October 5, 2009

Staying Aligned with Your Customers

When you’re an organization providing services to clients it is important to check in every once in a while to make sure the relationship between the two companies is still sound.

At the beginning of an engagement both parties typically complete at least some amount of due diligence and agree that the business goals are attractive for both sides. If over the course of the relationship, high-level strategic communication doesn’t take place, then that due diligence becomes stale and potentially worthless. You may not find that significant disconnects exist until major damage is already done to the relationship through project failure, or even a complete dissolution of the engagement. These risks can be mitigated by having what we at Waverley call a Customer Review (similar to what’s known as a QBR) on a regular basis, about 3-4 times a year.

Some customers won’t want to take the time. The Customer Review process is external to what we’re being paid to do and clients can sometimes have a hard time seeing the benefit, but it is crucial for the long term success of our relationship. We try to help our clients understand that finding strategic misalignment early will save them money over the long run and help verify that Waverley is providing the best service possible.

The Customer Review is a face-to-face meeting in a conference room with the management of both companies in attendance. We ask that all sponsor executives as well as direct managers of the project attend from the client’s side. Following are some of the things that should be covered in the meeting, in addition to items important to us and/or each of our client’s stakeholders.

Presented by us:

  1. History of the relationship, accomplishments since last Customer Review
  2. Your company health, growth of the company, new areas of expertise, etc

Presented by our client:

  1. Past project success in the marketplace, lessons learned, health of current project, etc.
  2. Future roadmap, business strategy, product plans

Group input during meeting:

  1. Issues and difficulties currently hindering productivity
  2. Action items for next Customer Review

We find that if we meet in this brief, semi-formal way with our customers on a regular basis, we understand them better and can anticipate their needs more proactively. This builds trust, enables us to provide a higher quality of service, and ultimately leads to better software for our clients.