Tips For Delivering Consistent Services
from PRODUCT MANAGEMENT CHALLENGES A Newsletter of Tips For Companies that Develop Software
The services you deliver with your software — implementation consulting, installation, and training — aren't accessories to your product, they are an integral part of the product and its success. Software plus services plus customer effort equals success.
Because of this, it's critical to take steps to make each service you deliver predictable, complete, and consistent across customers, channels, and the individuals who provide it.
Yet unlike software, the human element involved in service delivery brings the potential for wide variation in content, quality, and effectiveness. The people who shine in front of your customers, delivering stellar services, are often highly individualistic. Their priority is to perform well when they're in the spotlight - AKA the hot seat. Like sales reps, they don't focus on adhering closely to guidelines but on reaching their goal come what may.
To build consistency in your services, follow the seven steps described below
Seven Steps To Consistent Service
1. Document The Standard Content
Collect the required content for the service - training workbooks, consulting topics, installation instructions, and maintenance guides - using the best suggestions of the entire team of trainers, consultants, or specialists. If you don't have such materials already, you can quickly compile a decent first version by consolidating the cheat sheets and short write-ups that various individuals on the team have created for their own use.
This does not replace the need to write up a more extensive and comprehensive set of materials. The goal is to provide material covering required topics to review with the customer during delivery of the service, along with tips or guidance for areas that routinely generate questions.
Format these materials like a published document or guide, including a table of contents and consistent page layout. Organize the document into logical sections.
Supply standard materials and cover them with the customer each time you deliver a service.
2. Document The Standard Process
Just as important as standardizing the content of a service is standardizing the overall process. For example, implementation consulting begins with a session to identify the implementation team, then a team kickoff teleconference, followed by a two-day facilitated session.
It's often in the PROCESS for delivering a service where consistency breaks down. Again, collect best practices and existing documents from the entire team to build the required process.
Build these materials into books for each person who delivers the service. Checklists are a powerful way to ensure all required steps are completed. These documents are not shared with customers.
3. Document The Results
Create a set of checklists and simple forms that a specialist, trainer, or consultant uses with your customer to document steps as they are completed, with notations for later reference.
Create a separate electronic copy of the forms each time a service is delivered, and post these on an Intranet or shared area so that the entire team tasked with delivering services can refer to them.
If your partners plan to deliver the services you offer, the standard documents resulting from steps 1, 2, and 3 provide a base from which to roll out this ability to them while maintaining consistency across multiple organizations. These steps also greatly reduce partner ramp-up time.
4. Certify The Providers
Establish a structured process not just for delivering each service, but for learning it. For example, certification of individual software trainers would consist of the following:
- Learn the software.
- Learn the training guidebooks and process.
- Conduct preparation and follow-up for a training session.
- Attend training delivered by a certified trainer.
- Deliver training backed up by a certified trainer.
- Receive feedback and certification.
This approach can be applied to all services you deliver, and be used with both your employees and partners.
5. Prepare The Customer
An important part of the process you define for a service is setting the customer expectations and ensuring that all preparation (scheduling people and facilities, workstation setup, etc.) is completed by the required date.
Get input from the entire team responsible for a service to pool their hard-won knowledge of what to avoid, what to require, and what to tell the customer in order to make the service a success. Then make it a part of the process to set expectations and explain requirements to customers each time the service is delivered.
6. Measure Customer Satisfaction
Survey customers to measure their satisfaction with all major components of the service, from scheduling and preparation through delivery and followup. Surveys can range from simple written forms to immediately accessible online forms on your Web site that email input to designated recipients.
Without consistently measuring satisfaction with a service as you deliver it, you can never know for sure how your customers view it.
Also, since the perceived value of a service begins to plummet as soon as it is fully delivered, solicit feedback immediately upon completion of the service, or at the end of each day.
7. Include Services In Requirements
This final step closes the loop between enhancements to the software and the resulting changes to services. When you submit a requirement to the development team where change to the software leads to changes in a specific service, include as part of the requirements a request for guidance or support from the developers to the team that delivers the service.
For example, you add new ownership and permissions, based on user logins. This means that the implementation service which walks the customer through creation of user logins now needs to include a facilitated discussion of ownership and permissions.
By requesting up front the required support from development, you ensure that services reflect the latest software, and the teams that deliver services are consistently trained and certified on each new version.
Consistent Services, Consistent Success
Deliver services consistently to your customers and you help each new implementation succeed like the ones before it, increasing your positive momentum and references.
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