Project Killers: Lions and Tigers and Bears Oh my!

OZYou’ve just discovered yourself surrounded by Witches and Munchkins in Munchkin land and you desperately want to get back to Kansas.  You’ve heard that the Wizard of Oz in Emerald City can help you get back, but how do you find the Wizard?  Just follow the Yellow Brick Road!

Do you see the similarities to your CRM project?   In Munchkin land Dorothy had a clear goal, return to Kansas with the help of the Wizard of Oz.  Your CRM project has a clear goal; help grow your profits by delighting your customers.  The path from Munchkin land to the Wizard is the Yellow Brick Road.  Your path to delighting your customers is your project statement of work.  Just as Dorothy gathered helpers on her journey to Oz, you will assemble a project team to assist you in getting to Deployment.   Finally, just like Dorothy you start off confidently down the road.

If you have watched the 1939 classic movie the Wizard of Oz, you should remember that the Yellow Brick Road was a path filled with risks to the journey – or as the Strawman and Tin Woodman stated – Lions, and Tigers and Bears.  There were also belligerent fruit trees, wicked witches, and deadly poppies along the way.  Dorothy hadn’t planned for any of these risks and would have been stopped ‘dead’ in her tracks if not for the help of her companions and finally the intervention of Glinda the good witch.

Your project path is a lot like the Yellow Brick Road.  yellow brick roadWhat are the lions, and tigers, and bears you will face?  Where are the belligerent fruit trees and deadly poppies?  Who are the ‘bad witches’ and what risks do they introduce?  Every project faces at least one risk to successful completion.  Most of the time, there are myriad risks to successful completion.  If these risks are not identified and/or not mitigated, they become impacts.  Impacts cost the project time, money, and scope.  In the most severe form, they kill the project before any benefit can be realized!

Dorothy ran head long into her risks and impacts, and unless you have a ‘Glinda’ protecting you, we don’t recommend that approach.  Instead create a detailed project plan using a tool such as MS Project that can point out some of the most common risks faced by a CRM project.  Here are the top 10 risks as identified by online-crm.com:

  1. Invalid project assumptions (different expectations among stakeholders)
  2. Project planning omissions. Significant delays incurred not because project planning tasks were underestimated but because project tasks were completely omitted (forgotten)
  3. Data conversion delay. Unanticipated data scrubbing due to poor data quality
  4. Lack of continuity or consistency of business processes among multiple locations (as well as the introduction of sub-optimization by some locations)
  5. Failure to proactively anticipate and mitigate user adoption challenges – fear of change, sub-optimization and/or sacred cows. Closely aligned with failure to recognize the change in cultural due to a CRM implementation
  6. Missing or infrequent active and visible executive sponsorship
  7. Project is perceived by users as optional; CRM software failure is an option
  8. Failure to backfill project team schedules/workloads
  9. Failure to recognize weak (basic PC operation) user skills assessment prior to training
  10. Failure of Risk Management and proactive risk mitigation

Interesting to note that one of the top 10 risks to any CRM project is the lack of proactive risk mitigation!  Your job as a project manager is to identify these above risks (and all others) well in advance of running into them, determine the potential each has for becoming an ‘impact’ to the project, determine whether or not to accept or mitigate the risk, and establish a risk mitigation plan for each risk that you have identified should be mitigated.  Those mitigation plans should have tasks, resources, and due dates that are tracked on your project plan with strict adherence.  Each risk that is not mitigated becomes an ‘impact’, you will have to deal with impacts to the project, but by the time you are dealing with them the project has been delayed, made more costly, reduced in scope, or all 3.  If you don’t have more time or don’t have more money, and Glinda doesn’t come to your rescue, your project has just come to the end of the Yellow Brick Road with the gleaming Emerald City far in the distance.

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

This blog was written by Jim Lindenfeld, who has been actively involved in customer relationship management during his entire professional career.  He is a certified sales and sales management trainer.  He has been involved in the implementation of CRM systems since 1987 and is currently a principal consultant in our CRM practice.

Project Killers: Does X Mark the Spot?

