Understanding how process impacts experience

Great Lakes Stainless, Traverse City MI

Great Lakes Stainless, Traverse City MI

Simply put, GLS is one of the top fabricators of custom stainless steel products in North America. From large-scale food service projects to small residential projects, their reputation as custom fabricators and project performance puts them at the top of the list for the customers they serve.

But confident as they are in their final product, they recognized that lack of communication, both internally and with customers, was costing them both time and money.

We proposed a multi-phased approach to understand where the disconnects were causing problems: looking first at customer input, then hearing from the people on the shop floor, and finally helping leadership understand how best to proactively change both processes and culture for improved customer experiences.


GLS leadership provided us with a list of current customers from which we gleaned a number of "warts and all" commentary. Coupled with the results of a customer experience survey, we were able to see and hear what a GLS experience looks like across a variety of customers and market segments. 

“We've had problems on past projects with some of our products. It may take them a while to understand how to fix it, but they do figure it out and are very proactive.”

— GLS Customer

Following that, we requested a series of in-person interviews with the men and women whose expertise and teamwork is behind the great reputation - and experience problems - that GLS is known for. These interviews took place with no leadership present, in order to encourage the groups to speak freely and give us a true picture of how things work.

“We are very loyal to this team and getting the work done - very committed to the project regardless of the hours and time commitment.” 
“But resentment is building.”
— GLS Professional

Each of these conversations took place in the context of defined categories:

  • Cost/Value
  • Quality
  • Responsiveness
  • Communication
  • Consistency
  • Thoroughness
  • Capacity

GLS Research Summary: the ratings on the bottom were the results of two surveys: one sent to customers, and an identical survey given to staff to gauge their idea of how customers perceive them.

We built a research summary that summarized the input we'd collected from each group's standpoint, and presented this unvarnished view to GLS leadership. Some of the information was surprising, and some of it they were more than aware of and ready to work toward solutions.


The next step was to create a graphic representation of the processes currently in place, and ask GLS leadership and staff to help us understand exactly how things get done, and where the gaps in communication exist.

We started with paper, post-its and markers, taking a look at the progress of a customer's experience from initial inquiry to final invoice. As the assembled team started explaining it to us, we were able to move the conversations forward using honest inquiry to uncover and explore the problems they knew they'd had, but had never come together to discuss in this type of facilitated setting. It got real - real quick.

For GLS, their initial efforts to build process maps had failed them.

For GLS, their initial efforts to build process maps had failed them.


Final annotated process maps



Using a cloud-based software, we created a complete visual description of the process that each customer experiences. The colored nodes on the system map depict the different types of tools being used to communicate throughout (verbal, printed, electronic and in-person interactions) and which position is responsible for engaging the customer at each point in that process.

We used the “Four Ms of Customer Experience” in describing the elements on the map:

  • MESSAGE: the information being shared;
  • MEMBER: the person responsible for sharing it;
  • MEDIUM: how it's delivered; and
  • MOMENT: at which point in the process.


GLS is a culture of professional "makers." They get the work done, period. And they have little tolerance for lofty statements that never result in tangible changes.

As we worked with them, we continually challenged them to help us understand how they would use the information, and the best ways to introduce it into their culture. In the end, the final form of our design products would serve as a reference as they continued internal conversations well beyond the end of our project. 

We showed them what their internal communications look like: the links that exist and don't exist. This helped to described, in a familiar visual form, how the leadership team needs to see themselves as central to all three aspects of their business: communication with existing clients (blue), prospective clients (green), and their most important clients (orange): the GLS professionals who deliver every day.


GLS Leadership Summary

We created a final report to leadership with recommendations for incorporating this into their culture, using more of the information we'd gathered from customers and staff at the outset. This final document summarized the information we'd collected to date and served as the jumping off point for their internal efforts at culture change.

But we didn't just leave them on their own. We referred them to additional research, reading, consultants and coaches who could help them move to the next level, both as individuals and as a culture, using skill sets that Connect_CX identified as critical to continuing the good work we'd begun.

Together, we'd created an "owner's manual" with additional resources for customer experience transformation. 

GLS left the materials up in their meeting space, so that as conversations continued they could identify process points and work together to solve the problems we'd identified.

“I feel like there is a much longer journey ahead of us and that the work we did with Connect_CX gave us direction and exposed where the current problem areas lie.”
— Michael DeBruyn, GLS CEO