My first job out of college was building, installing and implementing software that scheduled agents in a call center. For it’s time, this was a state of the art application. It took into account each agent’s skills, languages spoken, times available, shift preferences and even the kind of media they preferred to handle. All of this was factored into a scheduling engine that analyzed, optimized and came up with a schedule that could increase a call center’s efficiency by 100% or more. So imagine my surprise when the first request from most customers during an implementation was “show us how to enter our current schedule into your system and that’s it.”
Think about that for a second. They just spent a considerable amount of money on a state of the art system that was easy to use and much faster than anything they had before; a system that could give them 100% better results, and what they asked it to do was maintain the status quo. That’s sort of like me telling you “I have an app here that can help you get 100% healthier in under a week. It will analyze your exercise and eating habits, look at your preferences and dislikes and then spit out an exercise and nutrition program that you’ll enjoy and fits into your schedule. This system is easy to use and will grow with you adapting to your needs.” Now you take this system and use it for nothing more than tracking your weight. Crazy, right?
Except this situation repeated itself at every single company and with every single product I’ve ever built. Each and every time we sold the customer a highly advanced system that could take what they’re doing and optimize it for much better results, and the most common response was “just show me how to use your system to do what I’m doing today”. In some cases there were valid reasons for a certain lack of flexibility, reasons like union contracts or government regulations, but even in these situations the lack of flexibility wasn’t complete. Yet even these customers refused to optimize within the limited constraints they had. Every where I went the status quo was always preferred, even when presented with a tool that could make life easier.
The result? Software implementation that were barely used and customers that were disappointed with results that never measured up to the promises they heard during the sales process.
Who’s To Blame?
It’s easy to blame customers for this. They seem like fools for purchasing a system and then never using it. How is this anything but their fault? However, what option did they have? They asked a question and we answered. We never told them there was a better way.
In a way, we failed to understand what our role as a vendor is. We thought it was to do everything they tell us to do when it’s actually to provide them with a better solution. So we followed their lead and we didn’t propose or suggest a better way. We allowed the customer to take us down this road because we thought that’s how we can best help them. This is a mistake. The customer doesn’t know what our product can do and they don’t know how to use it. We do, we’re the experts and it’s responsibility to guide the implementation. We should not be asking “how would you like to use this product?”, we should be stating “Here’s how you should use the product!”
This isn’t easy by the way, it requires a partnership between the customer and the vendor. The customer’s responsibility is to clearly articulate the business problem they are trying to solve, their ideal goal and what success looks like. The vendor should listen to this and then suggest how the customer should use the product to achieve those. The suggestion should be clear enough so the customer knows exactly what their day to day work should be like.
This is what we do at Act-On, this is one of the reasons I came to this company. Because I saw a company with both a winning product and a winning customer success team. A team that didn’t just wait for customers to contact them but instead proactively reached out to customers suggesting a better way. A team that really was dedicated to customer success instead of just getting implementations done on time.
This attitude permeats the entire company from top to bottom. The CEO reads customer support requests and reaches out with responses and suggestions. The engineering team sits in on implementation calls. Even the marketing team gets into the act with roadshows that highlight successful marketing practices and how our customers can implement it.
The company as a whole understands that our customers’ success is our success and that a happy customer is the best marketing we could ask for. I hope to be here for a very long time, but if and when I leave, it will never be for another company that asks “how would you like us to implement this product for you?”