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Avoiding problems, Customers

How can I “add value to the customer”?

October 16, 2017

If you work at a services company, like me, you probably haver already heard someone stating “we must increase the value the customer is receiving”. That, for sure, is a mission that everybody who interacts with customers, should complete and seek for constantly and naturally. But first of all, what is the “value” for the customer?

Perception of value is relative

Each customer (we are talking about people, not about companies! They are who hire and pay for our services) will have its own conception of value. If you understand perfectly what your customer wants the most to add value to its initiatives, it will be very easy to answer the requirement of “increasing the value the customer is receiving”.

A good way to start would be to understand what is the objective of your project. Since the customer is investing money to allow our work, we can think on the same thing as “what the customer wants to get back from his money?”. The answer will ALWAYS be one of this two alternatives: a) save money OR b) make more money. Some instances can be:

  1. Making a factory line faster to produce will help the customer to sell more -> makes more money;
  2. Changing people from this same factory line to robots, will help the customer to spend less money on employees -> saves money;
  3. Improving an internal HR process so the customer can hire people faster -> saves money requiring less time from people;

 

So, what am I really doing every day? What is the objective of my project? How all of this small tasks will be gathered in the future so they will produce a big and helpful product?
  1. If I produce software I will have a lot of tasks to solve every day. But what this group of tasks will solve to that customer?
  2. If my job is to research the market and deliver a high qualified content to the customer, what would be the actions of the customer when they get this result?

Once we know the true answer for those questions, the team posture will change naturally. We will stop from being just code generators, and start being critical, we start being consultants: “Why am I getting huge amounts of tasks to create a calculator inside the system. Let the user use it’s own phone! Let’s move forward to something that will really add value to the product!”

Probably the posture above shown will be the true answer for “what is value for your customer”. But remember to check that your understanding of the customer needs are right and if the customer will approve all of your opinions about changing the project direction and even those small tasks.

 

Perception of value is also dynamic

Once we know our customer perception of value, have the operation stabilized and heading to the right path, we must always keep in mind that, sooner or later, our customer perception of value will change. It can be due to a market change (Eg: we are an insurance company and nobody is buying insurance now. For sure we will have to change our product) or even because the project was unsuccessful (Eg: we released that new product to the market but it didn’t reach our expectations on ROI (Return Of Investment)), maybe the project is reaching its end, etc.

So keeping a close and straight relationship to the sponsors and to the right people on each customer will help you to prevent changes. Knowing your customer plans and where he’s heading to will always help you to understand and plan in advance.

 

How the customer pays

We will find new contracts and will increase our services revenue if our customers find more value on us. But the customer will always pay for what he receives and for what will happen to him after he receives the product. He is the one who sets the price to the product or service. If he can see a lot of value, he will pay a lot of money. If he doesn’t see much value on your product, he just won’t pay much money.

I consider the Acceptance Criteria as the root of customer perception of value. If your delivered tasks fit exactly what the customer is waiting for, under the time you agreed, under the quality he’s expecting, he is satisfied and accepts your deliveries, you have a good starting point. Whatever comes after this will be very honorable to discuss.

Customers, Digital transformation, Entrepeneurship

The innovation wave we’re not surfing well

October 1, 2017

During the last few years, we have seen many new and disruptive companies appearing around us. They are called “Startups”. They are understanding the trends and the new possibilities the market and the technology are providing, finding spaces to establish themselves, and staying untouched for some time, what allows them to keep innovation, growing and pushing the old companies.

The wave

This very fast innovation and market disruption is a no turning back movement, and the companies and people will innovate even faster on the next years. But the successful companies we have seen, such as Contabilizei, Guia Bolso, Love Mondays, Movile and Nubank, who managed to grow, are just a very small group of a horde of companies. By the start of 2016, Brazil had 4151 startups (which was a big number for us). But on that same time, just the Silicon Valley area, on the US, had more than 23000 startups.

