Let Him Speak!

Sometimes, All Sizes Don’t Fit One!

Growing business is a strenuous exercise. The front end has to work incredibly hard for each customer M3 acquisition. Then, sometimes, new business opportunities effortlessly mushroom up from the most unexpected quarters. Our chance relationship with Surya Sarda was triggered off by one such unlikely sequence of events.

Nineteen Ninety Seven: Cybage signed IMSI as one of its early customers. ~Two years later: some IMSI executives quit, joined rival Visio and initiated a noncompetitive outsourcing relationship with Cybage. ~Two months later: Microsoft bought Visio, and decided to discontinue its flagship line—IntelliCAD. ~Two weeks later: the IntelliCAD value-added resellers joined hands to conceive “IntelliCAD Technology Consortium” for enhancement of parent product. The consortium was to be rotationally headed by each member company of ITC. Surya Sarda, President of CADopia , was at the helm of ITC when the consortium decided to engage Cybage as its outsourcing partner.

Of course, this passing-the-parcel game had taken its toll. In contrast to our booming relationship with IMSI, our partnership with ITC was of a minuscule proportion. Fortunately, sustenance was easy, deliveries were smooth, and the tiny scale did not warrant any complex action points from relationship management front. Yet, for a service company, all customers are “important”. Important enough that they need to be periodically told that they are important!

One such telling trip found me driving down a couple of hours from LAX to Surya’s doorsteps in southern California. It is not unusual to go knocking on the doors of your small startup customers because very often they operate out of their houses. The door opened, and the formal delivery management meeting lasted all of a solitary hour including mutual weather-sharing pleasantries. As the pauses started getting longer, it was time for me to politely usher myself out. I rushed to my car to grab the customary souvenir Cybage T-shirt to hand over to Surya.

And that’s when the ‘stumping’ incident transpired! Surya blankly stared at the T-shirt for a moment, his expressions struggling to say something…then it appeared he had a change of mind as he hurriedly retreated into his house with a curt “I will be right back”. Surya was back in a jiffy, carrying a small transparently gift-wrapped parcel that looked starkly familiar. You see, it was an identical T-shirt as the one I was fidgeting with! This time, words managed to escape his lips “Please take back this unused T-shirt that you had given me last time. I had cautioned you earlier during Visio days that I don’t wear anything with third party logos”! I awkwardly made my way back to the car—the hands confusingly shuffling with my doubled possessions, the mind confusingly try to sort out what exactly had transpired!

Several years have passed. So has the confusion. When the customer speaks, and we don’t listen attentively to ALL that he expresses, we are effectively reducing him to a Gandhian monkey with his mouth better off shut! These days, many professionals spend too much time absorbing all the big things the customer has to convey. There is nothing wrong in focusing on the BIG picture, as long as we don’t forget to read the messages between the strokes on the picture! As the popular saying goes “a picture speaks a thousand words”! The question is—are we always listening??

Now before we jump over to join the next monkey troupe, I need some help to put my lingering confusions to final rest. Some say that when it comes to personal relationships, it is not the BIG issues that break up a marriage, rather a myriad of SMALL day-to-day incompatibilities between the partners. I wonder how much of this reasoning is applicable to commercial relationships! Which business association is exposed to a greater risk? a) Where daily customer synchronization is at its professional best, but there are occasional milestone slippages! or b) Where the daily interactions with the customer are poorly handled, but when it comes to milestones—they are invariably delivered in a timely fashion!



Customer, Original, Style, Understand

10 Comments

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  1. I think that the second one is exposed to a greater risk. If the deliveries are happening on time, but there is not enough (read efficient) communication/interaction with the client, then for the short term the customer will be happy, but over a period of time, this inefficient communication may lead to business risks.

    Instead, the first option will fare better. Because, even though the milestones are slipping occaisonally, the better synchronization of the team with the customer ensures that both parties can come to a solution to this problem in a professional, well thought over manner.

  2. Second option is on more risk as there is a poorly handled interaction with customers. Even though milestones are delivered in timely manner in past there may be chance to miss in future and it will have greater impact on customer as communication is poor. On the contrary first option though milestones are slipped sometimes, customer may be aware of slippage and reasons due to which it had happened because of good daily synchronization.

