Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Implementation Trauma AGAIN!!

So, continuing on my theme, I'm back with number two on our list of sins from a few weeks ago.  Let's take a bit closer look at how these can sink an implementation from the start.  As a refresher, number two on the list for consultants was "Forgetting that customer service is important even during the heat of an implementation" and the companion to this for customers is "Approaching the consulting team as adversaries instead of partners."

Both of these may seem obvious when we see them in writing, but in the stress of an implementation, these items are often forgotten. And when that happens, a positive experience can quickly turn sour. First, let's look at the customer service sin.  Consider the following scenario:

Ralph is a good consultant.  He has put in long hours on the implementation, and has worked hard to keep it on time and under budget.  He has also been diligent in training and documenting every step of the way.  So when he receives a call from the client asking the same question, yet again, he lets his frustration slip through.  Maybe he lets the voicemail linger a bit longer before returning it.  Or maybe he emails back a reference to the documentation or the training, without actually answering the question.  Many of you reading this might wonder, so what?  Don't customers need to take responsibility for their learning?  Sure they do.  And, yet, we have to continue to approach customers with good faith throughout the process.  This means assuming that they are asking because THEY DON"T KNOW THE ANSWER.  Not because they are lazy, or they weren't paying attention, or even that they aren't smart (we all have witnessed this consulting sin-- speaking to users like they aren't intelligent).  Yes, there may be a larger issue to be addressed regarding user investment in the process, and yes, users who are too dependent on consultants can create budget issues in the long run.  But, from a customer service perspective, we have to handle these issues professionally.  Answer the question, and escalate the risk to your project manager or sponsor.

On a side note, whenever I find myself frustrated with these sorts of things-- I remind myself of every consulting horror story I have been told by customers. You know the ones.  Where you can't believe that the customer who you love working with was treated so badly.  It tends to snap me back in to the customer service mindset pretty quickly.

Another variation on this sin is when the consultant becomes too familiar with the client, and their interaction becomes so casual that it ignores the fact that customer service is involved.  This most often manifests itself as "griping". About the project. About the software.  About (oh, my) fellow consultants and/or client team members.  Yes, you might become friends with clients over the years, but you can never forget that within the confines of a project they are still your customer and deserve the service and discretion that comes along with that.  After all, they are paying for that :)

So, let's flip over to the customer side for awhile.  The sin of cultivating an adversarial relationship with the consultant is one that also often intensifies towards the end of an implementation.  The customer's staff is tired and minor bumps become more significant.  Consider the following scenario:

ABC Company has been through a number of software implementations in the past few years.  And none of them have gone very well.  They like their current consultant personally, but the customer feels that consulting is not about sharing knowledge or customer service- its about billing.  A lot.  So they want to get what they can from the consultants, but they really don't trust them. And over the course of the project, there have been a few minor bumps that have arisen (new requirements, additional costs, etc) that have just reinforced this perception. So, with the go live in sight, the stress level is high and the customer feels alone in the process with no one to trust.

As a customer, you need to pick consultants you can see yourself trusting when that trust is earned.  If you feel "scarred" by prior experiences, examine why the other projects failed.  Take those lessons in to your new project, and share those concerns with your consultants and ask them for their help in mitigating them. You want to form a partnership built on this trust, after all you are relying on these people to guide you in configuring your system and business processes.  Why would you pick someone you don't trust?  And let them in to your business' nerve center?  Along those same lines, as I discussed on the consulting side, you need to approach the process with good faith whenever possible. This means being honest about your concerns with the consulting team, assisting them in the identification and management of risks.  Acknowledging that all projects encounter changes, but what matters is how these changes are uncovered and how they are addressed.  And this can be done best when there is a partnership between the customer and consultants.

As a consultant, the projects that are approached in this way are the most rewarding to work on and the ones that I am most proud of professionally and personally. And, I have to say, most GOOD consultants take a lot of personal pride in their work and in happy customers! So find one of them to work with :)

A bit long winded tonight, but I hope you find the ramblings useful :)

Christina Phillips is a Microsoft Certified Trainer and Dynamics GP Certified Professional. She is a supervising consultant with BKD Technologies, providing training, support, and project management services to new and existing Microsoft Dynamics customers. This blog represents her views only, not those of her employer.

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