While the titles may have changed and adapted to industry trends over the years, all of us who work in services delivery are ultimately in the business of serving our clients and managing their customer experience (CX).
In a very telling statistic produced by our customer and partner, Qualtrics, 80% of CEOs believe their companies deliver a superior experience - while in reality, only 8% of their customers agree. Qualtrics has dubbed this the “Experience Gap.” It’s clearly a huge problem and it underscores the need for renewed focus on the impact of every client interaction.
Job titles have changed with the trends in the industry. For example, the shift towards SaaS has realigned Professional Services within many companies to either be a function of or companion to Customer Success, perhaps under a Chief Customer Officer (CCO). The CCO title barely existed 10 years ago but the role is not new - there’s always been a group aligned to be primarily focused on customer-centric activities.
One of the best quotes I’ve heard reinforced over the years for those of us working in the industry is that “We’re all in the people business.” This is absolutely true. At the end of the day, relationships and our mutual experiences together are what matter. While there are many other KPIs that these leaders are also responsible for, they will never be able to achieve their targets without happy customers. This may seem to be more applicable when you work in a pure-play consulting environment where services are the “product,” but it’s just as true if you deliver services within a software company. If you have unhappy customers, it doesn’t matter if you deliver the greatest product in the world. You will not have repeat customers. They will look for another service provider.
According to the metrics in this widely cited article from HBR, the cost of acquiring a net new customer is five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one. By that simple math, it should be a no-brainer to throw as many resources as possible at retaining customers, keeping them happy, and growing your business substantially. Why then, is it so difficult? We’ll dig into some specific challenges behind providing an excellent customer experience, and some advice on how to improve those practices. I call these the 5 “Cs” - Communication, Consistency, Collaboration, Company-Wide Adoption, and Efficiency (I realize this last one is cheating).
In this two-part blog, we’ll explore how to use these steps to improve your company’s practices.
I’ll start with a bold statement here. In my opinion, communication skills are the hands-down best indicator of success for any individual working in the services industry. It’s not even close. It has been my number one criteria for hiring team members, and there’s a reason why. Almost all projects are going to have issues. That’s expected, but it’s how you work through them and the way you communicate that makes the difference. I’ll share two scenarios from real life situations. Names have been changed to protect the (not-so) innocent.
The first example was delivery of a software suite bundled with a fairly large professional services engagement. At this point, we were in the middle of User Acceptance Testing (UAT) working through issue identification and remediation. While there was an issue log being used to track the actual issues themselves, the process of communicating updates and changes was done mostly over email because the teams were distributed globally and there was a flurry of activity taking place between standing phone calls. To be more specific, the main channel of communication was one very long email chain with 30+ stakeholders involved and multiple levels of bullet points, colored text, bolding, italics, and replies to all. Needless to say, key details were missed, urgency and priorities were not well communicated, and nobody was able to understand what was actually happening. They ultimately struggled through the project, resolved the outstanding issues, and went live.
The second situation is from a different organization but for a project at the same stage of the delivery lifecycle. Issues were also being tracked in a log, but there was very little communication done over email. It was used primarily as a mechanism for detailed task management between team members. All official communication was summarized into a single, consolidated view broken into a high level summary of key status for the executive team, followed by the detail managed by the project team for the day-to-day activities. All stakeholders could easily get a quick understanding of what was relevant, who was involved, what their priorities were, and most importantly, a sense that this was under control and being managed. Just as in the first scenario, UAT was completed and the project went live so the outcome was the same, but guess which customer had a better experience and would be more likely to engage with this company again?
Every company has varying levels of professional experience on their teams, and that diversity brings a lot of value from exposure to different operating models, experience with what’s worked and what hasn’t, and so on. People get comfortable with what works, and want to replicate those best practices elsewhere. The problem is, in many cases, those best practices aren’t consistent with each other.
This isn’t to say that every project manager shouldn’t have some level of flexibility to manage their projects the way they see fit. A good best practice, however, is to put the guardrails in place to allow this level of flexibility while still being able to measure and control the overall health and flow of a project across the entire portfolio. This may be done in a number of ways, presumably under a standard implementation methodology that will be followed. One approach is to define the methodology at a higher level, such as a phase or milestone level, and then allow the project teams to define the tasks and lower level items as needed. A lot of this depends on the level of repeatability and the type of business being run. Some projects are very similar and the tasks don’t change much from one client project to the next, whereas others have each project being completely custom and standardization is hard to come by. No matter which model is applicable, however, you can still control and standardize this for reporting and analysis purposes through the use of templates, and best practices around forecasting and reporting time at the same level of granularity.
In part two of this blog, we will explore how collaboration, company-wide adoption, and efficiency can help transform your customer experience.
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