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Let's Talk About SECX

I am going to introduce a new acronym – SECX. S stands for Supplier, E stands for Employee, C stands for Client or Customer and X stands for Experience. Rather than talking about each one of these experiences separately, I believe they are all closely connected and interdependent and should be viewed as a single whole.

First – why do we need to talk about SECX? The answer is simple – this is ‘why’ and ‘how’ we, the business, exist. We need to understand SECX, we need to design it and continuously improve it. It needs to be at the center of our decisions on a regular basis.

Let’s start with Supplier Experience (SX). Our relationship with our suppliers, or vendors, is key for the success of our business. Whether we are buying raw materials or services – the quality of their output will be built in to the quality of our output. SX impacts not only our Client Experience (CX), but also our Employee Experience (EX). Poor vendor relationship, poor quality of products and services, unreliable support – all of it can be highly stressful to our employees as they try to turn “crap” into “gold”. If they are successful – great, but all that energy could have gone into a different area where CX could be improved. So, bad supplier impacts the whole system and the customer. But what can we do about it?

This is where our understanding of the entire relationship with vendors comes into place. We need to know their journey as they interact with us and, ideally, their journey as they interact with their suppliers. A journey is a compilation of touchpoints. For example, our supplier journey with us may start with a Request for Proposal (RFP). The entire process of submitting the RFP, the quality of our requirements, the timeliness and quality of our feedback – all of that begins to shape vendor’s experience with us. Then we move on to the contract. Again, the entire process can leave a lasting impression on the relationship. Is our primary focus on price? Is it on support availability? Are we trying to build a strategic partnership or do we just want to squeeze as much as possible from the vendor? A contract begins to shape how our vendor will view us and our relationship. Once the relationship is established, we move on to Purchase Orders, Invoices, Support and everything in between. This is the Operational interaction that has many touchpoints, some are daily, some are monthly. What system do we use to place orders? How do we submit and track invoices? How accurate is our inventory information and how timely is it? We must understand it and know where pain points exist so that we can properly address them. We need to have a goal for our supplier relationship which we need to strive to achieve. Some vendors may not fit into that goal and may need to be replaced, but others will embrace such thoughtful approach to ensuring the best possible SX. Once achieved, we can take it further to understand and improve the experience of our vendor with their suppliers. All of this effort will have a positive impact on EX and, ultimately, on CX.

Now on to Employee Experience (EX). Happy employees mean happy clients. The end. Well, I guess I can go a bit further. Happy employees is not easy to achieve, so let’s look at the EX and what needs to be considered. Again, we need to start with a journey – an Employee Journey this time. We need to map out our onboarding experience, our daily interactions with colleagues, management, clients, vendors – all of it. We need to understand which tools people use and whether or not they like them. A key touchpoint is the physical experience – where do people sit, how comfortable is their environment. And what about coffee? Do people have access to good quality drinks and food? Is it free, or at least, affordable? Small things add up to shape how people feel about their time spent at the company. A company culture is made up of many different touchpoints, which also include rules (policies) and rule enforcement. This is very complex, but it needs to be understood and designed.

I like to use two techniques for mapping out EX – categorization and flow. Categorization will help you organize the vast touchpoints into a more comprehendible picture. For example, you can start with the categories I describe in the Integration Management Framework post, which include:

  • - People

  • - Processes

  • - Tools

  • - Products

  • - Facilities

  • - Clients

  • - Suppliers

Then you can drill down into each category. For example People can include: Management, Co-workers, Salary and Benefits. Processes may include: Policies, Operational Procedures, Training. Tools may have the following sub-categories: Hardware and Software. And so on. Then move on to sub-categories. Software may have: Access, Quality and Support. Management may include: Reviews, Approvals, Promotion. I am sure I have missed a bunch, but you get the picture.

Once you have this hierarchy done, you can draw the flow. How does an employee first find out about an opportunity at the company? How does the interview process look? How do we onboard an employee? Then, on to daily activities. Try to put yourself in their place as you map out the daily journey. You can also start with your own EX – map it out and see what information it gives you. What and who do you see when you get to work in the morning? Are you greeted by others? Is it clean? How do you navigate to your place of work – are you in a hurry or can you be a few minutes late so you can grab a cup of coffee and a donut? If you can’t be late, is there a way you can still get that coffee? I know that it’s easy to say – “it’s your problem, you should come to work earlier so you can get that darn coffee”, but is this what we want to have? We are all people with our own problems and sometimes we are all running a bit late. Could a supervisor go around in the morning bringing coffee and donuts to his/her team? And what about those times when an employee has a family emergency, a health issue, and so on – how does his/her interaction with the company occur then? As we answer these questions we need to be able to clearly define what kind of a place do we want our business to be to our employees?

Different employees have different experiences, so this exercise needs to be organized by department. Sounds like a lot? Well, yes, it is. But if you don’t do it, you don’t really know how your teams feel and, you may be spending a lot of money on new tools and new processes when all you need is better coffee (check out my blog on that here).

Knowing our SX and EX is already a huge step in the right direction. The next obvious step is to define and design Client Experience. I won’t write much about it here because you can find a lot of material on this topic already as many companies around the World have spent a lot of time and money on this subject and many books, blogs, articles have been weitten. All I will say is that you should draw it out. Put yourself into your customer’s shoes and capture different touchpoints with as many possible variations as you can. Consider the products that customers buy, how they buy them, how they get post-purchase service – all of it makes a difference. For a more mature organization on the subject of CX, I would recommend creating an Emotional Map – a way to understand what and how people feel at each touchpoint, or after a certain critical touchpoint. I had a client that was introducing a new tool for their customers and were trying to figure out their communication strategy. Once the series of communications and the channels to be used were defined we mapped emotions over each one of these touchpoints to try and understand what emotion we wanted to generate with a particular communication and what emotion would be generated with the communication we had designed. After going through that exercise we made several changes and the end result was a cohesive, naturally flowing client communication strategy that guided them through the introduction of this new tool. The end result was happy clients that had their expectations clearly set and met, even when certain changes were considered to be difficult.

Creating SECX will take some time, but once done, it just needs to be kept up to date and used frequently to plan and prioritize projects. This exercise will help us answer – who are we as a company to our suppliers, employees and customer? When there is a change proposed, it needs to be analyzed against SECX to understand which pain point and where in the overall flow is more important to address. Do we want to fix something downstream when we have issues upstream that may indirectly multiply the negative effect of the problem we are considering downstream? Maybe. But how can we know this until we have SECX?

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