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Understanding Customer Expectations

Ranganathan Jagannathan
General Manager - Projects

Expect the Unexpected!

As the saying goes, Customer is King and as consultants, one can serve them well only when he/she understands precisely the user expectations and here are some dimensions on what Users expect from consultants in their day-to-day interactions with them:

First things First Sharpen the ACT
Customers have high expectations on the business consultants and before I go through various aspects in detail, I highlight here the basics that one must get them right in meeting customer expectations -
Attitude - Attitude is everything and the consultants must display complete ownership and brim with positive attitude towards the task at hand

Competence - Consultants must possess and portray excellent skills and expertise in the subject matter that he/she represents

Ttrustworthiness Customers expect complete confidentiality of the information being shared and consultants need to maintain high standards of professional integrity - it is very important to build customers€™ confidence that engagement will be all fair and above board.

Bring in comfort during interactions
The interactions with users should be very cordial and professional - right from personal appearance to verbal communication to gestures matter in creating an appeal. Besides, consultants should also look out for any discomfort amongst the users during the discussions, so that this can be addressed then and there or make note of it, so that you can close the loop later. While the published schedules would drive the project, one must be reasonably flexible to accommodate any customer priorities without impacting the overall progress.

Interactions to be well planned, participatory and engaging
Customers tend to watch out for whether consultants draw ideas and alternatives for implementation through discussion and affirmation, and not thrust solutions. In order to provide this positive customer experience, consultants must have done thorough research on the customer organization and their industry, prior to the engagement, so that all the key information is at hand. As part of engagement, consultants should ensure that he/she takes note of assumptions and brings out all implicit requirements. The solutions should be jointly worked out, by letting the users understand all the implications.

Dig through the information clutter
Consultants must dig through the information provided and what users have explicitly asked, to elicit what they really ‘need’. In order to do this, listening is very important – Talk time should be minimized. Once the information is digested, consultant must project the true picture of how the requirement will be addressed providing clear explanation / reasons why particular solution was chosen over the available alternatives with all key information and ensuring that the commitments are clear. The solution should provide not only for today’s business but provide for anticipated changes, which would depend largely on consultant’s ability to spot them clearly and early!

Watch the clock
Users tend to be very watchful of their time, as some of them may be dividing time between the day-to-day functional responsibilities and the implementation. Hence, consultants must value the timelines of the users and display a sense of urgency, but without undue haste. This requires consultants to be alert and ensure that one is not “moving away†from the subject matter, by meticulously keeping track of progress against the planned milestones.

Equip the users
Consultants must be able to bring fresh insights on the best practices and ensure that all bases (read processes) are covered. The users must not perceive that the solution is being dressed up to meet customer’s need and that it may not address their future business needs. Wherever possible, customer should be able to feel and play around with the solution before they agree on it – consultants should be able to address the challenges thrown at them by the customers, during this process. Also, the users would expect that the consultants use the right tools and be able to relate live scenarios to trigger user understanding.

Sweat the small stuff
I read somewhere, “Elephants don’t bite, but mosquitoes do†in the context of how even the small things matter in dealing with customers. One must treat users with respect, which will come out clearly through how much you know of their business and their language (business vocabulary). Customers crave for common courtesies and little things can go a long way to establish trust and rapport and create customer acceptance of your efforts to resolve problems as and when they arise. Explain from customer’s point of view – when you are facing the customer, their right side is not the same as yours!

Last but not the least…
One must take care of all above aspects in dealing with the customers, without in any way undermining their Culture, specific Organizational Situation, People and their Roles.

Post-script: Below is a link to an interesting article on Customer Intimacy. The case for customer intimacy was brought out by the framework that was developed in the 1990s by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema in their book, “Discipline of Market Leadersâ€. In the book, the authors outlined three basic “value disciplines†that can create customer value and provide a competitive advantage viz., Operational excellence, product leadership and customer excellence: