Posted by: Adam Deane | 20/04/2011

BPM: Doing the wrong thing – the right way

StormThe phrase “The customer is always right” was originally coined by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge’s department store in London in 1909.

It wasn’t intended to be taken literally. What he was attempting to do was to make the customer feel special by inculcating into his staff the disposition to behave as if the customer was right, even when they weren’t.

A good number of “The customer is always right” debates can be found on the web.
Most of them around customer service.
But BPM isn’t about customer service. It’s about solving a business pain. And although the customer isn’t always right, the hardship is in navigating them to safety when they are wrong.

Most customers actually respect being told “no”. They expect the vendor to lead them to safety, to help them through the storm, not let them wander into it blindly.

But what do you do when they make the wrong decision:

  • Choosing a BPM solution when they actually need a CRM or ECM solution
  • Expecting that software will change organisational behaviour by its own.
  • Not running a proof of concept, to save money
  • Expecting that the software solution will be bugless
  • Expecting that the customised software solution will be delivered on time
  • Expecting employees to fall in love with a “big brother is watching you” system
  • Adding more steps to the workflow to make it more “efficient”
  • Trying to build a system-to-system solution using a human-to-human platform
  • Trying to build a create a non-workflow application using a workflow platform
  • Trying to build everything in the first phase

“There is no dilemma compared with that of the deep-sea diver who hears the message from the ship above, “Come up at once. We are sinking.”

We deal with people. People make mistakes. People make wrong decisions. (and not making a decision is also a decision…)
I’d love to say that I have found the way to deal with customers making wrong decisions. I haven’t.
I’ll explain. I’ll try to convince. I’ll provide scenarios and alternatives. I’ll explain the risks. I’ll try – but not always succeed in changing their mind.

The best situations are where the customer knows what they want, they’ll argue with you but are willing to listen.
They’ll push the software to its limits. They’ll force you to think of creative solutions.
They’ll keep you on your toes. They are what makes our work in BPM interesting.

“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” – William Shedd


  1. I completely agree with the observations except for the customer service one. Customer service is also about solving a business pain. And the “customer” of the customer service is not the “customer”, it’s the business which has the business pain.

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