Most work done in an organization to provide value to a customer happens in a core process. Improvements in how work is done typically come as a result of process improvement, problem solving, or both.
A process consists of a series of phases and/or steps. Because the purpose of a process is to add value for the customer, it is the customer who defines the quality of the output. The (right) customer can often evaluate the output at various phases of a process.
Take, for example, the core process that creates a car. Phases of the design/build core process include concept, design, engineering, manufacturing, piloting, launch and use. Customers at each phase can help inform direction. In the design phase, for example, customers can evaluate alternative drawings overall, as well as each component (such as a taillight). The same is true not only of any product, but any service as well. We call each of the places at which invaluable customer input is used a Touchpoint.
Problem solving goes on constantly in an organization – as part of improving a process, in creating a work-around to an inefficient process, to solving some unanticipated problem that becomes important. Even creativity is a special form of problem solving.
While few companies regularly bring in customers to help with problem solving, we have often found doing so to be a critical step towards a breakthrough solution. The more important the problem, the greater the benefit of getting customer input. Often just getting customer evaluation of the impact of the problem is enough to convince stakeholders the problem needs to be solved.
Problem solving ideally consists of three phases – problem, solution and implementation. Each phase (and for big problems, within each phase) is an opportunity for customer input.
Here are potential Touchpoints for a large problem.
We’re not suggesting that customer input should be sought out for every problem – but that the bigger the problem the more likely customer input will be helpful at some Touchpoint.