So why Brasil, one of the most creative countries in world, counting with the sixth biggest population number, has a very short number of startups being created and succeeding? Do we have the ideias? Are they being well explored?

 

Where we are stopping

It’s well known that Brasil has the bureaucracy within its culture, and this data from the World Bank Group shows that, compared to the US, its 15 times harder to do business here:

Source: World Bank Group

 

But is it just the bureaucracy that forbids us to create new business, markets and innovate in large scale? Maybe our way to approach problems are not well mature as other countries’.

As an known example, we have the factories of hair nets: by the 1910’s decades, the business were to produce more and more hair nets so the women on that time could hold their hair to keep the hairstyle. The factory owner kept that in mind and couldn’t see the real question. The demand were not about hair nets. The demand were about holding hair. Then the hair fixative came and the industry of hair nets went bankrupt. But why the hair net’s industry owner didn’t see the market change? His mindset were adjusted to the product, not to the demand. Not to the customer.

Mindset has to be “customer first”

Now approaching the same issue with a service-oriented view. A regular hair style shop hierarchy would be something like:

On this diagram, who is the most important actor TO THE CUSTOMER? Many would say the manager or even the owner is the most important. They have autonomy to solve any issues, and they know best how to treat customers and how to make them happy, because they already have much experience. But the reality is that, since our customer is getting more and more demanding, the owner AND the manager are just useless. The attendants are the most important part here! They have a key behavior to the whole system. Let’s think about the customer getting to the hair style shop and having problem with the attendant. The manager will be called and the problem will be solved. Alright! It’s solved but it was a reactive movement. Depending on the stress level caused to the customer, it is very probable he won’t get back to the hair style shop. He will manage to find a better service.

 

Business strategy

So a better approach can be to think about the attendants as the most important part of the system.

But the owner and managers still are bosses… what changes here? The mindset has to change. The attendant who is interacting with all the customers must understand the company goals and all of it’s responsibilities. He has to have the power and autonomy to solve any issues, so no customer would want to talk to someone else. All of its demands would be solved as fast as possible. The manager role is simplified as someone who knows the whole company and can think about the strategies and make changes and fixes when they are needed.

As business strategy we must think like what is the real customer demand. Does he really needs a hair cut? Or does he wants to look handsome? Maybe when the biggest part of Brazil entrepeneurs change their mindset to this, we will start having a largest number of companies being created.

Avoiding problems, Customers, Entrepeneurship

Customer health check

September 23, 2017

Customers and profitability probably are one of the most important things to a company development. If you have profit, you will be able to expand, hire new people, invest on research, make your company visible, create new products and services and constantly increase your quality and brand relevancy to the market.

Your customers are the key to achieve that. Finding new customers and keeping your old partners must be the main concern of every entrepreneur and maybe yours, as an employee of any kind of company.

 

Keep the clients

Keeping old customers is way cheaper than advancing through the whole sales cycle in a new prospect, as Forbes states. Since we know that, let’s try to understand how can we be sure that all of our customers “are healthy” and that we can focus some of our energy on finding new logos.

So the main question we want to answer can be: “How is customer X doing?”. If the answer is “fine”, then we are good. Let’s say you have a good relationship with all of your customers. Then one good point could be just ask them! But even if he’s in love with your product/service (aka “completely satisfied”) and be 100% transparent with you, this question is not enough.

We want to go deeper and really measure the customer health status. Keeping a tracking of this data could be very useful to check if one minor/major change on your company is being well received by the most important part (talking about profitability here only), as instance. You could also use that to a) check if a change on people of the team that supports this customer was a right decision or not. b) a change on the team’s process (changing from SCRUM to DevOps as instance) that affects the customer was good as planned and expected. c) a change in an internal process, such as your financial area bills transmission, was well received or just created more bureaucracy.

 

Measuring

Measuring and analyzing specific questions of each customer will create the data you want to analyse and take important decisions about each of them. Setting a number of questions and then getting the customer answer for each of them in different ways can be the start of this measurement.

