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    Spring clean to shine in tough times

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    When tough economic times hit, the reaction of the business world is usually fairly predictable – cut costs by cutting jobs, reducing overheads and tightening budgets.

    But of recent times there seems to be a new approach – you might call it a ‘spring clean’ strategy.

    What happens during a home spring clean – you clear out the dusty corners of every cupboard, sweep away the cobwebs and throw away the things that are no longer working properly.

    And businesses conducting corporate spring cleans are doing much the same, determined to do more with less and clear out the errors and inefficient, dusty processes dragging them down.

    The official term is Business Process Guidance, and this is how it works.

    Say, for example, your business is running a call centre. You’ve experienced customer service staff cuts of 20 percent, but you still have the same number of customer enquiries coming through the call centre and there’s pressure from above to boost customer satisfaction for fear of losing customers due to a competitive business climate.

    You wonder how this is possible without a magic wand, considering there is no budget for new training initiatives, bonus incentives or expensive software with significant implementation timeframes. Who do you call when you need a self-funding way to boost efficiency without additional staff?

    Apparently, many are calling on ‘cleaners’ like Business Process Guidance experts to clear out the old and bring in a new approach.

    Mum always said be thankful for what you have and make the most of it – and this is just what Business Process Guidance is all about.

    Businesses are wondering how they can better use the people and systems they’ve already invested in.

    This means looking at how much productivity is lost by things like poor process adherence, errors, lack of employee access to information – and improving it with minimal outlay.

    Take a look at the call centre of Bupa, one of the largest healthcare insurers in the United Kingdom.

    They decided that to improve customer service and do more with less, they needed to ensure that processes were documented clearly and consistently and that this information was made available in a useable format. Employees could then be guided step-by-step through calls so that the best solutions were quickly reached for each customer with fewer errors and call escalations.

    Instead of requiring customer service staff to clumsily search for information during the customer call, they designed a Business Process Guidance system to act as a GPS for the desktop. Just like a GPS in a car, the system guides staff members to the right ‘destination’.

    As a result, call times with customers were reduced, as were customer complaints. Training expenses were significantly cut because Bupa didn’t need to teach its customer service staff so much detail up-front. Also, because they could be guided through any situation, staff members were now essentially multi-skilled and could be moved around the business depending on need. Best of all, the solution was self-funding with fast payback.

    So what else is it being used for?

    The Global Financial Crisis is currently creating huge changes and shifts within businesses – whether it be mergers, new products and services introduced to maintain competitive advantage, consolidation of departments and head offices or other restructures – and these periods of change tend to stir up the dust in businesses that haven’t had a spring clean in some time or create new process challenges.

    Enter the cleaners again.

    When Aurecon was recently formed by the coming together of Africon, Connell Wagner and Ninham Shand, the new global organisation identified new, worldwide business processes that had to be embedded in a now much larger and globally dispersed workforce.

    In the past, they would have simply held training sessions to bring staff up to speed, but with so many constantly altering process changes and considering the geographic dispersal and functional diversity of the workforce, training was near impossible. Instead, they cleared out the musty old manuals and replaced them with a centrally-based Business Process Guidance solution to communicate changes to employees and guide them step-by-step through processes in real time.

    If a change needed to happen, they altered it centrally and next time a user in South Africa or South Melbourne went to complete a task, they were simply guided in the new direction. This meant face-to-face training could be avoided and lost billable time spent in the classroom was no longer an issue.

    Ultimately what’s happening is that managers are now being jolted out of their status quo positions and change management and performance optimisation have become a survival imperative.

    Never before has there been a time when managers have been so open to a pitch that starts with an offer to come and dig deep into their business to identify areas of improvement. In the past, managers would tend to be defensive, protective of the deeper layers of their organisation and lack an urgent motive to really change anything – but thanks to the GFC, behaviours are definitely changing.

    Although all sorts of businesses across the world are spring cleaning, in the US in particular, the banks and health insurers are keen advocates, seeing it as a low-risk option for their complex problems, while in the UK many of the large outsourcing organisations and call centres are rolling up their sleeves.

    In Australia, organisations including Fosters, NAB, Austar, Foxtel and Medibank are all on board.

    No, you may not have a magic wand to improve your bottom line during this tough economic period – but hey, a feather duster may just do the trick.

    Ted Gannan is Senior Vice President of Vertical Markets for Panviva. SupportPoint, developed by Panviva, is the world’s leading Business Process Guidance (BPG) system used across 37 countries.

    Photo: ivoryelephantphotography’s buddy icon
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