3 Best Practices for Including Customers in the Implementation Process

February 18, 2015 Sara Guggisberg

creative-team In case you missed it, last week TSIA hosted a great webinar, 3 Tips in 30 Minutes: Best Practices for Including Customers in the Implementation Process, in which industry experts John Ragsdale, VP of Technology and Research at TSIA, and our very own Eric Lopez, Sales Engineering Manager at Workfront, shared their expertise on collaborating with customers. I'll cover some of their insights in this post, but be sure to watch the full webinar on-demand to hear all the golden nuggets shared by John and Eric.

I'm excited to write about solution implementation teams again, as this particular segment of enterprise work is experiencing a lot of change lately. In our white paper on the future of collaboration, we explain that because Millennials represent nearly half of today's employed workers, the workplace is and will continue to become a social environment. I say social here not to imply we're all chit-chatting around the break room; rather, I'm referring to the fact that, according to Pew Research Center, over 72 percent of online adults use social networking sites. The workplace is now a social environment because these pervasive social platforms have changed the way we connect with each other—we expect to collaborate, share, and consume information instantaneously and openly, even at work.

With that said, any successful team today must ensure their collaboration styles and tools at work meet these expectations. Implementation teams have a particularly strong need for a social working environment—on-site teams are social-savvy and must collaborate in real-time with each other and with the office to share information, report bugs, or ask questions. Stakeholders, both internal and external, don't just want a notification when a project is complete anymore; they are also part of this growing social work environment and expect to be kept in the loop throughout the implementation process. Luckily, we have a few best practices for navigating the 21st century world of work to share with you. Follow these three tips to better communicate with your customers, ensure project success, and end up with loyal customers long-term.

1. Enable Collaboration

As we can see from the 2014 Global Technology Survey chart below, over half of Services firms polled had a budget for collaboration. It's clear that implementation teams are aware of their need to collaborate with customers; what isn't widely known, though, is how to leverage that collaboration to drive implementations to success.

collaboration

So how do you guarantee your collaboration with customers and stakeholders will be effective? Centralize it in a single system or tool. The less links there are in the conversation between you and the customer, like email, phone calls, instant messages, spreadsheets, and status reports, the less likely it is that a link will break and a project will fail. Disconnected collaboration tools lead to time and energy drains, re-work, and confusion. But if you steer your customers to one platform where all communication can take place intuitively and in the context of your work, your once halting collaborations will become seamless.

55 percent of surveyed project managers agree that effective communication, especially to project stakeholders and senior management, is the number one factor in a project's success.
–"The High Cost of Low Performance," PMI Research

Bonus tip

Maybe you've already implemented a new, centralized system of engagement, but your team is reluctant to adopt the tool, and falls back on old habits of sending emails or tracking work in spreadsheets. Consider incentivizing the communication that takes place within the tool. This should motivate team members to frequent the new system, which will speed up the transition, reduce reliance on old habits, and encourage a natural flow of information in and out of the centralized tool.

2. Manage Expectations

What comes to mind when you hear the word misery? Kathy Bates is surely at the top of your list of associations, but I bet, if you're a project leader, status reports are right up there with hobbling as your perfect definition of miserable. If you're not a project leader, let me paint a picture for you. It's Friday evening, and you're the only one still sitting at work. You've already missed three calls from your spouse/friend/cat, and you're definitely going to miss that 6:30 showing of the movie you've been looking forward to all week. You're cold. You're hungry. (dramatic pause) And you're alone. Why is this happening? Well, it's your responsibility to manually compile status reports, update project plans, and send email follow-ups to stakeholders who missed the weekly status meeting before the work-week ends—all for the sake of managing the expectations of those involved in the project.

Wasn't that awful? Sorry for doing that to you. Let's take a big breath and move right along to a more positive picture. The best way to eliminate the misery of weekly status reports is to automate them. A report sent automatically to stakeholders and the implementation team means no more Friday-night work for you, and no more unanswered questions for others. This report should include items you're waiting on from the customer, what milestones were reached that week, and action items for your team to work on next week.

If you're not used to including the customer frequently along the implementation process, maybe sending them weekly reports seems a bit excessive. But according to a 2013 research report by the Aberdeen Group:

64 percent of all respondents cited the management of changing customer expectations as their top project-specific pressure. An indecisive customer can turn a profitable project unprofitable, which is why successful professional services firms keep clients in the loop throughout projects and encourage communication.

The best way to set and then manage customer expectations is by driving to a self-service platform, like Enterprise Work Management, where you can provide customers with an automated experience—a place where they can log in and see for themselves the status of projects. The visibility a self-service environment affords customers will reduce time spent manually providing or asking about status reports, and will increase the efficiency and flow of the implementation process.

Bonus tip

An excellent way to facilitate this visibility and give customers real-time project monitoring across their implementation lifecycle is to create dashboards. Unlike spreadsheets, managing in dashboards allows you to see missed deadlines or overrun project costs before they become problematic enough to ruin the project entirely.

3. Solicit and Incorporate Feedback

I can't even tell you how many comment cards I've filled out at seedy restaurants or nail salons in hopes that my unending wisdom will reach someone's eyes who actually cares. But even as I'm furiously scribbling on that 3x5 card, I know it will either be thrown away, or passed around for a last laugh and then thrown away.

We know when our feedback is being solicited half-heartedly or only as part of some HR policy, and your customers are no different—your request for feedback has to be genuine, and your intentions to incorporate it sincere. The 2013 Aberdeen research report states, "71% of the Best-in-Class [professional services firms] solicit feedback from clients and include that feedback into project development."

The below charts from TSIA's Professional Services Benchmark show that 72% of Services firms conduct some sort of formal customer satisfaction review for projects. But 55% of those do so for less than 10% of their projects.

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 10.10.28 AM

Customer satisfaction tracking should take place formally for 100% of projects, and periodically throughout the implementation of each. Don't wait until the project is over to find out your customer is unhappy—if there's a personality conflict, a miscommunication about deliverables, or a so-far-unmet expectation, you can address it now, before it's too late. And of course—because you'll undoubtedly have happy customers at the end, thanks to your clear communication style and effortless management of their expectations—don't forget to conduct a project review post-engagement.

Bonus tip

Don't think formal project reviews should only be conducted with customers—project reviews conducted with your implementation team are just as beneficial. A team project review can help you record and repeat what worked and what lessons were learned, and avoid what didn't work. No one wants to reinvent the wheel with each implementation, and conducting team project reviews will help you standardize a successful process faster.

Following these three steps and refining the way you involve your customer in the implementation process will improve your customer relationship and set the stage for future revenue opportunities—plus, setting a collaborative tone in pre-sale can make for a smoother implementation process and less time spent after the sale maintaining the account, amounting to an excellent ROI for both you and your customer.

To learn more about how the top minds are tackling the challenges of managing enterprise work, download the ebook "Project Leadership: Lessons From 40 PPM Experts" today.

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