Each company will have its own way to set what would be the best questions to find the health metric. The questions below are a suggestion of different ways to talk about your customer. Set a weight to each of them, and let the sum of all of them be 100. If the result is below 60 you have a HUGE problem there. Something between 61 and 90 will deserve a yellow sign. Above 91 is where you want to stay.

I list here a set of questions that can be an inspiration to create your own set:

  • Regarding your daily relationship to the customers:
    • Is the customer taking too long to answer you? Yes it may mean this is their way to conduct their work. But it also can mean you are far below in their list of priorities.
    • The tasks quantity or contact frequency have been decreasing? It can mean that they are stabilizing the thing you take care. But it also can mean they are giving the regular work to someone new.
    • How many pieces of business do you take care? If the number is big, it means this customer trusts you. Otherwise its easier to get rid from you.
    • How many pieces of business you know besides those that are your responsibility? If this number if big, then the customer trusts a lot on you. Good sign.
  • Your overall relationship:
    • Satisfaction surveys. What was the result of the last surveys you sent to the customer? Focus on the points the customer said he’d want an improvement.
    • Does this customer buys your whole portfolio? Those who buy everything are more likely to be more satisfied and trust you more than others who just buy one small piece from you.
    • How frequently the customer engages with marketing and branding actions? Does the customer speaks on your behalf and says good things about your company wherever he goes?
    • Does this customer buys your core product? It will mean that they really got the main message of the company, and are using you the best way they can.
    • Who uses/has contact with your products? Does the C-level know about you? Having someone with good power of decision as your ally is always important.
    • Does this customer has non-recurrent contracts with you besides the regular recurrent ones? If yes, it may mean they feel comfortable to trust their initiatives, such as innovation or new products, on you.
    • Do they have problems with your administrative areas? Besides the delivery area, problems with billing or any communication to the “right” person can be a big headache.
  • Regarding the customer itself:
    • Is the customer growing? If the customer is growing, its safer to consider that your contract is at least stable. It can even get a raise soon. If the customer is not growing, have a closer look here: will the customer have money to pay you next month?
    • Has the customer been increasing your contract extension on the last six months? Its the perfect measure to know if he’s really satisfied this far. The contracts will be increased if everything is doing well.
    • How long have the customer been with you? A long term relationship MAYBE means less tendency to make a change on the supplier.

 

The work can start on setting the questions and the weight to each of them. Find those who best fits to your reality.

Reaching the answers for some of them can be tough, but the results will be incredible. Based on that you will have very clear data to focus on a problematic customer, or to approach another one to try to rescue the relationship. Everybody who interacts with this customer in your company must know about this initiative. Make sure the administrative, commercial, delivery and marketing areas are well enrolled to this approach, can help you on finding the answers and setting action plans for each bad thing that may come up.

Customers, Digital transformation

The eXperience as business strategy

September 9, 2017

This article is a free translation, with some updates, from this original one that was wrote by me and Felipe Santos.

 

UX aggregated value has changed software development market

The companies that produce software and don’t care about the end-user experience have their days counting down. The user is becoming more demanding (picky, why not?) and, because of that, tolerates just a few number of failures of systems and processes. Once they can’t complete a purchase, signature of something, or any activity that depends on a system, there’s a high chance that they will give up and start looking for a competitor. According to a Harvard research, brazilian retail executives are the biggest foreign crew attending to international events about UX (User eXperience), looking for innovation on their market. This information defines very well the business strategy that have been pushing our country, and tells us that it is very important to guarantee the best customer experience.

Once we think about user experience, we have already seen extremely complex applications, that used to require training for people to learn how to operate them. Those applications are very rare right now. Processes that used to be very detailed and manual, forcing the user to repeat information in different areas of the system, are being automated. The UX increasing value transformed our market, from one complex view to one simple look. Everybody have been discussing about a positive experience as part of business strategy.

