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Mending a Broken Process

Processes are put in place to reduce ambiguity, help employees do their jobs well, and make it easy to deliver consistent service to customers. A process is a series of steps that produce a desired result, but over time, even the best of processes can become broken. Broken processes are often exposed in missed KPIs, inefficiencies, bottlenecks, lack of trust, or complaints from customers and employees. Your employees may also feel like they are working harder than ever to accomplish a basic task. If you experience any of these things, chances are you have a broken process.

Process improvement

It is your job as a leader to facilitate a work experience that is both engaging and productive, but sometimes processes stand in the way. When you realize you have a broken process, do not jump to a quick solution. Rushing into a solution may only exacerbate the issue. Instead, dig in, ask questions, and be sure you really understand the issue. You should even question whether the process is still necessary. From there, you can facilitate improvements or get rid of the process altogether. If the process is worth keeping, investigate the cause of the breakdown. My favorite way to understand the root cause of a broken process is to write a problem statement, then ask "the five whys" to peel away all layers of symptoms.

An example:

A small percentage of your contact center's calls are billing questions that only the accounting team can answer. You have defined and documented a process where agents reach out to the accounting team. The accounting team is supposed to answer the question for the agent within 3 hours, so the agent can then give the customer an answer. These are simple questions that should be answered quickly, but you have noticed that these tickets are taking multiple days to resolve and customers are unhappy. Agents are also frustrated because the delays impact their metrics and the level of service they want to provide to customers. As a result, agents have been sending terse emails to their counterparts in accounting until they get an answer to the customer's question.

Problem statement: Tickets requiring input from accounting are taking too long to resolve.

Why? An accounting team member didn't respond.

Why? They ignore the message they receive from your agent.

Why? Accounting is busy, and other tasks are more important to them.

Why?  They do not realize that responding to the ticket means keeping a customer happy and retained. No one has ever explained this to them. The outcome of the process is not something they care about.

Why?  Their leaders are not holding them accountable for completing this task.

The process is broken because accounting leaders are not holding their employees accountable for completing this small but important task. Now that you understand what's broken, you can figure out how to fix it. I suggest involving a few contact center agents and accounting team members in the process at this point. These important stakeholders will provide a valuable point of view and will develop a sense of ownership and buy-in early in the process.

Have the group brainstorm solutions. Use a whiteboard and sticky notes to have them jot down their ideas about how the ideal process would look. If you get stuck, here are a few questions to get the ideas flowing:

  1. What is the current process?
  2. What doesn't work about this process?
  3. Do we have supporting data?
  4. What are some things that could make the process better?
  5. Are there tools or resources that might help with the resolution?
  6. What have we tried before that has worked?
  7. What have we tried before that hasn't worked?
  8. What other alternatives exist?

Once you have thought through the ideal process, you'll need to think about what it will take to implement the solution. Are there barriers that stand in the way? How can your team overcome them? Write down the steps in the process and identify who is accountable for each step. Next, work your usual change management procedure, including the ever-important step of communication. You should have buy-in from contributors because you involved them in brainstorming potential solutions. Now, bring everyone else along. Make sure agents understand how the mended process will impact them. Then, make sure they're ready to adapt to the changes with the right information, training, and help. Of course, you'll want to keep up with the new process to ensure it's being followed and no further issues crop up as a result. Recognize people for making the change happen, and quickly act to remove barriers if new ones arise. Continue to evaluate the improved process' success and reiterate when needed.

While mending broken processes takes time and focus on the short-term, the outcome will be more engaged employees who yield better results and more satisfied customers.