X Marks the SpotProject Killers are waiting to pounce on every project – from inception to transition.  In this series we are looking at the most common assassins and exploring the ways to preserve the health and well-being of your projects.  The most heinous killers are:

 

  1. Dead on Arrival (a.k.a. DOA) – A project without the proper estimations for time and resources somehow is initiated. (The Path to On Time, On Budget and In Scope : http://blog.evergegroup.com/?p=1385)
  2. Death by Documentation (a.k.a. Strangled in Red Tape) – A great deal of time and effort goes into plans, requirement documents, and design documents with no real benefit to the project. (Project Killers: An Ode to Death by Documentation: http://blog.evergegroup.com/?p=1389)
  3. Death by Indecision (a.k.a. Analysis Paralysis in its milder forms) – Key project decisions are delayed or avoided altogether. (Project Killers – PSI – Project Scene Investigation “A Case of Slow Death” http://blog.evergegroup.com/?p=1400)
  4. Death in Unchartered Lands (a.k.a. Scope Creep) – The participants, stakeholders, scope, and methods, are never agreed to formally when the project starts. If you don’t know where you’re going, most any road will take you there – but it may take a lot longer and cost a lot more!
  5. Sudden Unplanned Death (a.k.a. Running into a dead end) – risks are not properly identified and mitigated
  6. Death by Starvation (a.k.a. Bottlenecks) – resources are not properly identified and allocated.

We have already dealt with DOA, Strangulation by Red Tape, and Analysis Paralysis in previous blogs.  This blog deals with Scope Creep, enemy number One and the most hated project killer of all time.

Imagine that you make your living by looking for and recovering treasure.  It shouldn’t take much imagination, because that is exactly what you are doing as a project manager, but let’s carry out the analogy to show the congruence.  First, as a professional you wouldn’t chase a treasure that was known to be too small or too costly to obtain.  Second, you would have a ‘map’, literal or figurative, that has a definitive ‘X’ that marks the spot where the treasure can be found.  Third, you would obtain the permissions and licenses needed to hunt for the treasure.  Fourth you gather your investors to fund the trip.  Fifth, you would assemble your treasure hunting team.  Sixth, you would plan your treasure hunting trip.  Finally, you would hunt for and recover the treasure.

It is easy to see the analogy, an IT project is a lot like a treasure hunt.  You initiate the project to benefit (the treasure) your organization.  You have an estimate and a statement of work (the map).  You license the software.  You identify the business stakeholders and obtain the funding.  You put together the project team.  You write up a plan to obtain your objectives.  Finally, you carry out the project and obtain the desired result.  Or do you??

Do you instead ‘get greedy’?  A new map has been found, lying close to your original treasure is another one.  It is temptingly close by and by extending your trip, and pushing your resources to the limit, that treasure can be had!  X no longer marks the spot.  Your careful plans and preparation are no longer going to assure you of finding the treasure you seek, because you now seek more than you had originally planned to.  You have literally released the ‘bird in your hand’ to seek ‘two in the bush’.

When this happens to your IT project, when you reach out for that nearby benefit, you have exposed the heart of your project to the most deadly and feared project killer, Scope Creep.  Yes, there may be more benefit to be had, and yes, it may be reachable by running the project longer and pushing the team to the limits.  However, you must realize your carefully created plans and preparation are no longer going to assure you of a successful project.  Prior to giving up on your original ‘treasure’ in favor of a new, expanded one, you should think of the professional treasure hunters.  What would they do?

The truly successful, professional treasure hunters stay focused on the prize to the exclusion of all potential distractions, they also draw up a charter and make every member of the team commit to that charter, and finally they set up the reward system for the team members in such a way that they are only rewarded for the treasure they are chartered to find.  Do the same for your projects and you will find that X indeed marks the spot much more often than not!

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

This blog was written by Jim Lindenfeld, who has been actively involved in customer relationship management during his entire professional career.  He is a certified sales and sales management trainer.  He has been involved in the implementation of CRM systems since 1987 and is currently a principal consultant in our CRM practice.

Illustration created and provided by Jonathan Pike, eVerge Group IT Specialist.

