Investing in core competencies

Today’s clientele are savvy and smart, and most of them wear x-ray glasses that can see right through inexperience from a mile away. In the world of Information Technology (IT), no organization can possibly know it all or be an expert in everything. Technology today is too complex, ever changing, and moving at a very high rate of speed. For these reasons, clients expect us to say, “No, we don’t specialize in that,” more than we have ever said it before. Furthermore, organizations that specialize and invest in being great in a few things have the best chance of securing long-term relationships with clients built on proven performance.
In my last blog, we explored the customer service pillar of flexibility in the context of what customers are expecting from IT Solution providers today. As a reminder, I am writing from a customer service roadmap called CustomerFIRST where the word FIRST is an acrostic:

    • Flexible
    • Invested
    • Responsive
    • Strategic
    • Trusted

 

This week I am addressing the 2nd pillar of successful customer service: Invested.
I recognize how difficult it can be to get a meeting with a prospect in the first place and the last thing any of us want to do is walk out of her office without something to pursue. At the same time, a discovery discussion about needs and challenges followed by a crisp, clear description of what your organization is great at, creates the foundation for a future partnership, even if that partnership does not start right now. On the flip side, selling beyond our headlights creates a very likely “one and done” experience with a lot of potential risk. Clients just aren’t willing to put up with this type of experience today. They demand quality and success on the first engagement – period.
The winning Customer Service approach is to be crystal clear about what your organization is great at and stick to what is right in the center of your wheelhouse. Only expand your offerings when you can invest in those areas of expertise in a meaningful way.
Invest ZunesisThe second key component of this new customer service approach requires all of us to be highly networked so that we can refer other organizations or partners to serve the immediate needs of the client. Above all else, a true IT Solution Provider desires to make the lives of their clients better. Therefore, if an IT Solution Provider knows of a company that can do what a client needs, he is obliged to refer the client to that organization. The development of an IT-Solution ecosystem is essential to being a true IT Solution partner today.
Current Social Media tools like LinkedIn provide a simple and fast way to establish meaningful IT Solution ecosystems. I personally have seen the power of this connected ecosystem in recent months in helping client of ours find new jobs, find new employees, and get solutions to IT challenges that my organization was not able to provide. I sincerely believe that this approach of “making the lives of our client better,” even when we don’t cash the check, creates strong client relationships.
Many organizations will see this approach as a way to help their competition and will shy away from embracing the IT Solution ecosystem approach. While I completely understand this line of thinking, I believe it is short sighted and very 1990’s.
In summary, the successful organizations know what their strengths are and they invest heavily in their success, evolution, and maturation. Investing includes training, focus, intentionality, and limitations on scope and expertise. To provide additional services and areas of expertise, today’s IT Solution Providers are encouraged to reach outside the walls of their own organization to partner with other companies that do what they do not. This is the best way to serve customers in 2015.
Next week we will explore the importance of being Responsive and how speed of action has expanded into many other facets of business.
Until we meet again, I wish you the very best in your efforts to serve customers in the ways they wish to be served.

Why Flexibility Builds Credibility with Your Clients

In my previous blog on the topic of Customer Service in 2015, we explored the five pillars of serving customers today:

  • Flexible
  • Invested
  • Responsive
  • Strategic
  • Trusted

This week, we will tackle the pillar of customer service: Flexibility.
Webster defined “flexibility” as, “the quality of being adaptable or variable.”  As businesses motivated to produce a profit, we are all looking for ways to create consistency and efficiency in the projects we deliver.  To do this, we seek to create templates, consistent deliverables, and a common set of steps and processes to arrive at our outcomes.  Ideally, we want all types of fruit to look and taste like apples.  The less variety we experience, the greater opportunity we have for customer and project success.
On the flip side, today’s customers expect us to be flexible in how we deliver projects because they believe their business requirements are unique and their internal culture, current technology, and political issues are anything but an apple.
All of us in the IT business relish those moments when a customer’s need intersects with one of our core competencies.  We all have been in those meetings when a client says, “Hey, we really need help in this area,” and that area just so happens to be right in our wheelhouse.  We puff up like a frog and say, “This is your lucky day! We have implemented 10 projects just like yours in the past 12 months.”  Inevitably, the client’s response is, “Sure you have, but you’ve never implemented that project here!”
IT Solutions ZunesisThe bottom line is that all clients believe their situation is unique and likely more challenging than the situation of other organizations for a variety of reasons.  What clients are telling us in 2015 is that they need their IT solution partners to be pliable and moldable to support the unique requirements of their business and culture.  Customers do not want us walking into their environment wearing blinders.  They want us to understand and appreciate the nuances and uniqueness of their world.
Clients do not want their IT solution partners to force fit any of these without first understanding what makes their needs different:

    • Methodology
    • Time frame
    • Budget
    • Other constraints

 

