Unconventional Wisdom?

Over years of working with clients, I have found that the most effective way to evaluate an a strategic software project and assess its value has been through a small scale collaborative effort in which both client and vendor invest and participate.  Such an approach serves the best interest of both parties, not just the vendor.

This is true when a client-specific, use-case-specific solution is required for making very complex, very valuable decisions.  This collaborative approach provides several important benefits for the client:

A) Alignment – The vendor quickly gains deep insight into the client’s specific requirements.  In this way the vendor can be sure to capture all key requirements and fully test and demonstrate the value of the solution.  In many cases, the prototype can form the basis of the first phase of the implementation, so the project is ready to start, should the client decide to proceed.

C) Risk Reduction – Because of the learning that takes place prior to any major commitment on the part of the client, the risk associated with a decision to proceed with the overall project is greatly reduced.  The client’s decision regarding whether or not to proceed with the project is more informed than it could be in any other way.  For example, the estimate of the likely return on investment is much more precise.

D) Client Learning – The client learns the vendor’s software and its capabilities better than they could in any classroom setting and  in a very short period of time.

E) Time to Value – The alignment, risk reduction, and client learning drive a faster time-to-value for the overall project.

A joint investment in a small-scale collaborative effort is also a prudent approach.

As a case in point, consider an investment of $10K to evaluate a project costing say $200,000, with a potential ROI of $1 million or more per year.  One might say that it not only makes good business sense to invest the $10K, but that the value achieved in terms of alignment, risk reduction, learning, and time to value make it a bargain.

This seems like a wise approach to me, but unfortunately, it is far too infrequent.

Thanks for stopping by.  I’ll leave you with these few words to ponder from Sir Ronald Gould, “When all think alike, none thinks very much.”

Have a wonderful weekend!

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On Customer Relationship Management

This topic, often abbreviated as “CRM”, usually refers to software that businesses use to structure and record interactions with customers. Given its use and effect, the name that has been given to it by the software vendors who make it and the analysts to review it seems, at times, to be a euphemism at best and an oxymoron in the worst case.  I do not believe the effort in coding and implementing CRM software has been wasted.  No, not in the least, but I think the results bear some honest scrutiny so that we can make sure that further developments take these types of efforts in the right direction.  I am pretty sure that you can think of some examples of times when you called a customer support phone number and were connected first to what is known as a voice response system (or VRS – yes, another acronym).  This is the part where you press a number to speak your native language, and a sequence of other numbers, perhaps including some personal account information.  Once you have done this and pushed the appropriate button to actually speak with a real customer service representative (dare I say “CSR”?), you now realize that your particular situation had not been anticipated by the authors of the software or those who configured it.  So, you are connected to a real person only to have them tell you that they cannot provide the action that you need.  You begin to realize the problem is not that the person on the other end of the line is unwilling, but rather, the CSR is embedded in a bureaucracy and bound by bureaucratic rules for responding to customers that are ensconced in the organization’s CRM software.  Far from creating or facilitating a relationship, the software would seem to inhibit it.  Personally, I often feel like a football player who just received the proverbial Heisman Trophy “stiff-arm”.

I am certainly overstating my case to make a point. CRM software has been helpful in putting much of the information from my interaction with a business at the fingertips of the customer service representative. However, I can’t count the number of times when I dial one customer service number only to be transferred (on a good day) or asked to dial a different customer service number (often enough) because of the nature of my question. Not to mention, of course, the many times that I have taken the time to painstakingly enter my personal account information on the keypad of a phone (ever try doing that on a Blackberry?), only to be asked for that same information once again when I finally get to talk to someone. The chronic nature of these kinds of instances belies the idea that we have really achieved anything close to a “customer relationship” through CRM software. It has delivered some benefits, but we must all take care to make sure that the means does not become and end in itself and ultimately an impediment to the original purpose.

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