How To Tell If A Business Process Is Broken

Apr 29, 2015
7 Min Read

Broken business processes can cost your business a lot of money in terms of time and actual cash that comes in. And it can send customers running to a competitor. That’s certainly not the way to have a sustainable business so it's important to know what to look for to determine if a process is broken.

How many times have you tried to do business with another company and when it was all over you exclaimed, “Boy, is that business process broken!” Ugh. Or perhaps you’ve been lucky and only done business with companies whose processes are in tip top shape. Yay for you!

Either way, it’s important that your business processes are in good working order. Most of your customers will experience how your business processes work when making a purchase, contacting your customer service desk, or when paying a bill. Those are the critical external business processes that should get top attention.

But don’t forget about your internal processes -- things like generating sales leads, setting up customer accounts, fixing a customer problem, and paying your staff, to name a few.

You need to make sure you have your finger on the pulse of these processes so you can react quickly when something is broken. Here are three areas you need to pay attention to.

1. Measure and Monitor Key Performance Indicators

It’s hard to know when something changes if you don’t measure it. That’s why it’s so important to have key metrics set up for your most critical processes.

Let’s take customer service, for example. We all know that customer service and support is one of the most critical components of being in business. If you can’t hang on to your customers, you could soon be out of business. So you might have a metric such as, “Percent of customer service requests resolved on the first contact.” And your standard norm for that would be 72% of customer service requests resolved on the first contact. Then one month you discover that the metric has dropped to 55% of customer service requests resolved on the first contact. That’s a red flag indicator. Now you can’t assume a broken business process is the cause, but it very well could be. The change in the metric tells you it’s important to dig in and find out what’s really happening.

2. Keep An Eye Out For Hidden Work Arounds

Many times, it’s not totally obvious that a business process is broken because the people that perform the work have compensated for process inefficiencies.

Perhaps your automated processes are supposed to add prospects to a specific mailing list when they sign up on your website, but for some reason or another that’s not happening. Rather than notify the people who can fix the issue, the staff member who discovered it just runs a report every day and adds those people manually. Doesn’t take much extra time and the end result is the same. The metric that measures number of signups doesn’t show any radical change, so you wouldn’t get a red flag indicator. The only way you might discover this is by communicating with or observing your staff. Ironically once a work around has been implemented, it becomes the way of doing business so you want to catch these early. It can be as simple as having an item on your weekly meeting agenda to discuss what staff members are doing or, better yet, creating a culture of continuous improvement in your company so people feel comfortable reporting issues that impact their workflow and don’t create work arounds.

3. Watch The Paper Flow

There’s automation for just about everything these days. If you have a process where there’s a bunch of paper floating around from person to person, you have an opportunity to automate and optimize the business process.

This could also apply to emails so don’t discount that area. If you find your staff is responding to issues or business situations time and again with the same response, there may be an automation opportunity. This is particularly applicable when it comes to customer support. You could create a knowledgebase or FAQ so customers can help themselves rather than contacting your support desk.

It’s not always obvious to tell if a business process is broken. You have to continuously keep your eye out for opportunities to improve. The worst thing you can do in your business is embrace the “we’ve always done it that way” mentality. Make it okay for your staff to offer suggestions and step up when they see something is broken.

What other suggestions do you have for identifying broken business processes? I’d love to see your ideas in the comments below.

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