By Dr. Shree Nanguneri
Ever thought about a time when a salesman, provider or a vendor asked you if you were delighted with their product and/or services? Probably, much less often than you wished. By the same token, do you recall your customer or manager complaining about a Defective product or a Delayed service or even a Deviation (3 Ds) for which you were responsible? Probably, more often than you would have desired!
Most of us promptly recall these events on a day-to-day basis depending on number of customer interactions in our projects.
Why is it that in general people complain more often than compliment? There is an old saying “the 7:1 rule.” As consumers or customers, we psychologically tend to complain on the 3 Ds seven times more likely than compliment these providers on something they did well. In the world of Internet these days, this ratio only goes exponentially viral, into the millions. That one mis-tweet or misdeed could cause significant damage.
During the last few years, as I traveled domestic as well as overseas, there were several scenarios where these 3 Ds occurred with the airline providers. At one point, I realized that complimenting was the best way to get the same message across while seeking resolution. In this process, what came through loud and clear was a lack of understanding of passenger customer expectations, let alone seeking their delight.
As project managers we constantly wish to delight the customer and most often end up satisfying them or on some occasions, even fall below their expectations. The understanding of expectations actually falls into at least 3 categories or classifications, as I see it.
- Documenting needs and expectations clearly to mutual consensus
- Accepting deliverables as “fair and feasible” within project scope
- Executing project via relentless traits of leadership, speed, and sincerity
Once we are past the stage of “acceptance,” we usually follow through with execution, unless there is a capability issue on our part. If we do sense that, our duty would be to bring attention to it and get the right SME on board to achieve success for our clients.
Getting project managers past documentation and acceptance pretty much eliminates most of the barriers to demonstrating direct financial benefits for our customers. These Dollar benefits automatically lead to a tangible form of customer Delight, which was what we desired in the first place.
The 4th and 5th Ds of engaging with customers are achieved once the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd are: Documented, Accepted, and Executed!
- Define, Document, and Destroy their “In-Process and Outgoing Defects”
- Decapitate all causes leading to “Unacceptable Delays” and
- Decimate causes contributing to unacceptable “Process Deviations”
- Deliver the direct “Dollars” in benefits
- Dish out the “Delight” time after time
Defining these defects for our customers requires a deep understanding of what matters to them and how and as project managers we would scope our work to execute with devotion.
On one of those projects a few years ago, I asked my customers in response to their requirement of a specific project, on what their 3 Ds were. Boy, were they glad and I found that they just needed a minor analytical piece of work with their team as opposed to a major training event.
When we re-defined what their needs were based on internal surveys and external complaints, the following events took effect:
- Project scope was much less complex than drafted
- People involved were far fewer than projected
- Primary investment in consulting days was significantly lowered
- Project execution time decreased, and
- Process sustained for a longer time than expected
As a result of this engagement and a deeper understanding of their needs, it was much easier for me to accept what I needed to execute as opposed to barreling them with a traditional “training the army” gig. While a detailed dialogue and understanding on one hand lowered my revenue significantly in billing, I however gained customer credibility like never before, and sought additional contractual engagements across the organization.
I gravitate my client discussions with queries such as “are you particular about the “smoke-stack” approach of consulting traditionally to feel good and great, or do you prefer effectiveness and efficiency to help sustain the gains over a long period in time? Of course while they delay in response, they choose the latter by with flexible options to move forward.
“As I share this message across, I can’t stress how important it is for us project managers to avoid the very errors in our practices outside of the customers’ business that our customers pay us for while we execute in their processes.”
As 21st century “Millennium Project Managers,” we should strive as leaders, to make every effort and delight our customers on a proactive basis.
“The only things constant about change is change.” – Heraclitus Herakôn
Given the access to the Internet and various other technological tools and techniques, project managers in this millennium should understand the need, accept it and execute change as part of their integration with customers, vendors, and partners.
For example, most project managers operating as independent business owners tend to work several contractual jobs in parallel, while maintaining confidentiality across these clients in their work as well as personal computers. While taking on the complexity of multiple email accounts, project mangers can increase their credibility with customers by making a change in their virtual lives and gaining an edge in their professionalism as well as success.
“I’d Rather Be Loved Than Be Judged.” – Dr. T
Project Managers may have to work with their contracting organization while in parallel delight the end customers. So they end up facing the needs of two organizations, one their contracting agency or business and the other being the end customer where projects need an execution to closure. Sometimes these situations can be sticky and walking a fine line may be new challenge for several project manager professionals.
My 5-Rule Mantra has helped me overcome barriers in multiple projects that you may also want to consider as listed below:
- When I deal indirectly with the end customer, my true customer is the contracting agency or business professional that brought me the gig, not the end customer and so I should keep my first contact delighted and they would make sure I am able to deliver to success for their customer (s).
- Regardless of what the customer says or expresses to me, I should pacify them, and respond after counsel from my contracting business leader.
- Even if I were on the right track, I wouldn’t confront the customer or any business leader(s), but invite them to meet physically or virtually.
- There are no guarantees for zero errors or mistake-free situations in such a relationship with the customer. Face them boldly, and in general, if it would help, apologize sincerely for the situation, while rapidly resolving with an attitude of learning without having to be defensive.
- Lastly, avoid responding to controversial emails during late hours. If and when you do face a situation, draft your response to think out loud, but never send it. Come back a day or so later and ask yourself, “Would I want one of my team members to write this way to my paying customer, if I were the first line contact?
Change is not that easy as we have to constantly deal with our egos. Working with teams in a meeting room, physically or virtually is equally challenging. Time zones change and our sleep hours are not increasing any time soon. Find ways to determine where is it worth battling, and where do I need to withdraw. At the project end, we wish client to renew contracts, rather than being called, Mr. Right.