 

Project Killers: PSI -Project Scene Investigation “A Case of Slow Death”

project-killer3

It’s late in the evening in Los Empresas, TX. Even the most dedicated employees at Pastells, Inc. have abandoned their desks, secured their laptops, and joined the sinuous stream of cars on I-47 headed for anywhere but work. Only five grim faced men and women remain around a table in a conference room; the executive steering committee for Project Uplift.   Project Uplift is the CRM project that will propel Pastells into market dominance.   A silver-haired gentleman, Oliver Pastell, jumps from his chair, obviously agitated, pointing excitedly at the screen where the final slide of the executive review still glows. “What this slide tells me,” He shouts “is that Project Uplift is dead!” In the silence that ensues, no one can disagree.

Dead projects are common in Los Empresas. It’s our job to investigate them and bring the killer to justice. Call me Mike, an engagement manager with PSI, Inc.; it’s my pleasure to head up the investigation team. Morgan is my project manager, she’s best at organizing the facts and keeping the team on task. She won’t quit as long as the killer remains at large. Ajay is my architect; he can follow any thread in the investigation and flesh out the facts, determine the probabilities, and plot the next steps. My developers, Harish and Jason, are equipped with the latest tools and training to analyze the evidence and synthesize the facts that either support or disprove our theories on the killer’s identity.

The Project Uplift case came to us the next morning. Ajay, Morgan, and I met to discuss the case over a box of Krispy Kremes and a ½ gallon of hot coffee. “Mike, what do we know about the project?” Ajay managed between bites. I shook my head, “Based on what I have seen so far, this one is a bit baffling. The project had a clear charter, it had good support from the Pastells executives, the plan was pretty well developed and clear, and the objective and scope were understood and well communicated.” Morgan chimed in, “That sounds like a healthy project, what about the people working on it?” I quickly reviewed the list forwarded from Pastells, “It appears that the project team included consultants from the Nopuedes Group, the Pastells Project Manager, Maria Ansiosos, some Business Analysts, some Subject Matter Experts from the business, and the CIO, Raul Espere.” Ajay spoke first, “I know some folks at Nopuedes, and I’ll talk to the project PM.” “Morgan, see if you can speak with Maria,” I directed “and I will send the project documentation to Harish and Jason to see if they can find anything we’ve missed.” I reviewed the list again, “I’m not sure how much the CIO Raul will want to talk to me, it looks like this project was his brain child and he might be like a father in mourning, but I’ll do my best.”

My appointment with Raul is set for later this afternoon; I decide to stop by the developer’s bullpen on my way out. I settle into an office chair next to Jason, grab an Old Dutch pretzel from the open tub and ask, “Anything suspicious, yet?” Jason turns to the keyboard, after a few strokes he turns the monitor towards me. “All of the documents that we have are in order. “ He shows me the original Statement of Work from Nopuedes, the project charter, the budget, the project plan, the requirements, the design, the testing plans, and the resource list before I stop him. “Are you saying that there is nothing wrong?” Harish chimes in, “What we are saying is that there is nothing wrong with what we have been sent, but there is something very import missing – the RAID!” “You mean the Risks, Action Items, Issues, and Decisions log?” I clarify. Harish beams, “Correct! Why did they provide all of the other project artifacts, but leave out the RAID log for Project Uplift?” I look at my watch, time to leave to meet with CIO Raul, and that will be one of the first questions I ask.

“Thanks for meeting me on such short notice.” Ajay says as he shakes hands with Jorge, the Nopuedes PM. Jorge laughs ruefully, “With Project Uplift dead, my calendar was suddenly clear!” “I am just as interested in finding the killer as you are, Ajay, Project Uplift seemed to be a real winner and so important for Pastells.” Ajay continues to keep Jorge talking, “So the demise of the project came as a complete surprise?” Jorge scratches his chin and screws his mouth into a wry smile, “No, Ajay, not a complete surprise, there were rumblings and grumblings but nothing definite.”   Ajay pounces, “Grumblings about what?” Jorge considers his answer carefully. “I can only say what I heard from Maria, the Pastells PM. She told me that the subject matter experts and business analysts thought ‘things’ were taking too long. When I asked her what ‘things’ she was vague. I got the vibe that she was protecting someone. Find that someone and you will find the killer.” Ajay saw no reason to pull his punch, “So you’re saying I could look at your internal project documents and you would have nothing to hide?” Jorge pauses, turns his laptop towards Ajay, “I was just about to do that review myself, you’re welcomed to help.” Ajay starts the review and hopes that Morgan can get some answers from Maria. He jerks the iPhone 6 from his pocket and dials…

