• November 25, 2015

CUSTOMERS AND CLIENTS: The Devils of Business Growth

 

The Customers! I call them Devils.

How about meeting their expectations? Would you consider it key to meet (maybe exceed) their expectations? The knowledge of Customers requirements and meeting expectations according to specification is important in Project Management. It is one of heartbeats of Project Management and Strategic Business Development. I have trained lots of students on this subject and I acknowledge how difficult it is to understand requirements (Collect Requirements in Project Management), set quality standards to meet their requirements, and also measure compliance.

Knowledge Management has historically maintained an inward focus, battling to help a company’s employees relate to each other better with the help of diverse new technologies. But what about the customers? Mining their intangible assets is as important as nurturing the knowledge of an employee.

What do you need to know to service your customers? A recent discussion with a team of about 34 experts in a professional gathering in PM Hub Nigeria generated the following thoughts about what any entrepreneur or individual, who deals with customers, might need to know in order to deliver value. There are various knowledge-intensive activities in your relationship with your customer:

  • Helping them to understand your business and what you can offer their business
  • Ability to ask about related products and services
  • Expert system to help new customers specify products
  • Activating, monitoring and intervening in the processes of supply
  • Ability to promise supply
  • Real-time payment status
  • Order Tracking
  • Automatic Order Placing – via S&OP

There are also knowledge-intensive inter-supporting activities:

  • Understanding your customers’ business and each individual as a person
  • Personal/Business details of Caller
  • Latest headlines about customersbusiness
  • History of interactions with customers.

I don’t want to go into the technical component of Project Management. Hence, I will simply give detailed information that would be helpful.

Customer service is not just about Knowledge Management in terms of your customer relationships. In a truly market-focused business, your ability to innovate and lead in your market through your products is equally important to customer service. As much as people respect innovation, people want to be cared and attended to. It is they who can tell you what they need. Managing the knowledge at the interface between customer/consumer needs and business opportunities /capabilities is imperative to customer service.

What are Customer Needs and Expectations?

Needs are the basic requirements that are met by the product or service. For example, bread satisfies the hunger need. Expectations include both product or service related expectations, such as the bread being fresh and healthy, as well as less obvious ones, such as clean environs and courteous staff at the store where you buy the bread.

While the product or service related expectations will typically be expressed (particularly if they are not met) the more indirect expectations might often go unexpressed. Identifying such unexpressed expectations requires special efforts, including training your staff to observe and record customer behavior and reactions.

Another relevant issue is Customer Segmentation. Customers of different products and services are not homogeneous groups with the same needs and expectations. Instead, they are typically grouped into different segments with more or less differing expectations. For example, one segment of customers might be highly cost-conscious while another segment might look for quality and status, and be willing and able to pay extra for these.

Identifying customer expectations thus requires customer segmentation. Larger businesses, such as automobile manufacturers, offer different models designed to meet the expectations of different customer segments. Many small businesses, on the other hand, succeed by focusing on meeting the expectations of specific customer segments. The corner shop that meets the convenience and personal touch requirements of a suburb is a good example.

Client Satisfaction and Customer Service are two important goals of any business, but especially service or intellectually-orientated businesses. Satisfaction with a finished project defines its value. For example, a key area of our service base is developing websites. Businesses or organizations seeking websites may not totally understand the process, the complexity or ultimately, the value of the final product when the proposal is delivered. Communicating is critical on both sides, but possibly, even more critical is educating our customers and managing expectations from the start.

A Better Informed Customer is a Better Served Customer

Most business persons have been there: “if only they knew, they’d say yes in a heartbeat.” Question is, “why haven’t you communicated your value?”

At the start of every Website Development Project, we tell our customers: “when this site is done, you will know as much about it as we do.” From our first meeting to the ‘handing over the keys’ after go-live, we strive to impart our knowledge, offer strategies, and demonstrate value. However, this is after the contract is signed. Before we can deliver, we need to demonstrate and share our expertise — we must educate potential clients to see the value of our services.

Whether you’re building websites, designing a better widget, or consulting on accounting practices, educating your potential customers up front helps enhance the value of your deliverables. In the example of website development, we often go into the role of Branding and discuss not only the mission of the site, but also the way success will be measured. As the future customer gains a greater understanding of the ingredients that make up a successful site, our value is further reinforced. This process allows the customer to learn about what makes a successful site, as well as why we are the best choice to build it.

Manage Expectations Before Managing Disappointments:

Not every retail shop can have an online shopping site like jumia or OLX. However, getting the small retail shop owner with an entry-level budget to understand this can be another matter. Managing expectations up front is not an easy thing to do. As service providers, we want the customer to express what he or she would like. Keeping this in the framework of their budget comes together with both better educating customers, as well as managing the customer’s expectations before it turns into managing a customer’s disappointments.

Part of educating a future customer is ‘sharing what you do’ and ‘what produces the best results’. The challenge is then to collaborate (or compromise between) their ideas and their budget. Most often this is defined in a Scope of Work Document. For our web development customers, we outline how many pages and what specific features or functions are required. Anything falling outside of this scope requires a Written Change Order. This prevents ‘scope creep’ or the expansion of the project parameters. Out of this, however, the most important part is understanding the budget.

Nothing shapes a project more than the budget. The budget defines expectations by giving a firm “how much for how much?”. In the web design arena, you will not end up with a brand – smart corporate website, blog, etc, for $1,000. It’s more likely you’ll spend closer to $5,000. Think of a remodeling project in your home. If you have $2,500 to spend on a bathroom makeover versus $10,000, how would your choices or ideas change?

Listening and communicating are crucial to understanding what you’re able to deliver and what your future customer is expecting from you. In addition to educating our future customers, we also work to better define the scope of the project. Signalfire does this with a simple questionnaire we ask to have filled out before our first meeting. More than just putting a framework around expectations, it also gives us a springboard from which we can shape our educative plans.

Better educating and better managing expectations can come together to have a very happy customer. Informing and sharing on the Best Practices surrounding your own service will further your own value. Defining the exact scope of a project, managing that scope over its course, and being aware of your customer’s budget will ensure that the final delivery will fully satisfy. For businesses working with services or intellectual deliverables, a customer who finishes a project with exactly what they envisioned and better informed than where they started, may be the best possible referral.

How are you educating your future customers? How do you manage their expectations at the outset of a project? I’d love to hear how you are handling these situations!

I advocate building a system that captures your prospective clients- managing their expectation through thorough education.

 

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