We have all heard of the phrase “The customer is right”. We have also heard of the phrase “The bible is right” (You can replace this by Kuran or Gita or whatever your religious preference maybe).
This concept has been drilled into us with quotes from great people, “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.”
We in VA have a phrase right outside our physical and virtual walls “…for the skeptical, obsessive, and demanding” to symbolize who our customer is and that we have built the company for them.
But does this mean that the customer is right all the time? Can we really not question them at all? Should we try to hide the truth from them? (Customers are human and can’t measure us on judgment day. Right?)
Our customers are unique to the work that we do. We are much like builders or architects that build custom homes. Let us say if we want to hoist a 1000 pound chandelier in your little “town home”. Your architect and designer should both say that it is neither practical nor appealing. We all know that designers, architects and contractors tell us how things are getting delayed well in advance. What they really do well is to manage our expectations or ‘Manage customer expectation’ with proactive communication. They tell you what is available and what is not for the price, time and quality expectation you have.
In the same way many of the customers that come to us don’t know how to build a product or the best way to run their operations. They will be asking us to build a third floor without a first floor. They might not consider all aspects of the product like asking for a house without doors. It is our responsibility as product engineers and product experts to advise these customers on what they need to do and how they can do it. More than anything else, it is critical for us to tell them that we are getting delay (i.e., if we are getting delayed for any reason).
When we position services to our prospects we talk about the concept of ‘Service Years’ which is the number of processes that each one of us has worked on and the benefits that they can derive from this.
With this said it becomes critical for each one of us to do the following:
- Always understand what the client wants to do with the product and their business plan.
- Learn about the customer and their competition. That way you get a better feel for the customer market space.
- Give practical timelines (Don’t try to pad them nor be aggressive with the time estimate. When in doubt. Check with someone within the organization before committing to the customer).
- Maintain a clean dashboard charting out the progress of the client’s operations and send it to them on a weekly basis at a regular operating rhythm. I have found that Friday is a good day to send these reports. In these reports clearly list out everything that is going to be complete and more importantly make sure that you list out the risks! This is critical.
- When the client makes unreasonable demands, see how best you can get it done. But never say you will do it when you can simply can’t. Customers don’t tend to remember that you had protested. They only remember that you had committed to doing it.
- If there are any changes to the requirements or process changes please create a revision number on each requirement and make sure that you keep the customer updated about the time that you are spending on rework.
- Make sure that you solicit and get a quarterly ‘Customer Satisfaction Rating (CSR)’. Make sure that you communicate clearly and keep up your promises.
Bottom-line: The customer is right in that they understand their business space better but we understand the back-office services space better. We are the market leader and we have many, many more ‘Service Years’ than the customer. Let us start acting like it and have real partnerships with customers. Not just assume that they are right and do whatever; and just whatever they ask us to do. This mindset has brought our organization to where we are today and this mindset is what is going help us stay ahead of the competition.
Questions to the reader:
- Are there more things that we need to do other than the seven steps that we have listed here?
- What has been your best experience in not doing something that the customer wanted you to do and how did it help the customer?
About Vantage Agora
Vantage Agora (VA) is a global provider of back-office solutions, custom IT services and consulting services for companies in the insurance, finance, and healthcare sectors. As a SAS70 Type II audited company, Vantage Agora utilizes advanced data processing and quality control systems on a secured network to ensure efficient, comprehensive management of back-office functions such as payroll, accounting, financial and administrative tasks. Founded in 2004, Vantage Agora has offices in Cleveland and Dallas.