“I don’t know what more I can provide than we provided by email this morning”, Maria Ansiosos stated tersely. “I hope you can appreciate that we are busy at Pastells trying to pick up the pieces.” Morgan knows that this is a sensitive subject for the Pastells PM, but she also knows that Maria has important information. “I just want to hear from you why you think Project Uplift died; we’ll be talking to everyone involved.” “I don’t deal in speculation,” Maria replies in clipped, frosty tones. Morgan decides a direct approach will work best, “I just spoke to my teammate Ajay, he heard from Jorge at Nopuedes that you had a conversation with Jorge and that the Pastells team believed ‘things’ were moving too slowly. Were you implying that Nopuedes was to blame?” Maria’s face turns ashen, “No, Jorge and his team did the best they could under the circumstances.”  Morgan moves closer to Maria, “What were the circumstances?” Maria’s shoulders slump, she starts in a low whisper, “I expect every project to have different circumstances, but we’ve been through many projects at Pastells successfully despite that.” Maria stands, turns her head, and with her voice rising declares, “I love my job, I need this job, and I am good at what I do.  I didn’t kill Project Uplift and I don’t know who did!” Morgan follows Maria’s eyes and sees that they are firmly fixed on a nameplate on the corner office door. She slides the Galaxy S6 edge from her pocket, dials and speaks quietly when the phone is answered.

My first impression of Raul Espere is that he looks like a man who has just lost a son or perhaps a brain child. His eyes are bloodshot; his clothes have obviously been on his body for at least the last 36 hours.  The coffee mug in his left hand trembles as he reaches to shake mine.  “Mike, I know I look like hell, but Oliver Pastell wants answers about Project Uplift, and he wants them now. I’ve been up all night pulling together information for him.” From the tone of Raul’s voice, I can tell this isn’t the first all-nighter he’s pulled for Oliver; I decide to follow that line of questioning right after I clear up the number one question on my mind. “Raul, you sent us every other project document, why not the RAID log?” Raul looks over his mug at me, and then he slowly sets it down. “Can you excuse me for a minute?” I watch as Raul speaks quietly with his administrative assistant, he returns to the room and carefully closes the door. “Mike, the RAID was withheld because it contained sensitive Pastells information, I had originally included it in the packet, but after review a decision was made to keep it in house.” I hide my initial surprise, “Who did the review, Raul?” “The executive steering committee,” Raul immediately replies. “The whole committee?” I ask, “Or is there one very important member who might have made that decision?” Raul simply sips his coffee, though I can see he is about to explode. I continue, “What was on that log that could be so important? From what I heard from Ajay and Morgan, the PM’s had done a good job of identifying risks and issues and ways to avoid and mitigate them. Harish and Jason have verified that the plan was resource loaded and action items were included. Raul, that only leaves – Decisions!” Raul blurts out to stop me, “I made every decision asked of me, I weighed the facts, gathered opinions, brainstormed solutions, and delivered decisions!” I could tell he was telling the truth, but not all of it. “I believe you Raul, but without that RAID, there really is no evidence of that. I know that this project was your brain child, that you mourn the death of Project Uplift more than anyone else, but that’s no reason to let your career go to the grave with it.” His weary head with the blood shot eyes lifts towards me and then turns to the corner office. “Let me guess and see how close I come,” I continue “they key member of the executive steering committee that decided not to send us the RAID log was Oliver! I can only guess at how many late nights you’ve spent feeding him information waiting on a decision only to be asked for more time and information. I bet that when the RAID surfaces, and we will dig until we find it, it will be red with decisions waiting on Oliver.” Raul slowly pulls open a desk drawer and lifts out a thick Pendaflex folder, clearly marked Project Uplift. From the center of the folder he extracts a printout of an Excel spread sheet that looks like a RAID log. He hands it to me and begs quietly, “This is what you need, be careful how you use it.”

