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Customer Experience: Fine Architecture or House of Horrors?

Jun 28, 2008
Imagine what would happen if you had dozens of architects and hundreds of contractors all working on your business. Now image if there was no master plan and each individual spoke his or her own unique language. It's not hard to imagine that you would have something that would resemble the Winchester House - the now-famous 160-room house that was cobbled together over a 38-year span with no master plan. The house is notorious for stairs that go nowhere, doors that open to a 2-story drop, and a maze of rooms, hallways and doorways that can perplex even the most seasoned of navigators.

Losing site of the big picture can happen to even the best of businesses. When short-term business challenges inevitably arise, decisions can be made in haste to address them. Without a master plan, those seemingly innocent decisions can begin to create a burden for the company in the long run. Independent and uncoordinated business initiatives can result in processes that don't connect, systems that don't play well with others, and departments that develop their own unique business lingo that is not universally understood by others.

Like the Winchester house, each individual project may seem like the right solution at the time. However, the compound affect of numerous independent and uncoordinated projects and solutions can result in an Achilles heal for the company: True change becomes increasingly hard to accomplish; integration and sharing of key business data slows to a crawl; and enabling cross-functional processes (aka end-to-end processes) becomes nearly impossible to accomplish. Each function may seem content, but the business as a whole can begin to suffer due to inflexibility, knowledge hoarding, and turf wars.

Indicators that your business may suffer from the 'Winchester House' syndrome:

1. Process Indicators: Business processes are not well defined or understood and each function prides itself on simply doing whatever is necessary to get the job done, even if it requires winging it now and then. Each functional area designs, develops, and manages its own unique processes with little or no sharing of best practices across functional areas.
2. Technology Indicators: Each functional area has its own set of business applications and data. Applications often don't work well with others and data is not consistent across departments. Key business information is fragmented and stored in multiple locations and collecting data to conduct company-wide analysis is a long, difficult, and largely a manual process.
3. People Indicators: Individual functional areas have very specialized people, and it takes years to train new employees to learn the ropes of the business. Employees care only about their functional area, have their own set of performance goals and metrics, and don't understand how or why other functional areas get things done.

Unfortunately, when companies lose sight of the bigger picture and become a victim of the Winchester House syndrome, the customer experience invariably suffers. Customers can be inconvenienced by inconsistencies between touch points, lack of integration between channels, and absence of a meaningful relationship between customer and company. The company's internal processes, policies, and infrastructure often get in the way of providing the customer with what they want: an emotional connection to the company powered by great service.


Businesses that want to avoid this fate can and should establish, adopt, and diligently adhere to an enterprise customer experience blueprint; a holistic model that defines how every component of the company should work together in a seamless and consistent manner to enable and optimize the customer experience. Furthermore, the enterprise blueprint can help a business to develop a detailed master plan for where the business is today and where it is going.

An enterprise blueprint can help any business to avoid the Winchester House syndrome by serving as a detailed model for how the customer experience is influenced and enabled by the compilation of people, process, and technology assets. A comprehensive enterprise blueprint will consist of a detailed definition and model for each major component that comprise the business. This model can be invaluable for identifying any current deficiencies as well as charting a future course for the business.

A comprehensive enterprise customer experience blueprint includes several key dimensions:

1. Customer Experience Lifecycle (Customer): A formal definition of the customer experience lifecycle process from the customer's perspective. The process includes a complete end-to-end view of how customers are attracted, acquired, facilitated, served, and cultivated well after the point of purchase.
2. Enterprise Business Process (Process): A formal and detailed enterprise process model that defines all major processes, sub-processes, and activities that comprise the enterprise. Ideally, the process model should be defined as a hierarchy to allow both low-level analysis and optimization as well as executive-level roll-up of detailed activities into larger process areas.
3. Enterprise Systems Architecture (Technology): A complete information technology model that identifies and defines key IT capabilities, applications, data, and infrastructure. Ideally, the components of the IT architecture model should be expressly linked to the customer, process, and people dimensions of the blueprint.
4. Enterprise Organization Chart (People): An enterprise-wide organization chart that includes an up-to-date definition of the reporting structure, roles, and responsibilities.
5. Enterprise Business Metrics (Value): A standardized definition of all key business metrics that includes a definition of how the metric is calculated and where key data is sourced from in the enterprise.
6. Corporate Strategy (Strategy): A clear and well-defined strategy that sets the long-term goals and directions for the company. The corporate strategy should include components to define specific strategies for areas such as the brand, market, product, service, price, promotion, channel, and customer experience.


Businesses that are seeking clarity to their current and future business environment can develop their own customer experience blueprint by identifying and analyzing their key business assets:

1. Assemble available business artifacts: Gather all available customer experience processes, business processes, technology architectures, organization structures, business metrics, and strategies that are available for the business.
2. Identify gaps and inconsistencies: Evaluate the existing business artifacts to identify what is missing, where inconsistencies or duplications occur, or where additional detail is lacking for each of the major dimensions (customer, process, people, technology, value, and strategy).
3. Create standard definitions and assemble the blueprint: Create and agree to a common set of standards to accurately define and describe each dimension of the blueprint and close any gaps that are identified. Consolidate and summarize all artifacts into a comprehensive enterprise customer experience blueprint and keep them up to date. Use the blueprint as a management tool to guide the business going forward.

Developing and using a comprehensive blueprint has its benefits; businesses that define and maintain a comprehensive enterprise customer experience blueprint can improve their return on investments, increase productivity, and improve the customer experience:

* Improved ROI: Initiatives that are better aligned with the enterprise blueprint can result in fewer conflicts and duplication of efforts. Furthermore, short-term efforts can be better aligned with long-term goals so that all resources are rowing in the same direction.
* Increased Productivity: Business can run more smoothly and produce more for the same or less effort by leveraging common resources, speaking the same process and business metric language, and by using a common and consistent set of information. Furthermore, businesses can make better decisions based on a more holistic and consistent view of enterprise-wide capabilities, issues, risks, and opportunities.
* Improved Customer Experience: Businesses that have aligned their people, process, and technology components are better equipped to provide meaningful customer experiences. When aligned and consistent, the business infrastructure can serve as a true enabler - rather than a hindrance - to powerful customer experiences.


Over the course of the lifetime of a business various business challenges, opportunities, and issues will arise and be solved by numerous and seemingly innocent business decisions; decisions that result in new processes, organizational structures, and systems. Without an overarching blueprint to guide these decisions, however, the legacy of various and uncoordinated initiatives can be crippling. As more and more independent decisions are made, the weight of inconsistent processes, duplication of duties, and incompatible systems can burden both the company and the customer.

Business that want to avoid this fate can and should establish, adopt, and diligently adhere to an enterprise customer experience blueprint; a holistic model that defines how every component of the company should work together in a seamless and consistent manner to enable and optimize the customer experience. A comprehensive enterprise customer experience blueprint includes several key dimensions including a 1) Customer Experience Lifecycle Process (Customer), 2) an Enterprise Business Process Model(Process), 3) an Enterprise Systems Architecture (Technology, 4) an Enterprise Organization Chart (People), 5) Enterprise Business Metrics (Value), and 6) a Corporate Strategy (Strategy).

If your business were a house or building, what would it look like to your employees and customers? Would it be structurally sound, open, and inviting? Or would it be cluttered, broken up and difficult to navigate?

Having the right blueprint can make all the difference.
About the Author
Robert Howard is the Founder and Chief Executive of ClearBrick LLC, a leading provider of customer experience business solutions, research, and advice.

Find out how to develop your own Customer Experience Blueprint.
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