You are a vendor of a mission-critical IT solution that your client uses to manage key business support functions. But you have been sensing some quiet disappointment between you and the client for some time.
You feel that even though they are satisfied with your product and service, they are not as excited as they once were about you, your consultants, your product, its functioning, and your invoices.
Before the relationship between your firm and your client becomes acrimonious, do some damage control. Start by downloading this product usage survey and assessing the state of your relationship with your clients.
I used a similar tool when I advised an IT products company that was facing a potential crisis with one of its clients. It was evident that the sagging relationship was the manifestation of something more worrying at operational level, and unless the slow decline was arrested, it would soon become a rapid deterioration. The key was to resolve the operational issues quickly and create a customer-focused solution.
In our research, we found that users were not comfortable using some features, but they did not want to show their ignorance. In addition, supervisors were not getting to use the reporting functionalities well enough, leading to poor utilization of the solution.
Because sign-offs on customizations were slow to come by, the client’s commercial department was not releasing payments fast enough. And technical documents were at times ambiguous and gave users false expectations about the product’s capabilities.
To determine what was going wrong, we employed a usage survey as part of a process to determine how the product was being utilized and the value it was providing to the users at various levels.
We wanted the survey to meet the following objectives:
- Measure the effect of the solution implementation at the client site and gauge areas of improvement
- Define training areas for users to dispel cynicism about the user-friendliness of the product
- Cross-pollinate ideas on product usage among customers and share success stories
- Enable pre-post comparison, so that efforts being put in by both sides were measurable
We had to look at these issues in an integrated manner and find an encompassing solution rather than be driven by solving the symptoms in a patchwork manner. We wanted the solution to be:
- Sustainable, so that it invited collaboration and was easy to implement.
- Innovative, so that it would create a bond between the personnel of the two organizations.
- Results-oriented, so that the feedback to our internal processes was alive and kicking again.
To meet our objectives, we defined an audit model that would emphasize product usage, while considering the skills of the users, technical documentation, and commercial documentation. We also advised that the process initiate feedback that traveled back to the client. Here’s how we set up our multistage process:
- Perform previsit preparations.
- Choose a neutral person to do the exercise.
- Understand the “spirit” of the survey process.
- Plan the client interaction process.
- Establish the data compilation process onsite.
- Plan the first-level interim presentation to client.
- Return to headquarters; process the information collected.
- Present findings and document the plan of action (POA) for each department.
- Share POA formally with the client.
- Provide regular updates on enhancements.
- After six months, repeat the process.
To get buy-in from the client, we stressed the importance of the exercise and told them that we would honestly consider their suggestions and comments even if we didn't implement them. We got the account managers to talk to their CEOs and the concerned department heads to get a buy-in. We showed them a draft of the template and got them to modify it for their purposes.
The usage audits proved to be an excellent reality check for us. Here’s what we found.
Balanced delivery scorecard
We were able to get a picture of the overall health of our relationship. The scorecard told us how well our delivery process was geared to meet the partnership agenda with the client.
Issues with the solution were better understood, and users began making efforts to resolve problems on their level; fewer escalations were seen coming into our help desk.
With sign-offs coming more easily and “real” needs being met, hitches with invoices became less frequent.
Because this exercise proved to be transparent and helpful, users were more comfortable expressing what they thought the product needed to do.
Fewer unmet expectations
The client and the vendor were better engaged with each other in avoiding expectation mismatches.
Apart from making the client feel that we cared about them, our work strengthened the client’s confidence in referring our firm for repeat business and helped us acquire new business elsewhere. We learned that this exercise was valuable as a marketing lever and as a product delivery practice.
The firm realized that using our methodology, we have more control and fewer surprises. We gained insights to areas of improvements, which enhanced the capabilities of our solution, and saw the value of being proactive. Finally, our communication with the users helped inspire future enhancements, which was perhaps the biggest long-term gain from the exercise.