Oliver Pastell is gracious as he invites my team from PSI, Inc. to take a seat. Ajay and Morgan find conference chairs to my left while Harish and Jason choose the leather couch to be closer to the box of See’s chocolates. I can hear the candy wrappers rustling as Oliver starts to speak. “What have you uncovered with your investigation?” I decide ‘careful’ is the right approach, “Mr. Pastell, Oliver, we understand that this is your first major project as the CEO, is that correct?” Oliver is obviously discomforted by the question, “Yes it is.” I follow with, “In fact, you only recently returned to Los Empresas and took control of Pastells after your brother was killed in a private plane crash.” Oliver leans forward, hands on desk, “What does that have to do with Project Uplift?” Just then Jason blurts out, “Project Uplift died because you didn’t make the timely decisions on project direction when they were needed, a clear case of Death by Indecision.” So much for a ‘careful’ approach. Oliver looks at Jason, then Harish, Ajay, Morgan and finally me. It is clear to him that we all agree with Jason that he is suffering from severe Analysis Paralysis. Finally he speaks, “Ever since that night I learned Project Uplift had died, I had a nagging feeling it was my fault. How can I avoid this in the future?”   As always, we are prepared to help keep Project Killers at bay and I hand Oliver a reprint of a decision making article from David Ingram:

Identify Problems

The first step in the process is to recognize that there is a decision to be made. Decisions are not made arbitrarily; they result from an attempt to address a specific problem, need or opportunity.

Seek Information

Managers seek out a range of information to clarify their options once they have identified an issue that requires a decision. Managers may seek to determine potential causes of a problem, the people and processes involved in the issue and any constraints placed on the decision-making process.

Brainstorm Solutions

Having a more complete understanding of the issue at hand, managers move on to make a list of potential solutions. This step can involve anything from a few seconds of thought to a few months or more of formal collaborative planning, depending on the nature of the decision and the time allotted to make it.

Choose an Alternative

Managers weigh the pros and cons of each potential solution, seek additional information if needed and select the option they feel has the best chance of success at the least cost. Consider seeking outside advice if you have gone through all the previous steps on your own; asking for a second opinion can provide a new perspective on the problem and your potential solutions.

Implement the Plan

There is no time to second guess yourself when you put your decision into action. Once you have committed to putting a specific solution in place, get all of your employees on board and put the decision into action with conviction. That is not to say that a managerial decision cannot change after it has been enacted; savvy managers put monitoring systems in place to evaluate the outcomes of their decisions.

Evaluate Outcomes

Even the most experienced business owners can learn from their mistakes. Always monitor the results of strategic decisions you make as a small business owner; be ready to adapt your plan as necessary, or to switch to another potential solution if your chosen solution does not work out the way you expected.

We stand to leave, and Oliver walks with us to the door. I turn to him with one last piece of advice, “The most valuable decisions are not only well informed, but are also timely as well.” As the door closes behind me, I smell the unmistakable scent of dark chocolate enrobed salted caramel from the stolen box of Sees. It is delicious!

This case is closed.

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

This blog was written by Jim Lindenfeld, who has been actively involved in customer relationship management during his entire professional career.  He is a certified sales and sales management trainer.  He has been involved in the implementation of CRM systems since 1987 and is currently a principal consultant in our CRM practice.

Illustration created and provided by Jonathan Pike, eVerge Group IT Specialist.

 

Keys to CRM System Adoption: Coaching

High rates of user adoption maximize the benefit of a CRM system to every system user in an exponential way as every key process in the business; planning, marketing, selling, servicing, and analyzing, is enriched by the increased information and functionality of the CRM system. Many companies invest millions in software licenses and services to install a CRM application, but don’t invest the time and energy to create a CRM System – Application, Infrastructure, Employee users, Indirect Channel users, and Customers. Each part of the system is critical to the system, with none more critical than the Employee users.

