When a company starts to hear their customers saying “it’s very difficult to do business with you” without providing exact details; when a company sees their internal customer service scorecard showing good numbers, but the customer survey result shows “poor service”; or when a company starts to see their long term customers switching to their competitors; it is the time for the company to evaluate their value chain to understand what they need to do win the trust and confidence back from their customers.
However, it seems difficult to figure out what customers are really looking for, and it’s difficult to decide which actions to take to improve the customer experience. There are many functions in the company, what exactly are the areas causing negative customer experiences? In order to understand what activities are leading to customer satisfaction, we can begin with the generic value chain and then identify relevant firm specific activities. “A value chain is a chain of activities. Products pass through all activities of the chain in order and at each activity the product gains some value.” (Wikipedia) Using value chain analysis will quickly help a company map out “touch points” with customers, capture pain points, and identify opportunities for process optimization. I’d like to use a case of an equipment rental company to explain how value chain analysis is used to identify issues in order to enhance customer experience.
In this case, customers choose to rent instead of buy equipment for a lower cost but at the same time expect good service. Customers can have the company deliver equipment to them or pick them up with their own trucks. After finish using the equipment, the customer can self return them to the company service locations or the company will arrange collection from customers upon request. Customers pay an initial fee when they receive equipment and then start to pay rent based on the days of usage. Below is the value chain analysis I did for the company to understand how each function interacts with customers and how they can impact customer services. Please note below analysis only include primary activities. Supporting activities such as procurement, technology, human resource and firm infrastructure are not in the analysis, although they can also indirectly impact customer experience from different prospective.
Primary functions of inbound logistics, operation, outbound logistics, marketing & sales, and customer services are interacting with customers on a daily basis; hence activities under those functions directly influence customers’ satisfaction and their purchasing decision. By breaking down those functions into activities, we can easily see the components in the value chain and how they create and build value for customers. By asking questions for each activity, we can thus realize what customers are expecting for each activity and whether there is enough to be done to guarantee customer satisfaction.
I’m not going to explain each activity in detail. The result of this exercise is to help company executives realize the challenges from their existing process structure and to make the right decisions and actions to truly “serve” customers. Executives should also face the fact that internal metrics are not always reflecting a customer’s true experience. When the metrics are designed to meet internal criteria and when those numbers are tied to employee performance bonuses, we can expect that employees are incented to make a good number instead of to provide good service. For example, on-time delivery performance is a key measurement for each employee in the company. However, the company only measures the shipments with Prove-On-Delivery (POD), and thus filters out at least 10% of data from measurement because carriers do not provide POD for every single shipment. The company measures on-time based on the final date stored in the system. When a shipment is going to be late, the employee in Logistics calls the customer to get “approval” of changing the date of delivery in the system, as if customer had another choice. At the same time, the company defines the on-time delivery window which is not necessarily what the customer is asking for. Using a six sigma term, there is a gap between internal specifications and external customer measurement. Unfortunately, because of political reasons and high pressure for “performance”, even functional high level executives are not willing to change the wrong measurements to correctly reflect real performance. No wonder that even with high performance numbers in the service scorecard, we can not prevent customers from switching to competitors.
From such a value chain analysis exercise, many functional experts can identify process improvement opportunities and take necessary projects to reengineer processes. However, without further data analysis, the analysis won’t lead to a priority list to allow the company to put the limited resources to the most critical processes. Besides, the company will not make fundamental changes without establishing performance metrics truly reflecting customers’ requirements. Value chain analysis can help companies to understand where they can create value for customers. However, only when the company truly embraces “customer experience” and makes fundamental changes will the value chain create real value for customers.