Saturday, September 24, 2011

Why The Customer Is Not Always Right

One risk when doing a CRM project is giving the client EVERYTHING they ask for. This might be a strange thing to say. After all, isn’t the client always right? The answer is an emphatic “no!”

The reason I say this is, often in CRM projects, the client asks for everything which would be ‘nice to have’. The client does not always realise that to give them precisely what they ask for will, to put it plainly, cost a small fortune. If you are building on top of a platform, like Dynamics CRM, some things are easy to deliver, some things are more difficult. The value a consultant brings to the table is separating one from the other.

The trick is to always consider the cost of delivering an item and the benefit it is going to bring.

How Accurate Do We Have To Be?

My personal feeling is absolute accuracy is not essential as long as the cost-benefit is being considered by the consultant and the client. For example, it is common for a client to ask for a Word template to be converted to work within CRM. This is a relatively easy procedure taking, say, a couple of hours, depending on the complexity of the template. However, it is also pretty easy to export a list of contacts out of CRM and then point the existing Word template to it, saving that consulting work.

The question is not whether it can be done (it can) or whether the client has asked for it (they have) but whether the cost is worth the saving in time and the general convenience. In this case, the client and I guessed exporting the spreadsheet and using this would add an extra five minutes to the process. This process was done around five times a day, taking just shy of half an hour a day. This then equates to about two hours a week, or almost a day of work each month. In consideration of that, a couple of hours of template rework suddenly seems reasonable.

In another case the client wanted to add a button to the ribbon so that when a set of contacts are selected, their e-mail addresses were copied to the clipboard for pasting elsewhere. Setting up this little gem is not simple and would take, say, half a day to a day. An alternative would be to simply highlight the records in CRM and use the Excel export to get them out of CRM. From Excel it was then a case of copying the e-mail addresses. When the alternatives were put to the client, the client agreed the Excel export was a better option for them as they did not do the process that frequently and the cost would not save significant effort.

Every project has elements like this where the “developer’s solution” may give the client exactly what they want but not what they need.

What Is So Bad About Giving The Client Exactly What They Are After?

From a consulting perspective, what I am suggesting sounds like suicide. I am suggesting, as a consultant, is to push back on work a client is more than willing for you to perform. Here is the problem. Your job, as a consultant, is not to do stuff for people without question; it is to be a trusted advisor.

The client who spends a fortune in phase one of a CRM solution will not sue you and will acknowledge you have delivered nothing they did not ask for but when it comes to phase two, there will be no phase two. When it comes to recommending the software they will say “it works really well but it wasn’t cheap and you might want to shop around”. When it comes to recommending you they will say “he was really friendly and helpful but now that we have used the product we are finding we do not need half the things we asked for. It is a shame he did not tell us about the features and push back a little more”.


Never be afraid to tell the client they are wrong if it is in their best interest. Your job, as a consultant, is not to tell them things CAN be done but whether they SHOULD be done. If the client is asking for functionality which, you suspect they will never see benefit from, tell them or, even better, lead them through the exercise of working it out for themselves. By doing a quick cost-benefit consideration you not only validate your thinking on the subject , you generate client buy-in for the ultimate decision.

The other benefit of such an exercise is the transparency it brings to the process. With a choice of meeting their needs exactly, using out-of-the-box functionality plus a little effort or abandoning the requirement completely, the decision can be made with all eyes open.

While the system will not be the Utopian vision they WANTED, no software system ever is and it will be the system they NEED. More importantly, the client will see significant benefit and will respect you as a trusted advisor.


Dave Berry said...

Couldn't agree more. Consultants should have an obligation to do what's best, and the customer can hardly be trusted to know what that is when their familiarity with the system is limited at best. The factors of determining what is "best" vary in each scenario, but a good consultant and system designer is far better at making that determination than the customer--otherwise, they're just a glorified code-monkey.

Greg Simmons said...

Couldn't have said it better myself Leon! As consultants we can also protect our customers from "tinkering around the edges" rather than focusing on utilising the generic capability - how it was designed. To do that we need to take people out of their comfort zone through process.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree, and I tend to towards the view that since the client has decided to "consult" me then I ought to give honest, considered answers based on my experience, rather than sucking up to them to deliver things they don't need.

A case in point is too many email notifications. When I am working on systems already in place, such as on an upgrade project, I often wonder why the previous consultant has simply rolled over and put workflows all over the place to send emails for trivial events such as someone completing a task they have been assigned.

A view of "Open tasks I created but not currently owned by me" (or likewise "Recently closed...") would seem to be a much easier way to present this, and has the added bonus of making it easy to check on the ones that have not been done, as well as the ones that have.

Mike Marti said...

Good post! I have recently been trying to do research on CRM Solution and this was very helpful.

Christopher Goulds said...

Completely agree here as well. As a consultant, the base service you offer has to be offering a solution to a clients needs. You are the one with the knowledge, the know how and the experience to give them exactly what they need. If you let them demand more than they need, they're not going to take the blame themselves, but lay it squarely on the person that was supposed to guide them to make a wise investment that will benefit their company. It's suicide to give in, not to disagree.

The company I work for consults on CRM software for hedge funds , and even with clients with big pockets willing to make a big investment, the best use of their resources for their specific needs is what is most important for us to consult on.