When Employee users eagerly use and contribute to the CRM system, user adoption is high. When Employee users do not use, or incorrectly use the system user adoption rates are low. When adoption rates are high, companies must persist on the system planning and implementation path that they have outlined to maintain and upgrade the system over time. When adoption rates are low, companies must pause and analyze the issues and take immediate corrective action. This is the first in a series of articles that detail what organizations can do to drive user adoption of the installed CRM system. There are 5 key areas to investigate and correct: executive involvement, pay for play, EASE, commitment, and coaching.

Coaching may be the least understood duty that is assigned to any manager in any organization. Coaching is the ability to demonstrate and inculcate a skill as it will be used in the organization. It should not be confused with Training, Motivation, Leadership, or Management of Resources – each of these is an important duty for organization Managers, but they are not “Coaching”. Unfortunately, many organizations and the Managers in that organization DO confuse one or all of these skills for Coaching. This is particularly detrimental to CRM Application user adoption. Throwing money and bodies at the CRM Application and making speeches about the benefits will not increase the skill level of the Employee users. Even application training is only marginally effective. The only proven way to increase the employee skill level successfully on a CRM Application is for the appropriate person, which more than 95% of the time is the direct Manager of the employee, to Coach the employee on the application. Raising the employee skill level, making the employee more comfortable with the application, is a key to user adoption.

In the Carew course on Selling Skills Coaching[1], the Coaching process has 4 distinct steps:

  1. Demonstrate the skill to the employee
  2. Assist the employee in attempting the skill
  3. Allow the employee to practice the skill in a supportive, protected environment
  4. Monitor and give feedback on the employee’s skill level in day to day activities

Demonstrate the skill: This means that each Manager on the Management team must be able to use the CRM application with enough proficiency that they can fully demonstrate it to their direct reports. For example, Sales Managers must be able to do everything in the CRM application that they are expecting their team members to do – e.g. handle leads, manage opportunities, create quotes, submit orders, update contact level information, etc. This level of proficiency is gained by including the Managers early in the requirements gathering phase, the design and development process, the testing phase, and by involving them in intensive application training and train the trainer sessions prior to the release of the application.

Assist the employee in attempting the skill: Each Manager should be at every roll-out/training session for the CRM application when his/her team is involved. The Manager will demonstrate the CRM application in the context of the business model for his/her team. They will assist each employee in completing a real world use case. They will answer business questions and questions about application design and functionality. They will also be able to do this when a new employee is added to the team after the CRM Application roll-out.

Allow the employee to practice the skill: After assisting the employee on the first use case, the Manager allows the employee to practice on similar use cases. The Manager evaluates the progress, provides positive feedback for each correct step, and makes suggestions for improvement when appropriate. Finally, the Manager recognizes and congratulates the employee on having attained a skill level sufficient to begin using it in live business processes.

Monitor and give feedback: The best and only effective way to monitor progress on a CRM Application is for the Manager to use the application! Printed reports and spreadsheets send a very negative message to the employees when used for this purpose. Employees want to feel that they have enriched the organization and improved the business through their actions in the CRM Application, the best way to do this is for the Manager to demonstrate that his/her decisions are being driven by the information in the system. Managers who use the system are much better able to evaluate the performance of their teams on the CRM Application than those who do not.

The creation or re-release of a CRM system involves a great deal more than the installation of a CRM Application. If the CRM Application is not used properly, or not used at all, then the system has a greatly diminished value. Coaching is one of five key drivers to Employee user adoption. Make sure that as you are planning your CRM System you enable Coaching in your organization change management plans.

  1. Involve all Management levels in requirements, design, prototypes, and testing.
  2. Conduct intense training and train the trainer sessions (and include Coaching training if it is not already part of your Management training curriculum) for all managers before general release
  3. Involve the Managers in all direct rollout activities to their teams
  4. Make training environments available to the organization
  5. Ensure that Managers can work in the CRM Application to accomplish the vast majority of the business process cycles they manage.
  6. Ensure that employee onboarding is not considered complete until the Coaching process has progressed to step 4.

The cost of these activities will easily be recovered in the increased benefit of the system to your company, and the Coaching skills you give to your Managers will be used many, many times in other business processes and become part of your Customer Experience driven culture.