  3. Both factors are complementary in nature for developing customer relationships, milestones are important from professional point of view but daily customer synchronizations help build personal relationships in short span of time. If inefficiencies are causing Milestone slippages and they are affecting customer business then the relationship holds little value from customer point of view. But again daily customer synchronizations help create comfort zones, confidence in organizations/teams ability to deliver and which intern provide a cushioning effect to professional slippages up to certain extent. But this confidence would not last long if mutually agreed milestones are getting slipped on continual basis. So I would say to build a relationship quickly, for building comfort zones or for building confidence daily customer synchronizations are important but again core value for customer would always rest in achieving Milestones in timely fashion and only this can help customers get true value out of the relationship.
    Thanks for provoking me to think about this topic.

  4. I am also inclined to choose “b” and have personal preference for “b” type of customers but when I think of a capitalistic mindset from customer’s end then I am inclined to choose “a” as a greater risk as at times working out relationship with a tough customer (due to various reasons) may not be an easy ballgame but if the data speaks about success then it’s not as much a risk. So the weightage of risk is always situation and customer dependent while we always try to have a good marriage in the engagement, not leading to a divorce and which obviously means having Humility, Patience, Preservance and effective listening with the customer, like any other relationship.

  5. I think first option(a) is at greater risk than option(b).This is my personal experience is that delivery comes first for most of the customers.Now on top of that if you can take care of individual likes/dislikes,cultural aspects,etc. of the customer then it is liking icing on the cake.I think that in customer management one must be conscious of this point also but as per me is of lower priority than delivery as long as one does not commit a blunder on other part.

  6. The point of view to answer this question will differ. I know what I am about to say is something not really spoken about but definitely practiced.

    a) Where daily customer synchronization is at its professional best, but there are occasional milestone slippages!
    This aspect is something which will go down as a blunder where its a start up organization taking care of its customer. Here, its important that daily customer synchronization is at its best and occasional milestone slippages are a course of learning experiences. Every mistake as a vendor one makes (occasional one), has a direct effect on organization, head of organization, team and the possible outcomes but not since the service stands out in terms of performance cannot be as lethal as loosing an account.

    b) Where the daily interactions with the customer are poorly handled, but when it comes to milestones—they are invariably delivered in a timely fashion!
    Here the organization which are leaping in big ways of success stories come to play. The effect is, if daily interaction part is handled poorly, can lead to escalations, change in teams, change in leadership(project level), etc. etc. where a perfect mix will be tried to leverage out the best possible outcome that can lead to stabalize the project.
    When stable, a milestone part we think about is often sealed off when we deliver in times of need of client or just help to come out with flying colors when not expected.

    A perfect blend is really difficult to achieve here but not impossible. How about a case where, everything is smooth on daily as well as milestone basis but the client walks out due to a merger, takeover (like passing the buck in above case where Cybage had a win win situation) or bankruptcy in the past.

    The experience and effort is always for perfection but still, slippages are something which should be taken as a learning experience which prepares roadmap for glory. 🙂

  7. Arun,
    I have read your blog over time and do enjoy your thoughts and writing …
    Thanks for sharing.
    Minoti

  8. Valuable anecdote by Arun here. If I had to chose one and because there is no item (c) All of the above, I would think that (b) major milestones delivery success, is relatively more important. A major milestone, if delivered well, will ensure long term success of customers’ business. All minor conflicts arise from a larger problem to begin with and all minor problems, if too often repeated, would become major issues, resulting in mutual loss.

    There are times when we misinterpret or completely overlook what are tell-tale signs that the customer or the prospect is saying something in his/her own way. This is detrimental in any stage of the business relationship – budding, growing, mature or deteriorating. Equally important is the part that even when the customer is probably communicating a favorable sign, it might get missed.

    There is no respite from the need to maintain professional goodwill at all times at all stages of communication by all stake holders. The communication flows upwards as well as downwards at both ends namely the service provider and the customers. All stake holders would need to take responsibility to ensure an enduring and trusting business relationship while continually providing customer delight by giving better inputs, showing shortcoming in customer inputs with relevant solution scenarios, being upfront/proactive of impending problems, appreciating the customers’ support and helping create a win-win situation.

  9. All Sizes Don’t Fit One!
    So, none of the above. 🙂

  10. Hi Arun,

    I have joined Cybage recently and this is your first blog I have gone through. Well, what my personal experience says is that the occasional milestone slippages is what Customers never want, but, are reluctantly expecting and are aware that this is what is usually inevitable in deliveries of such a scale. So, in the cases where the daily customer synchronization is at its professional best, they might ignore the delivery slippages up to an extent.

    And yes, this will be my first lesson learnt in Cybage after reading your blog, which will assuredly assist me in my engagements with the Customers.

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Let Him Speak! | Arun Nathani Blog