Good Service, Part III

As I discussed in Part I of this series, the experience of Good Service develops from a feeling of being “conveyed.” Parts 1 and 2 of this series talked about:

  1. Make promises and follow through
  2. Internalize and discuss client concerns
  3. Assume responsibility for communications
  4. Show Confidence In Your Ability To Execute
  5. Be Flexible
  6. Diversify Your Skills

This article completes the series.

7) Receive, Analyze, Feedback

While maintaining a shared understanding and showing the client they are being heard is a relief, more impressive is applying a little bit of analysis to their concerns, such that you can organize them in a way that displays not only understanding, but intelligence and thoughtfulness on their behalf. Customers are not impressed by "order-takers" - they much prefer those who add value by being opinionated and by challenging the current understanding of, or solution to, the problem at hand.

Let’s call this the “Receive, Analyze, and Feedback loop”. Some examples:

  • If you have a meeting, post the organized minutes back to them in an email. Better yet, additionally post them on an extranet or wiki or other project space prepared for them if there will be more than one set of minutes over the length of the project. Consistently ask for feedback on the minutes to validate understanding.
  • If you are talking about requirements at a high level, organize their thoughts by creating a feature list or use-case list, broken up into reasonable functional areas and with assigned priorities, for extra credit.
  • Throw in some ideas of your own that have occurred to you based on your understanding of what they're trying to accomplish. Push back a bit on things you don't think make sense, or could be improved. Provide a couple of ideas for features that they might serve their goals.

8) Collaborate!

Work openly and in concert with your customer to respond to their needs. To support better collaboration, employ:

  • Communication Transparency; Answer their questions as directly as you can. Give them access to the information that they need when they ask for it. Show them the deliverables as they are being created rather than all in one shot at the end.
  • Process Transparency; Talk about and show them every activity in which you’re involved, even the ones that are giving you difficulty, e.g. construction, bug fixing, issue management, time management, resourcing, etc. Don’t hide anything from the client about their project for fear of judgement or reprisal.
  • Continuous interactivity and reporting; Provide notes, discussions, bug lists, issue lists, mockups, half-working software, estimates, timesheets – whatever they’re interested in to track progress. Make this easy by employing lightweight collaborative online tools.
  • Seating Arrangements; sit people together in your project areas, rather than employing the outsourcing or “virtual office” concept. Reorganize the seating arrangements when people move between different projects.
  • Knowledge Sharing; share knowledge with each other and the client through presentations and training.
  • Well-defined Communications Plans and Project Charters; these documents state how information will flow between stakeholders during the project, and provide formal points of interface between the members of the collaborating team. They talk about responsibilities, how issues are resolved, who delivers what to whom and when, etc. Creating these shows the customer you are organized, and makes them want to be organized too.

9) Use Your Creativity

It’s impossible to test for creativity, or to prove that you have it. Give examples of how you’ve been creative in the past, and how your company is organized to encourage it. To aid with this, we’ve chosen to spend a bit more at Jonah Group to have a work environment that we believe fosters creativity. You can too:

  • Employ flexible hours; low politics; a bright space with an open concept and good light and volume. If you can’t entrust your staff to work on flextime, hire diligent people you think can trust.
  • Employ a fairly flat organizational hierarchy; use hierarchy only to facilitate communication and decision-making.
  • Provide ample opportunities to meet each other socially and talk to one another
  • Encourage people to talk about how they’ve solved problems creatively in the past
  • Encourage participation and speaking one’s mind openly. This helps to allow ideas to germinate and flourish.

10) Define a Clear, Valuable Result

I can’t speak to how you do what you do, but all team members need to know what their target is, and why it’s worth pursuing. We call this a “Clear, Valuable Result.” This is the key metric for defining what would be considered a project success.

  • Spell out in detail what the customer will receive for the money they spend. Don’t gloss over details.
  • At the proposal stage, be detailed where you think they require explanation, and be brief where they already understand.
  • Define the success criteria up front. Try to somehow touch on these briefly in every document, email, and phone call to help show that you will be connecting the dots along the way between the work and the result.
  • Always be able to trace each requirement to one of the key success criteria. Always relate the work effort back to one of the success criteria.

In summary, to give Good Service you must use understanding, collaboration, and creativity to provide your customers with a uniquely positive experience and a clear, valuable result.

One more thing – don’t forget to deliver! Only you know how to do what you do, but in the end your job is to meet all of the success criteria you’ve agreed on. Don’t let anything get in the way of delivering on your promises. Leave no doubt in the customer’s mind that they got everything they paid for, and more.

  1. I would like to add a few more items to the “Good service” list.
    1. Anticipating your clients needs before he / she voices them is a good way to stay ahead of the competition.
    2. Good memory – remembering issues which came up in the past and your history with the client will make him / her see that your business relationship is important to you.
    3. Enthusiasm – just like confidence, is contagious.

    May 25th, 2010
  2. Indeed. On the “good memory” side of things, I’d add that keeping a record of the reasons behind important decisions helps the client to trust you over the long term.

    Jeremy Chan
    May 25th, 2010

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