[1] http://www.carew.com/selling-skills-coaching.php

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

This blog was written by Jim Lindenfeld, who has been actively involved in customer relationship management during his entire professional career.  He is a certified sales and sales management trainer.  He has been involved in the implementation of CRM systems since 1987 and is currently a principal consultant in our CRM practice.

 

Focus on the Customer: A Sustainable Competitive Advantage

In a previous article about focus on the customer we discussed how putting the customer in the center of your company can help you become a well-organized company. We also explored in another article how focus on the customer can be your guide to empowering your employees to act in a way that retains your customers and protects your interests. What may not have been crystal clear in either article is the crucial reason why focus on the customer is so important.

Ever since the introduction of row agriculture, when man was first able to consistently produce a product (the turnip) in abundance beyond his needs, there has been a ‘marketplace’ – i.e. producers, sellers, and consumers. The size and shape and kind of the marketplaces have changed dramatically over time, but there are two maxims that were true then and are still true today. Maxim One, there will always be someone in the marketplace who will be able to produce a better product than you can, or sell it more cheaply than you can, or promote it more effectively than you can, or do all three! Maxim Two, every market, and the products and services in that market, has a lifecycle curve from inception to obsolescence.   In layman terms, if you are in a market now or trying to enter an emerging market, you are constantly faced with a host of formidable competitors.

Economists will tell you that competition is healthy for the economy because it favors innovation and keeps prices low and service high. What that don’t tell you, and hope you implicitly understand, is that the way this comes about is that each of the companies in, or attempting to enter the marketplace, are trying to develop a competitive advantage over all of the other suppliers in the market.   They are trying to develop a sustainable competitive advantage that will allow them to take advantage of the market lifecycle when it is profitable. You have probably had these same discussions many times.  For example, “If we develop a new technology we will either leapfrog the competition or create a whole new market.” Perhaps you are thinking, “We’ll lower our prices and gain a greater market share that way.” Maybe you believe that developing myriad sales channels and heavy promotion will help you beat back your competitors and dominate the market. The problem lies in marketplace Maxim One.  Technology, Price, and Promotion are not sustainable advantages because there is always someone who will technologically leapfrog you, who will sell it cheaper, or who will outdo your promotion. Eventually, the technology research costs too much, the profit margin becomes too low, the selling and marketing expenses too high and your plan fails.

There is one, and possibly only one, sustainable advantage – focus on the customer. Customers still place a value on a relationship with a company; enough of a value to help you ward off the discounters who don’t nurture that relationship. Satisfied customers tell you what they need, and if you are focused on that, they give you the early optics to emerging and new markets so that your innovations aren’t wasted in leapfrogging in the wrong direction technologically.  Finally, customers who believe they are the focus of your company are loyal; they are 5 times less likely to be persuaded by your competitors’ promotions than are dissatisfied customers.

Focus on the customer is a very small investment compared to the research to develop technically superior products, or the discounting required to be the low price leader, or the sales and marketing expenses of a high powered promoter. It simply takes the right culture, with the right tools, empowered with the right attitude. Put the customer in the center of your Customer Relationship Management system for a sustainable competitive advantage.

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

This blog was written by Jim Lindenfeld, who has been actively involved in customer relationship management during his entire professional career.  He is a certified sales and sales management trainer.  He has been involved in the implementation of CRM systems since 1987 and is currently a principal consultant in our CRM practice.

Customer Experience: Is the Bar Being Raised and Can You Still Jump Over It?

It is a widely held belief that the secret to a satisfied customer is similar to the secret to a satisfying marriage – low expectations!

As with many things in life, a customer’s satisfaction with a product or service is something that can really only be measured against that customer’s own, personal expectations.

The customer will be satisfied with your company’s offering if his or her expectations are met. However, this also implies that as the customer’s expectations go up, satisfying the customer will become more difficult. Evidence strongly suggests that all customer expectations are, as a rule of thumb, rising constantly over time.

Your customers are not measuring their experience with you against your competitors in the current marketplace; instead they are comparing your company to the customer experience delivered by Amazon, JetBlue, Apple, or American Express.

