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