Robert Castles: Business first, technology second — How to take better care of the customer


Robert Castles

In business, the customer is always right — true or false? Well, it’s not always that clear cut. Sometimes the customer knows what he wants to achieve, but fails to share that business knowledge with you. This insight gap can prevent you from delivering a relevant product that meets his needs.

This type of situation, unfortunately, happens quite often, especially for software companies like PMG. Often our customers request a certain product that may not be the optimal solution for what they are really trying to accomplish. Our philosophy is putting our customer’s business needs first, rather than leading with our technology solution.

“Business First, Technology Second” has proven to be the winning ticket for both our customers and our business. At first glance, letting non-technical customers define our technology road map may seem counterintuitive, but it has enabled PMG to grow and thrive, even through the recent economic downturn.

Get in step with your customer

Not understanding the business issue behind the product request can lead to long development cycles, changes in direction, delays, and a possible solution that doesn’t quite meet customer expectations — leaving both parties frustrated.

Before embarking on developing the solution, you must first define the problem in business terms. The key is to engage customers to understand the underlying business issue. The information uncovered will help you deliver a more relevant solution and ultimately more value, which results in a satisfied customer. And satisfied customers lead to more business with additional referrals.

 Walking the talk

At PMG, we walk the talk. Last year, a major customer was insistent that we offer a native iPhone app for our service catalog solution. The customer wanted the app so that users could request items from the field. This was a major developmental undertaking that was not currently slated on our short-term technology road map.

In time, we discovered the real business issue was the significant delay in the approval process when executives and managers were away from the office, without access to the catalog. So the actual need was not the ability to submit requests from a mobile device, but to approve them.

This information dramatically narrowed the scope of the project, allowing us to almost immediately deliver a more relevant solution. Now executives are able to process approvals on their mobile devices, driving down the request processing time, which was the major issue from the beginning.

Had we proceeded to develop the solution that was originally requested, it would have taken much longer to deliver and cost more. Additionally, the solution would have been much more complex, which would have risked low user adoption altogether.

Crawl before you walk. Then run with it.

Investing the time and energy to form a true partnership with your customer will ensure success for both parties. Too often our customers are in a hurry to get a project completed. As a result, they skip steps and move ahead too quickly, instead of taking the time to have additional conversations to ensure that you fully understand the nature of their business and the scope of the issue at hand.

Taking the time to help your customer assess intended goals is critical to achieving success. But, even more important, is to ensure that the goal is tied to a business outcome. Unless decisions are made in the context of driving a business outcome, you may spend a lot of time deploying a solution that does not provide substantial value.

Robert Castles is principal of PMG, a provider of enterprise service catalog and business process automation software. Reach him with your comments at [email protected] or (770) 837-2301.