Claes Fornell is the Swedish professor who came to America more than 20 years ago and founded the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). In his book, The Satisfied Customer, Fornell reports that before field testing the ACSI, his team scoured the literature on customer satisfaction in order to ensure that they captured just the right kind of variables.

According to Fornell,

“Although there was no consensus on how to measure customer satisfaction, three facets showed up over and over. The most common had to do with the confirmation or disconfirmation of prior expectations. Another was the idea of comparing a company’s product to a customer’s ideal version of the product-regardless of whether or not such a product even existed. The third facet was the cumulative level of satisfaction when all interactions, the customer’s total experience over time with the company, were taken into account.”

Simply stated, a customer will become less satisfied even if your product or service remains at the same level of quality because his or her expectations have increased.

It is easy to imagine that, as companies around the world focus more and more on improving the customer experience, streamlining and automating their processes, and providing greatly enhanced online experience that the general level of customer expectations with regard to ALL companies is increasing.

This means you cannot simply maintain your position by continuing to do what you have always done. If your remain static, you customer satisfaction scores – ACSI or NPS – or previously determined internal scales from Ecstatic to Miserable – will decline as customer expectations rise.

No matter what your current position in your marketplace, dominant to new entrant, you simply will not maintain or grow that position without actively working to improve your customer experience, because the rising tide of customer expectations will soon submerge your satisfaction scores.

As the pace of technological change continues to accelerate, and as new customers with elevated expectations enter the marketplace, you must plan to improve your customer experience at an accelerated pace just to maintain your current level of customer satisfaction scores. That type of planning and execution requires a partner with deep experience in customer satisfaction, broad knowledge of current and future trends for customer expectations, and keen awareness of the technologies that are currently and soon to be available to customer experience managers.

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant
Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

 

This blog was written by Jim Lindenfeld, who has been actively involved in customer relationship management during his entire professional career.  He is a certified sales and sales management trainer.  He has been involved in the implementation of CRM systems since 1987 and is currently a principal consultant in our CRM practice.

Focus on the Customer by Empowering Your Employees

Before you read this article, please go to the shelf, find your customer service standard operating procedures, dust them off, and check to see how many issues your organization faces daily that aren’t covered by a listed procedure. The truly customer-focused organizations are keenly aware that there are many situations that arise that are not covered by a known procedure and in order to keep the customer satisfied, action that is ‘against policy’ may have to be taken. These organizations engender a Focus on the Customer culture that empowers employees to do just that.

Empowering an employee to advocate for the customer, however, doesn’t necessarily give them the tools to do so. For years companies have been seeking the best way to handle these un-documented service scenarios so that the customer is satisfied and the company interests are also protected. Many people feel that if they tell the Customer Service Rep to treat the customer as fairly as they would want to be treated, then that meets an internal standard for solving the customer’s issue and protecting the corporate interests. However, many others feel that relying on a single employee’s perception of ‘fair’ may not do either of those things. This latter stream of thought has led some companies to insert a management review stage into the process that is counter-productive to an empowered culture.

Don Peppers, a highly respected author and CRM researcher, recently blogged about a new and innovative approach being tried by an Australian company. In their system, the customer service representative formulates an approach to solve the customer’s issue. However, before presenting it to a customer, they present it to a peer in customer service. If two customer service reps agree that the solution is the right one that is the one presented to the customer. In addition, the solution is reviewed later by management to see if it is something that would make sense to include in a standard procedures manual. This approach seems to preserve the culture of empowerment while ensuring that a ‘reviewed’ solution is used. It has the added benefit of increasing the knowledge base for the company.

If you have an innovative idea for creating and maintaining an empowered customer service culture that focuses on the customer, we would like to hear from you as well. Customer Relationship Management is a marriage of culture and technology and the companies that customers like to buy from are the ones where that relationship is nurtured from the boardroom to the warehouse.

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

Jim Lindenfeld has been actively involved in customer relationship management during his entire professional career.  He is a certified sales and sales management trainer.  He has been involved in the implementation of CRM systems since 1987 and is currently a principal consultant in our CRM practice.