This is a guest post by Nic Bryson of Wrike.
It’s your client who determines the success of your product or service. To make sure you perfectly meet your customer’s expectations and needs, the winning strategy might be to involve them in your work. When you maintain a close interaction with your customer, this approach can help you get a step ahead of your competitors. We can find examples in various industries. For instance, in software development, a constant dialogue with users helps to better understand their habits and ensure your tool’s features match the need. In design, this prevents possible misunderstandings as you move the project forward. Today, Web apps make it easier to share work and discuss it as you progress. But along with new opportunities, new questions arise.
In this post, I’d like to outline the best practices from my own experience in a fast paced company providing online project management software and the examples shared by some of our customers.
When to start a dialog?
One of the main challenges for any dynamic online business is to make sure the delivered results meet your client’s expectations. To avoid misunderstandings regarding the goals between you and your customer, it would be helpful to organize a meeting or online conference discussing his or her needs in detail. Besides getting the practical information, this is a starting point for showing how much you value their opinion and want to meet their needs. For instance, one of our Japanese clients shares that in Japan it may take several face-to-face meetings simply to build trust between you and another party. Though American business etiquette seems to be much simpler, make sure your team pays enough attention to this stage of your relationship with a customer, as it’s the basis of further deeper involvement.
In the beginning collaboration stages, you may need to clarify which means of communication are convenient for the client to keep him or her in the loop. When there’s no possibility of face-to-face meetings, it’s important to choose the right tools to establish personal communication. As for email, it’s not the most efficient means for intensive collaboration: sending chains of emails back and forth slows things down, and some of them get lost in the depths of your inbox. Skype, instant messengers, and online meeting tools bring more speed and visual contact into the communication process, and it could take only 15-20 minutes every one or two weeks to share the latest news and receive feedback. In general, people don’t want to learn new tools, so it’s always better to build the communication around the tools the client already uses.
Take advantage of every opportunity
Even negative interaction can serve as a starting point for your dialog. Many times customers may contact you when they want to complain about something. This can be a good time to turn a frustrated customer into your consultant. Of course, the primary goal is to address their problem with an answer or help them fix it. But sometimes, there is no good answer, and this is an ideal time to turn things into a discussion about how to fix their problem with further product improvement.
Fine-tune the scope of involvement throughout the project
Once the contact has been successfully established, the next stage of the relationship is to keep a customer involved throughout different project stages. One of our customers, who runs an online marketing agency, suggests looking for the right combination of tools to achieve flexibility, since each client wants a different level of involvement.
Some customers love having full control over the project, and even want to assign particular tasks to particular team members and check the minor updates. In this case, an online project management tool is a handy solution to share your plans and even discussions for a particular task with them.
Other clients don’t want to go into project management at all and instead, they just need updates on the project schedule. In this case, you can integrate the tasks you keep online with Google Calendar, so that they could check it once in a while.
Also, it’s useful to keep in mind what kind of feedback you need to get from your customer on each project stage. For getting more precise results, it’s better not only collect all of the customer references about your product in general, but also to reach out to them with particular questions you’re interested in. If the client’s feedback doesn’t help, the reason might be that you’re asking the wrong question.
Integrating feedback with further development
Here comes the key part of the whole involvement process – how the feedback you received will affect your future roadmap? Directly implementing the ideas your customers suggested can be a trap. They aren’t necessarily specialists in your field, so they try to give their best guess about a possible solution. That’s why it’s more of a balancing act between customers’ responses and your expertise of the area and business environment – something a customer can’t do from their point of view. In my work, I always try to come directly to the point – what are they really saying? What need can be addressed if you read between the lines?
One of our customers, a software development company, shares that they log all ideas they get from customers as tasks with no due date into the system and then discuss on regular team meetings which of them need to be implemented in the current iteration of the project or product. Such an approach ensures they have full control over the direction, while important feedback doesn’t fall through the cracks.
Not every idea should be taken “as is”
Value your customer, but remember that not every comment you get from him can be helpful. Sometimes your “loudest” customers are not the ones that will be a good resource for constructive feedback. Some people tend to be dissatisfied with any service and product, and some may have very complex and unique needs uncommon for your other customers. Thus, working hard on finding a solution for them won’t help widespread use or adoption. It’s always better to aggregate the feedback from as many clients as you can to get an unbiased picture.
Looking at your business from a customers’ point of view will help you create more value for them and will give you a great advantage in the globally-competitive market of today. Remember it is a continuous process that requires you to constantly adapt your workflow and experiment with different tools and approaches to find the best ones for your business.
Nic Bryson is VP of Customer Success at Wrike, a leading provider of project management software. His 7-year experience of working on the customer experience side of the software industry includes expertise in the management of sales, support, community building and more. He also strives for continuous development of customer feedback channels through various public and private moderation methods and tools, and successful incorporation of customer needs with ongoing product improvement. Working at a high level, Nic collaborates with all levels of the organization to keep customers’ voices and interests as a driving force behind corporate and product advancement.
Image by rachaelvoorhees
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