Expert Insider is a series written by Ecrion staff members who are experts in their respective fields. The topics discussed are meant to shed light on how Ecrion can help your business overcome any problems it might have with Customer Communications Management (CCM), Customer Engagement Management (CEM), or Customer Experience (CX).
As a professional programmer, I understand flow. I’ve missed many meals and spawned many social gaffes because I disappeared into my flow. Flow is that experience of being in the zone, at the top of your game, with laser focus. Programmers live for flow. I also understand friction as the counterpoint to flow. Friction is everything that stands in the way of flow, such as phone calls, instant messages, hunger, sleep, and even friends.
Organizations have flow, too. Sometimes, when people are working together, they’re on the same page – processes are working and tasks are being completed. Everything is flowing like beer on St. Patrick’s Day. At other times, organizations experience friction. Every task, every phone call, and every step forward seems to be a special case. Activity is up, but productivity is down. We have all been part of organizational flow and friction, whether it be family, school, work, or just within our circle of friends.
Ecrion is an organization built around our expertise in customer communications. At a recent CX conference we attended, there was an obvious common theme of “friction.” In this context, friction is what keeps the customer from “making progress” with products and services offered by a company. This context for friction got me thinking about what Ecrion does well, but from the lens of flow and friction emerging from the communications between our customers and their customers.
How do Communications Influence Flow?
Let’s start with an example of both flow and friction. I’m in the midst of building a custom motorcycle, and it means I have to work with a number of specialists. Last week, I sent the wheels to California for a rebuild and powder coat.
My experience with FedEx flowed. Their retail store was open late into the evening, so I didn’t have to figure out how to schedule shipping around my work schedule. Flow++. The team at the counter talked with me while I was in line, so by the time I got to the counter, they already knew what services I needed. Flow++. They offer packages and packing services, and I knew this ahead of time. Flow++. My assistant weighed and measured the wheels, entered the data, and then reacted as I would have to the cost. He proceeded to spend a few minutes orienting the wheels differently, and finally came up with a way to pack them so cost dropped by 25 percent. Flow++. He told me how he was going to pack them safely, so I was able to leave with confidence knowing the wheels would arrive intact. Flow++. He highlighted the tracking number on my receipt and warned me not to confuse it with the box number. Flow++. At home, I went to the FedEx site and easily registered for notifications. Flow++. I was alerted when the wheels arrived, on time. Flow++.
On the other hand, my experience with the custom shop included some friction. Their website listed vintage wheel restoration as one of their services, but there were no details on what that meant. I had to call to learn more. --Friction. The sales rep with whom I interacted showed enthusiasm for my project. Flow++. He gave me a quote without itemizing the specific parts and services I needed. --Friction. He didn’t try to push me into the sale but encouraged me to think about what my goals were. Flow++. FedEx said the wheels had been delivered, but my sales rep did not fulfill his promise to let me know when he had them in his hands, so I worried they were lost in the shop. I had to send an email query to him, and he has not yet responded. --Friction. I still don’t have an itemized invoice for the services and parts we discussed on the phone, so I have to ask for one. --Friction.
In this comparison, what becomes obvious is differences in effective communication.
FedEx is good at it, from marketing to fulfillment, and the end result is a higher KPI score in customer satisfaction (I’m happy) and net promoter score (I’m sharing my experience). I even filled out the online survey so my assistant would get credit for his effort. I have confidence the custom shop is good at what they do, but I have to work to assure the transaction is going to succeed. That extra work I do is friction. This shop “gets away” with this because they have established themselves as uniquely qualified for wheel restoration, so I’m willing to put in the extra work to overcome the friction.
Does your company have this same unique position as this shop, or are you more like FedEx, competing with other companies that offer very similar products and services? Can you say your shoppers and your customers don’t experience friction that is caused by missing dialog? Are you looking for ways to improve your KPIs? When Ecrion promotes effective customer communications, what we are saying is that we can help our customers overcome friction.
Flow as You Communicate with your Customers
Effective communication will reduce the friction experienced by your customers. But, your problem isn’t that you don’t want to communicate, it’s overcoming the challenges associated with implementing an effective communication process. Flow, as well as friction, apply internally as well, in terms of overcoming the friction of sustaining a dialog. That is what Ecrion’s products are all about.