One client said to me, “The reason flexibility is important is because I want to know that you are marching to my agenda, not yours.”  Perhaps that quote says it best.  The expectation of clients today is that their solution providers will engage every project or situation with an attitude of flexibility.  The client will absolutely demand expertise and experience in a particular area, but they also want the solution provider to deliver a project with their unique requirements in mind.
The other element of flexibility, in the spirit of customer service, that is different today than in the past is client expectations in terms of how changes in scope are managed.  Years ago it was a common and somewhat accepted practice for many IT Solution Providers to “buy in” to a project, believing they were going to get well through change management tied to modifications in project scope.  The idea was to manage every word of the contract / Statement of Work (SOW) and quickly pounce on any minute change in scope, fleecing the customer as quickly as possible for additional revenue.
Customer Service ZunesisIn 2015, this approach does not work; and customers are quick to identify this behavior as “non-partner like.”  The relationship can’t devolve into an “Us vs. Them” battle where change is a dreaded event.  We have all heard it said many times that the only constant is constant change.  In the IT world, this is especially true; and customers need Solution Providers to understand that change is a natural part of doing business today.
This is a challenging dilemma because, as IT Solution Providers, we need to define boundaries, limitations, rules of engagement, and ways to deal with changes in scope.  Without these guiding principles, we will find ourselves defined by our clients as great partners; but we will also likely find ourselves out of business.  The skills embodied in a seasoned Project Manager create the best opportunity to navigate these tricky waters:

    • Planning
    • Expectations
    • Consistent and rich communications
    • Schedule management
    • Immediately addressing changes in scope

 

Most clients are reasonable when it comes to managing changes in scope, but the key is to operate with an attitude of flexibility and empathy.  Clients despise surprises and being “nickeled & dimed” at every turn.  In today’s world of customer service, clients truly desire a partnership; and to achieve that, a spirit of flexibility is essential.
Next week we will explore the importance of being invested and focused on what you provide as a Solution Provider.  Gone are the days of, “We do everything for everyone.”
Until we meet again, I wish you the very best in your efforts to serve customers in the ways they wish to be served.

Every New Year we make individual goals and resolutions to improve ourselves and our overall well-being. We understand the importance of taking care of our bodies both mentally and physically, but do we take the time to do a wellness check on the thousands of dollars we spend on our IT infrastructure?
How important is it to you and your organization that your IT infrastructure is running at its utmost operational efficiency? Can your organization afford to be down for minutes, hours, or days? Now is the time to evaluate your upcoming IT goals and initiatives for 2015 and give your IT infrastructure a New Year’s wellness check.
Assessment Services help you determine your IT and network infrastructure’s compliance to best practices and policies as well as readiness to support a new technology, application, architecture, or solution. Ultimately, IT assessments provide an aid in helping to:

  • Decrease deployment costs and adoption delays,
  • Improve your organization’s ability to support new strategies and solutions,
  • Effectively budget accurately for additional investment requirements.

Is Your Network Healthy?
Find Out With The Zunesis Network Health Check!

 

Zunesis, an industry leading solution provider in Information Technology integration and professional services, offers many different assessment services to help organizations meet their operational strategies. Zunesis assessment services can provide you the information you need to make informed decisions on your cloud strategy, data growth and analytics, social medial approach, and more.
Contact Zunesis today or visit the Zunesis website to find out how one or more of the Zunesis assessments can help your organization stay sharp and ready for the New Year and beyond.

Does Customer Service still matter?

 

Do any of us really believe that customer service still matters?  Most business leaders would immediately say, “Sure it does,” because we take great pride in the customer experience we provide.  As business owners and CEO’s, we carry the torch of serving our customers proudly and without reservation.  However, are these same customers laughing behind our backs when we talk about how we plan to serve them?  Are we spending time on something that is obsolete, forgotten, or simply old fashioned in today’s fast paced world of mobile engagement and transactional business?
 
I have wrestled with this question as I think about what my company needs to look like in the future.  Candidly, I have been questioning a lot lately.  In the world of information technology, it is abundantly clear that what allowed us to be successful for the first 10 years will not be what propels our growth and success in the coming 10 years.  The way in which our customers view our value and how they procure IT services has changed dramatically with technologies like virtualization, cloud computing, and “rent a developer” from the farthest reaches of the earth.  Is it then possible that our customers view how they are served differently too?
 
The expectations of customers have changed fundamentally in several key areas.  First, what we previously considered crucial to customer service (being available, attention to detail, speed, and rapidly addressing issues and problems) are all considered table stakes now.  Yes, they are all important and essential, but they do not differentiate.  Next, customers expect us to focus on what we are great at doing.  Customers frown quickly on a solution provider that purports to be good at everything or even a large number of things.  Finally, the majority of customers desire a trust-based relationship.  Their worlds are fast paced and rapidly changing; and, therefore, they need organizations and people they can trust.  These are some of the biggest changes we have seen in terms of how customers have changed and what they expect in 2015.
 
This journey has been an ongoing one that has resulted in an evolving set of customer service expectations.  In a nutshell, customers still care about customer service.  However, how customer service is defined in 2015 is different; and understanding these differences appears to be very important.  My research culminated in a customer service roadmap called CustomerFIRST where the word FIRST is an acrostic:
 
F – Flexible
I – Invested
R – Responsive
S – Strategic
T – Trusted
 
These five pillars of customer service were chosen because they consistently fit the mold of what I have heard over and over again from customers.  Defining each of these and their meaning is quite important.  Maybe the most sobering revelation is that the stakes and importance of customer services have increased.  In fact, because solutions, education, technology, and opinions are so easily accessible over the Web, how a customer is served ends up being one of the most important areas of differentiation.
 
Over the coming weeks, I will be diving into each of these customer service expectations and providing the key elements of success for each based on the school of hard knocks and what clients are sharing with me today in 2015.
 
Until we meet again, I wish you the very best in your efforts to serve customers in the ways they want to be served.

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