The Three-Legged Stool of Customer Experience

People, Processes and Tools.  I hear them often in discussions and presentations as critical to the execution of an effective customer experience in an organization.  Often, I fear they are bantered about as catch words rather than meaningful ways to approach improving the experience your customers have with your organization’s products and services.  This is especially true in contact center operations where investment in all 3 is critical for both the sales and service functions.  I’ve deliberately used the term tools instead of technology because technology is but one tool we have at our disposal to deliver an exceptional experience. 

We know what each word individually means but what do they mean collectively?  How do the interactions of these 3 elements make for a better customer experience?  The graphic below illustrates this interaction and provides a few examples of what I mean. 


I often ask students in my global operations strategy course, which is the most important element?  My unscientific survey results suggest most of the time students say people is the most important element.  But then again, I teach in Supply Chain and Operations so processes is usually mentioned as a close second with an occasional mention of tools.  The real answer is of course – all 3 are important and it is the interaction – the interdependence of all – or the lack thereof that often causes problems for organizations.  There’s even one company – The Home Depot - that has created their own 3-legged stool to drive how they deliver on their brand promise:  “Our three-legged stool sets a strategic framework that drives lasting customer and shareholder value.”

Think of the last time you implemented a new technology and months later find it didn’t deliver as promised?  Is it the fault of the technology?  Perhaps.  I know many technology companies that now employ customer experience strategists to avoid this very situation.  But I would suggest it probably is the fact that people and processes weren’t thoroughly vetted first, and the technology designed second.  Or think about a time when a process was changed – perhaps a return policy or marketing promotion – but the front line agents weren’t informed and thus didn’t change their behaviors (or weren’t coached to change their behaviors!) to align to the new process.  It’s not their fault.  Initiatives can fail when we implement a policy or practice but forget about how re-training, skills enhancement and changing behavior is critical to executing it. 

I once worked with a company that bought a new sales administration application so their sales representatives could move from account management 5 days a week to 4 days plus one day for prospecting.  The system would do a lot of the administrative work for them.  Great idea!  But we found that many salespeople liked the administrative component of their job (believe it or not!).  Ultimately, we had to change behavior to realize the full benefit of the technology investment. 

Engaged employees who are provided with customer-focused processes and a toolbox to draw from will deliver for your organization and for your customers.  I’ve often said that listening to your front line agents, salespeople, service advisers, etc. will provide you a wealth of knowledge about how easy you are to do business with!  Using this knowledge, you can design better processes and tools that improve your overall customer experience! 


Robert Azman