One could fill many books trying to answer the question in the title. Oops! All those books have already been written. So has the question been answered conclusively and in concurrence? Absolutely not.
Hence, I will look at processes from the customer perspective. Well, you might say that has already been done, for example with ‘Outside-In BPM’. I do not agree. Outside-In does consider the customer touch points, moments of truth or other fancy names for customer interactions from an internal viewpoint. I mean ‘the customer perspective’ not a business person looking at what a customer might want.
It should not be so hard because everyone actually is a customer, except if you live on an island from coconuts. You should be so lucky! When you look at a business where you are a customer what is your perspective on their business processes? Zero! Except if you are a business process expert already, you won’t be looking at or minding their processes. All you mind is what your immediate, emotional experience is with their people. That is all. It does not have to be a one-on-one experience. Steve Jobs, who designed the opening of the box of a Mac as a celebration, cared so much about this emotional experience to forego the cheapest packaging. This is how he became such a popular icon despite his choleric management style. And opening the box is not the end of a process but really the beginning.
While customer experience (CX) is suggested as a new organizational approach (some say there should be a CXO), I propose that CX is actually another word for process. Many refer to it as ‘outcome’ and indicate that this happens at the end of a process and we would analyze it statistically. Better not. CX is continually woven into the process, because the process of customer interaction does never end. Therefore designing processes as start-to-finish flow-diagrams is nonsense. Hoping to model and predict people interactions regardless at which level, is the ultimate ignorance towards the customer. Designing those perfectly validated BPMN processes is the illusion of a process expert who lives in LALA-land. ALL THE BAD customer experiences are due to flow-diagrams especially if people are cut from the interaction. You might argue that there are a lot of internal business processes and while that may be true, my first suggestion would be to get rid of as many as possible. If a process is not about CX it does not deliver value and just produces cost!
So can Web and Mobile apps improve the customer experience? They could but apparently don’t. Studies have shown (Michael Moaz, Gartner) that businesses that utilize apps for customer self-service extensively, suffer from a loss of brand affinity because customers lack emotional interaction. You need to bring people into the experience and NOT get rid of them.
Orthodox BPM is thus a failure if you believe it or not. If you need an executive sponsor, a Center of Excellence, a huge project, a BPM champion or any other means of achieving a BPM focus, you are turning inwards to distance yourself even further from the only relevant aspect of BPM – your customer! I yet have to see that there is a kind of (governance) bureaucracy that focuses outwards. For a couple of decades BPM (and process reengineering) has been done for benefit of the business by creating complex structures of hierarchy, processes and rules to enjoy the illusion of predictability and quality and hardly anything they do has a customer focus. A substantial amount of cost-centric applications, outsourced services and defined processes constrain their ability to seriously improve customer experience.
Corporate IT as a combination of silos and outsourcing (see comments) has become a disabler and is most certainly not an enabler for customer experience. Standardization for reduced cost and predictability is the anti-thesis to individualization that would enable a positive emotional experience. The business must be able to JUST PERFORM customer processes as needed without long BPM projects or application development. The same is true for Web and Mobile apps, causing substantial issues for hard-coded applications.
These days a positive customer experience beyond opening the product box will be created by continuous and individualized customer interaction. You must empower your employees to interact with the empowered consumer in an individual, but efficient manner via the Web, Mobile and maybe Social (with some caution). The days of scripted call center interactions with someone in India are over. When I enter an Apple store, my interaction as an Apple online customer simply continues. When I leave the store it becomes part of my customer record. The process never ends.
The future is a mobile app that knows the customer: The process of interaction must be unscripted, individualized and allow at any time a real person to step into the interaction for support or service. I enter a store and THE APP KNOWS which one I am entering and alerts the store staff that I was looking for a particular product online. The APP could even guide me to the shelf. I hit a button to get help. Any event or communication is part of the process. If you are a bank or an insurance you need to create Online branches, in which your customers are serviced by staff when requested. Think flow-diagram and you already failed.
So what is a process? It is series of (internal) customer or consumer interactions that create a positive experience. And BPM? The concept should be dumped and three letter acronyms with an ‘M’ at the end should be outlawed. But as we likely have to live with BPM, it should define the customer experience, strategic objectives, financial targets, and process goals. Not much else. And yes, it should empower people with a language of process (i.e. ontology) that can be used to create those consumer interactions without needing a process expert. To enable the business to deliver the best in CX, it needs a ‘System of Engagement’ that is disconnected from the rigidity of the ‘System of Record’ but connected to its data transactions by means of a Business Architecture.
If you still believe that human interaction (means process) is a flow-diagram, you belong to a lost generation …