Enterprise Software

IT Consultant Journal: Make the most of your relationship with your client

Where will that next new contract come from? If you're like our IT Consultant Journal writer, your next project could emerge from your current work, as long as you're willing to do a little extra work on your client's behalf.

Leon Tribe is a consultant specializing in customer relationship management (CRM).He recently completed a contract involving a CRM system and kept notes on the problems he faced and how he resolved them. This is another article in a series in which he explains his work for the client.

The project
Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu (DTT) was asked to improve a customer relationship management (CRM) system’s response time. As the on-site consultant, my role was to resolve major issues and nurture our relationship with the client. While concentrating on improving the system’s response time, I saw other issues arise and attempted to resolve them for the client. By doing so, I was able to establish myself as a trusted expert and secure further work assignments.

Leon Tribe’s other IT Consultant Journal entries
Here’s a look at two other articles that follow Leon Tribe’s work for this client:
“IT Consultant Journal: Newsgroups and vendors can resolve problems” and “Consultant straddles technical and political issues to resolve CRM problems”

The client site
Being with the client full-time has its disadvantages. Everyday office tasks like e-mail and voice mail are put on hold, which means a longer working day as you catch up back at the office after hours. You’re also removed from the conversational loops of your colleagues, which—in the networking environment of a consulting firm—can be vocational suicide. In this case, I was on-site for only one week, so the drawbacks were just part of the job.

Being on-site has one big advantage: It is the quickest way to understand your client’s business and for them to understand how they can use you to their full benefit. It’s the ultimate relationship builder, allowing you to gain exposure to many levels of the business; otherwise, you might meet only one or two people in the organization.

Working and networking with the staff
I had been with the client for about a week and had made a point of chatting with nearby employees to maximize my exposure and pursue the possibility of future work. Everyone near my desk had some exposure to the CRM system. Immediately behind me was Sandra, head of IT operations. She had put in the request to DTT to bring me on and she was the person I reported to. Within the company, the ultimate responsibility for fixing the fledgling CRM system’s problems was hers.

To my right were the three local network administrators. They spent their work week keeping the network running seamlessly, monitoring bandwidth use, tweaking scripts, and maintaining security. Every networked system, including the CRM system, had their involvement, and any problem had the potential to be laid at their doorstep, whether it was a network issue or not. For this reason, they had an active interest in ensuring that the CRM system worked without issue for the users.

In front of me was the bank of call-center operators. They used the system every minute of the working day; without it, they were hamstrung. They entered information, in real time, into the CRM system for new clients. For existing customers, they extracted the customer information and used it to provide service to callers. Delays meant frustrated customers, reduced call response rates, and ultimately, degraded service.

When opportunities arose, I would introduce myself to the operators, explaining that I was there to fix any problems with the CRM system. Often, the problems they were having were being addressed, and I would inform them directly of the progress, which they appreciated.

The problem
It was Friday afternoon. I had been with the client since Tuesday, and my final day was the following Monday. My workload was starting to wind down, and I was preparing for my departure the next week. I had no immediate prospect of follow-up work, but I was positive that I would be the first person the company would think of for any future requirements.

Gemma, head of marketing for the company, stormed into Sandra’s office. She was frustrated because she needed to extract call statistics from the CRM system, but the reports were taking too long to run. Nerves were fraying by the hour as the weekend approached.

The CRM system incorporated a third-party reporting tool, which was generally robust, flexible, and faultless. But I had been involved in the early stages of the project, and I knew that the reports had been rushed out due to time restraints. My guess was that the reports were not all they could be and this was causing the problems. I had used the reporting tool previously and was confident I could help even though it was outside my official jurisdiction with the project.

Sandra assured Gemma she would get her team to look into it as soon as possible but could make no promises. From my discussions with those around me, I knew that Sandra didn’t have anyone in-house with skills on this particular reporting tool, so she was in a bind.

When Gemma left, calmed but dissatisfied, I approached Sandra’s office and entered to discuss the issue. Sandra explained that the current budget for me was to ensure the fundamental operation of the CRM system and to eliminate any problems. A slow report was inconvenient, but the money would have to come from marketing if they wanted it fixed.

I asked if I could examine the report in question and the original specifications over the weekend and see what I could do. When I assured Sandra that this would be on my own time and wholly unbillable, she was happy to comply. My plan was to demonstrate my ability on the one report and use this little project to earn more work in the long term.

The report
That night, I went home and examined what the company was working with. The report was a nightmare (see Figure A).

Figure A

The report’s purpose was to give a summary of the corporate calls to the call center, highlighting why companies were calling and how they heard about the client. The report showed this information with rows and rows of numbers. It was very hard to see any trends. If the report was going to be used in any kind of documentation, it would have to be completely reworked.

The formatting behind the report also needed some work. Multiple subreports were causing the slow generation time; database tables were being accessed many times unnecessarily. Also, the report used fixed columns and rows; they weren’t generated on the fly. This meant that if a company heard about the client in a way that wasn’t hard-coded into the report, it would not be reported on, and the category would have to be added to the report manually.

I went over the specifications to confirm what was required and then created an equivalent report from scratch. After four hours of work, I had a new report, which I hoped would serve the client’s needs and, based on my thumbnail benchmarks, would run much faster.

Rather than using fixed tables, I used bar graphs, which have the advantage of being visually appealing as well as immediately showing any trends in the data. The report maker also automatically generated the axes based on the data in the database, eliminating the need to manage the columns by hand.

I generated a graph for each company calling in and also a Totals graph to summarize trends across all companies (see Figures B and C).

Figure B

It was obvious right away that people were searching for information requests and that they had chiefly heard about the company through brochures.

Figure C

To satisfy the number crunchers, I also included a table at the end, equivalent to the one on the original report. I made the report dynamically generate the rows and columns (see Figure D).

Figure D

The other advantage in making the software generate the columns and rows was that any incorrect data, introduced through mistyping or other errors, would be exposed very quickly in the dynamic tables.

Back at work
On Monday, I installed the new report on the client’s test database and showed it to Sandra and Gemma. Rather than taking 20 minutes to generate a single report, the system took a couple of minutes.

Gemma confirmed that the report was exactly what she needed, and we set about putting the report into production for marketing to use. When Gemma asked when the other reports they used could be improved, I explained that the operations budget couldn’t cover the work. She confirmed that marketing would pay for it. I had secured my next project.

Bottom line
If you have the opportunity to be on-site with a client, use it to its full advantage. Be friendly and helpful, and ask questions. You’ll create advocates for your services within the client company as well as discover ways you can further help the company and generate business for yourself.

There is a fine line between adding value for a client and being taken advantage of, but if you see the possibility of tangible future work, don’t be afraid to invest some time to establish yourself as an expert to the client. Although I wasn’t brought onto the project for my reporting skills, by demonstrating them while I had the client’s attention, I secured future work and further strengthened the client’s belief that I was the person to turn to for resolving their CRM problems.

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