It’s well known that many software projects, begun with the best of intentions, run into difficulties during implementation.
According to the annual Chaos report from IT research company The Standish Group, fewer than 29% of projects worldwide can be classed as “successful”.
The problem doesn’t stop here, however. Once an implementation or upgrade is complete, it’s too easy for developers to move onto the next big thing, rather than taking the time to ensure that the solution satisfies the purpose it was designed for.
It’s also widely acknowledged that the reason behind many project failures is that the product or service delivered doesn’t match customer requirements.
The cause of this disconnect may range from a poor initial concept to a subsequent change in the customer’s needs, but in all cases, the better we understand our customers, the better our solutions.
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But how can this be achieved in practice? A satisfaction survey? Feedback forms? The reality is that you need to open multiple channels between you and your customers; here are a few that have worked for us.
1. Tech support: don’t waste an opportunity
It may be an obvious piece of advice, but it shouldn’t be overlooked; when someone calls in with a problem, it’s a great opportunity for you to begin a dialogue.
Don’t simply record the particular issue; train your team to ask how the rest of their systems are performing, and capture this feedback into your CRM and/or tracking system.
Having insights into more than just the original problem will mean you can provide a better level of service, and demonstrate to your customers that you are invested in their business as a whole.
2. User groups
It’s important to gather together people who are using your a particular product . If done on a regular basis, it’s not just an opportunity for you to find out how your users feel about your product, it also allows them to talk to one another.
More often than not, this results in the sharing of knowledge about unused features, or tricks and tips that help them make better use of your solutions.
Moreover, regular user groups can provide you with the chance to discuss your future product plans and to find out whether you’re still on the right track.
Even a year can bring about significant changes in user requirements!
3. Pick up the phone!
One of the biggest challenges for you as a supplier is to reach the right people at your customers’ organisations.
It’s too easy to forget that the procurement officer, who was such an important contact during the negotiation process, will probably have little to contribute to the relationship once the software has been implemented.
If you want to talk to the people that matter, pick up the phone and speak to your customer contacts. And this means contacting every single one of them.
If you can call one twelfth of all your customer contacts every month, you’ll have an invaluable source of feedback, closer relationships with your customers and a spotless contacts database.
4. Community matters
Don’t restrict the contact with your customers to a small customer relationship team. Involve as many of your employees as possible so that they are fully engaged with everything you’re trying to achieve.
Rocket Software found that developers themselves can be a huge source of inspiration – and internal hackathon days throw up some amazing ideas – so do as much as you can to establish communication between your wider team and your customers. If they are willing, get them calling customers too.
5. Understand what’s next
Finally, try to go beyond the nitty gritty of day-to-day operations. You need to know not only about your customers’ needs today, but about what they will want in two years’ time.
What are they starting to worry about? What new trends are putting pressure on their business?
To obtain this type of feedback you need to aim high. Target the senior executives in the organisation and offer them a forum that allows them to talk freely about what’s next. You may be surprised to find that many industry leaders will make time to do this if offered the opportunity to discuss their concerns with their peers and with you. An informal half day session featuring a free ranging discussion can reveal anything from impending data protection issues to competitive pressure for a mobile platform. Understanding these needs before the matters become urgent will put you at a huge advantage.
6. Tell them what’s new
Don’t just make this type of session a one-way street. Report back on what you’ve learned to show that you were listening, and take the opportunity to share what’s new in the industry.
What’s the next big technology? How will cognitive computing help them in a couple of years’ time? What role will Bitcoin or Blockchain play in their business? In this way, without selling to them, you begin to create a true partnership between equals that is of real value to both parties.
The need for customer feedback is evident to all, but it’s surprising how few software companies do more than just the basics.
If you’re serious about being a partner, not simply a supplier, you need to put in the effort. It requires significant investment, but the rewards are invaluable. It’s worth taking the time to look at your organisation, consider the steps above, and learn to listen.
Sourced by George Smyth, Director of R&D, Rocket Software