BPM + CRM = Improved (not Perfect) Customer Service


As 2010 drew to a close, Forrester Research analyst William Band published his top 12 customer management trends for 2011. The one that really caught my eye was trend No. 2: Business process management extends to the front office. Band's explanation:

By extending business process management (BPM) to the front office functions, customer service organizations will improve the consistency of service delivered, elevate agent efficiency, personalize service, and meet compliance goals - at a cost that makes sense to the business.

Using BPM to improve customer service isn't a new concept. eBizQ's Peter Schooff recently posted a lively discussion on when (or if) a company should use BPM instead of CRM to improve customer service, with most of the commenters agreeing that, rather than one or the other, a combination of CRM and BPM works best.


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One of the commenters, Ian Gotts, links to one of his own blog posts. By listing several of his own recent good and bad customer service experiences, Gotts effectively illustrates why most CRM systems would benefit from the addition of BPM. In the most telling example, Gotts receives new credit cards from two different financial institutions.


One has a sticker instructing him to dial a number dedicated to card activation. When he does, he connects with "a very effective electronic touchtone system" that prompts him to enter his card details and date of birth, and the process is complete. The other bank's phone system requires a lengthy navigation through multiple menu options and ultimately results in connection to a call center agent who has Gotts repeat card details he's already entered and asks him a series of security questions before activating the card.


Wonder which bank has invested in BPM?


Gotts suggests organizations should employ process mapping, a key part of BPM, to establish what processes should feel like from a customer's perspective and then use CRM or BPM software to automate processes as much as possible and actually provide support. Customer service agents-or customers themselves, in a self-service environment-should not only be able to access the application but also see a description of the process the software seeks to automate.


In her comment, Forrester Research analyst Kate Leggett provides a nice list of benefits that can be gained by using CRM and BPM together:

  • Improving resolution process consistency. Because agents are guided through issue resolution processes, customers should enjoy a more consistent experience.
  • Minimizing agent training time and turnover. Since agents are guided through the discovery process instead of needing to learn and remember the sequence of steps to be taken to resolve issues, they can focus on the customer better. (Agents who are better empowered to help customers tend to stay on the job longer, as the experience of American Express seems to suggest.)
  • Enhancing agent efficiency. Information and knowledge can be pushed to the agents at the right point in the resolution process, which boosts agent efficiency.
  • Driving policy compliance. Organizations can build necessary compliance steps into process flows so agents must follow the required steps.


Of course, there's a snag. Several commenters, including Max J. Pucher, Phil Ayres and Andrew Smith, suggest that a BPM/CRM combination still puts too much emphasis on automation and not enough on human beings-both customers and the agents who serve them. Writes Smith:

... If we use CRM, BPM and enforced decision making engines, then the end user has no real power to make a difference to the customer, more so if the customer doesn't fit nicely into one of these pre-designed processes or decision making algorithms. ...

Says Ayres:

... What you are lacking with BPM+CRM is the ability to react to common situations where a customer really needs the real service of a human with a brain, rather than call center 'self-service facilitated by trained monkey'. Real customer service takes professional development of employees as well as more flexible process technology that lets them handle escalations without a spaghetti process diagram getting in the way. ...

Sounds like what is really needed is adaptive case management, a methodology that encompasses BPM but also includes elements of enterprise content management, analytics and social technologies.


As Forrester Research analyst Craig LeClair told me when I interviewed him and colleague Connie Moore last spring, a goal of traditional BPM has been to remove as many human elements as possible from processes. That's not always a good, or even desirable, objective with customer service. Adaptive case management uses "a blended set of controls, human driven and system driven," explained LeClair. This seems like a much better fit in many, if not most, customer service scenarios.


Max J. Pucher expounds on this in his Welcome to the Real (IT) World blog, noting customer outcomes have no place in what he calls BPM's traditional "cost-cutting mindset." The real value of an adaptive case management approach doesn't come from automating processes but from "ensuring transparency for goals, outcomes and achievements." This is especially important for customer service.


Pucher provides a means-value model to illustrate this point. And he writes:

... Strategic objectives balance efficiency and effectiveness and the dependency of outcomes on skills. Revenue and profits are consequences rather than targets. Achieving individual outcomes, process goals and targets requires the skills of the actors in a changing environment. Rigid processes are blind to outcomes as they focus on reliability of execution only. To achieve individual outcomes requires that individual entities can act locally and independently. This is the kind of dynamics needed in process management to make the business resilient to inevitable changes. Processes have to be adaptable, because ONLY what the customer perceives as a good outcome is relevant. ...