Sure, we render documents, and we are very good at it. Let’s just accept that and move on, because that has very little to do with building internal flow. Internal flow is established with two essential ingredients. First, there must be an internal recognition that a new communication would reduce a specific customer’s friction for a specific situation. We call this a “trigger.” When my assistant at FedEx highlighted my tracking number, he was making use of the receipt as a trigger.
Second, there must be some process for orchestrating the production of a communication specifically providing flow to that customer for that situation. We call this a “workflow.” Again, my FedEx assistant had a process for bringing the tracking number to my attention, and he executed it well.
In days gone by, the only triggers were generated directly by the business process. Monthly billing cycles, onboarding, and order fulfilment are examples of business process triggers. But with communications driven by flow, triggers have to do with the customer experience. Our goal isn’t to make the customer conform to our business process, but to help them achieve their goals (e.g. ship some motorcycle wheels and build a custom motorcycle). This is the whole point of customer-centric strategies.
We offer an expertise in cost-effective data access to your business applications. This is a necessary part of document rendering, but it is also a necessary part of recognizing triggers. Our solution will monitor business applications, aggregate data across these applications, and then apply business rules to search for triggers. The custom shop I’m working with didn’t recognize the arrival of my wheels as a trigger to contact me. With our solution, the FedEx delivery could have been tied to my outstanding transaction, and a trigger would have fired.
The key takeaway for you is to recognize that to reduce the friction your customers encounter, your communication triggers need to come from their specific situation within their dialog with you. If your business process is your only source of triggers, you might be causing them friction.
After the trigger fires, the next essential ingredient is to perform the associated flow that generates the new communication: a work-flow.
Internal flows of work are friction-busters by design. When a process for a situation is not defined, it becomes an exception, and that creates internal friction.
In the realm of customer communication, the workflow for a specific trigger typically includes three essential parts.
- Collecting data about the customer and about the transaction
- Rendering documents, emails, SMS notifications, or any other related communications
- Delivering the communication on the appropriate channel
Of course, there might be other steps in the workflow, too. The important part is that the workflow orchestrates the completion of the work. The workflow is the source of organizational flow.
Workflows are one of the cornerstones of our Ecrion product. They orchestrate the communication process, whether they are fully automatic, or they involve some manual steps. Fully automatic workflows apply for cases such as SMS notifications, while manual steps are used in workflows that include data entry or reviews. Manual steps in our solution ease internal flow by providing easy task management, email notifications, and reporting.
When you put together a related series of trigger and workflow pairs into a bigger framework, you get a plan for how your company extends “flow” to your customers. You probably have heard the term “Customer Journey,” or “Journey Maps.” That is where we are going with this.
We know customers don’t all go down the same path. There are circumstances and situations that have to be taken into consideration during the end-to-end engagement. In our solution, we can use business rules to assemble triggers and workflows into this unified whole. We call this “automated engagement.” Your internal flow can be enhanced by using automated engagement to orchestrate the entire customer experience.
Less Friction Equals Better Customer Communications Workflows
I haven’t even mentioned our communication authoring tools, our integration tools, or all the other components that make the task of implementing your internal flow another deeper layer of flow. Friction in deploying new communications and new flows impact your agility. But I have a word limit for this post, so I won’t go into this. Be confident we have flow at this tier as well.
I applied the idea of flow and friction into three different customer communication spheres. From the customer perspective, flow and friction impact your KPIs, and that gives you incentive to reduce friction and improve flow. Internally, flow and friction relate to your organization’s ability to improve the flow they provide to your customers. Finally, flow and friction impact your agility in evolving and adapting communications to new customer segments, new products, new services, or just changing market conditions.
If you'd like to learn more about flow, or you'd like to know how Ecrion's customer communications software can help your business thrive, give us a call at 1-866-418-3838, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our contact page. We look forward to helping your company find the path of better customer communications.
Rick Ringel is the Senior Solutions Architect at Ecrion, a leading provider of CCM software and services. His 30-year career has centered on software communication and integration in various roles: as an engineer, an entrepreneur, a product manager, a consultant, and a change agent. At Ecrion, he consults with customers to design optimal solutions to their immediate document production projects while positioning them within the framework of a longer term CCM and CEM strategy.