting Kaizen events. Think of Kaizen events as brainstorming sessions or open forums that bring all your teams together.

Kick off a Kaizen event with each team that will be affected by any changes: customer support, product development, IT, and sales. The goal is to solve problems through groupthink. By collecting feedback from across the business, a holistic perspective of what’s happening is sure to surface. After a Kaizen event, perhaps the product team learned about a hidden UX bug. After correcting the issue, that never-ending backlog of support tickets was cut in half.

For more in-depth process challenges, consider hosting multi-day Kaizen events to bring together siloed teams and promote collaboration.

Take an “À La Carte” Approach to Process Methodologies

With so many methods to choose from, deciding which option is best for your customer service team is certainly a challenge. Our advice? Consider these options as beginning frameworks, not finite blueprints. Make them your own by taking pieces from all of them, and reject what doesn’t line up with your customer’s expectations.

Regardless of which approach you pursue, your customer should remain at the forefront of all decisions. The days of fixing a process solely for cost reduction and efficiency are gone. Place the customer at the center of everything, and the rest will follow.

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