 

Relationship is the answer

The transformation on software development, to offer a better user experience, is a result of an evolution on the user relationship to the technology and on the level of consumer demands. The idea is common once we analyse the evolution of some startups, that managed to transform a whole area of their market. We can find good examples of that on banking and transport areas, such as Nubank, Neon, 99 and Uber. What do they have in common? They started offering exactly the SAME products and services that were already available on the market, but with one big difference: the experience. The focus on the best ever possible relationship to their consumers.

Keeping a good user experience, from the very first moment, when they get to know your company, until they finish a transaction, is very complex. According to a research, conducted by Compuware, only 16% of users will try to use an app for the third time, if they fail for the first two times.

The user sees all the steps where he interacts with a product or service as just one entity, and the company absorbs this experience results directly. Some good examples of that bad interactions are the call centers, that redirects the user many times before solving the problem and create differences between the company’s areas, like the “new business area”, “payments”, “operations” or “complaints”. But for the user, there’s just one single experience being lived across the whole interaction. And as a result, it may happen that they think twice about a new interaction with that company, or even get a bad feeling about the brand.

Because of that, all the steps must be integrated and the process must be simple. At ilegra, our projects are planned and conducted in an iterative and incremental way, including research and constant validations until the adoption of the best market practices and technologies. A good example of those technologies are, the just released, Angular 4, and React web or Native, with which we have been working on MVPs with the internal teams. It all focuses on the best possible experience with our users, during all the process parts.

 

On and Off: one single experience

The user complete experience goes all the way through online and offline interactions. It’s important to know that there’s no difference between the different communication channels, because the message is received in one single way by the customer: either the legacy is positive or negative. On “online”, the applications or web systems, even if they are brand new, they may present many bad steps, such as repetitions, slow processes, a lot of information requests, etc. On “offline” interactions, physical or by phone, it also may cause frustration, such as not solving a problem or even just spending too much time waiting for attendance.

These examples, on both online and offlice channels, severely impact the user perception and its loyalty to the brand or company. Its not just ilegra that have seen this trend. Its remarkable, on corporations market, to see the user experience excellence as a trend and target for software development on 2017. Because of that, it’s the right time for traditional companies to get on board of this new moment, evolve and innovate. This is the point that will determine the companies that will grow on their markets.

We can guarantee, by the critical view and experience that we apply to all of our projects, that to provide a good user experience is needed dedication and processes. Terms like co-creation, systemic thinking, discovering, immersion, among many others, must get out of paper and be followed by the teams.

Avoiding problems, Customers, Office

Retrospective. Just do it!

August 27, 2017
Retrospectives in software engineering

In software engineering, retrospectives are always linked do Scrum alliance’s practices, since they have summarized the main goals very well. Rishi Devendra states the main steps of the retrospective as:

  • What went well during the sprint cycle?
  • What went wrong during the sprint cycle?
  • What could we do differently to improve?

Following the steps above you will easily have an output with next steps, things to improve and great successful things. That should even be shared with the rest of your team or company, so everyone can learn from that moments.

Retrospective output Example of output after a retrospective in a common perspective.

 

A fast guide

I’ve learned and got a lot of experience during many years of project retrospectives. It can easily follow this simple and objective recipe:

      1. First of all, the environment
        1. Try to make it happen outside your regular formal environment. It will make people more likely to speak what they really think, and be less resistant to any different opinion that may come around;
        2. Mix it with a meal. Starting at lunch time or finishing with a dinner will help on team’s personal connection;
        3. Why not allow people to have a beer meanwhile? It depends on how your company deals with that. But it’s not a bad idea;
      2. Ice breaker
        1. It’s very important if you have a team that never participated of a retrospective (some nice ice-breaker examples here);
        2. Try some activity that make people laugh and talk about each other at the same time;
        3. The intention here is to make people feel comfortable talking about work outside office and understand the objective of the activity;
        4. Make the main goal of the activity very clear to everyone. Why we are here? What’s the objective? What will we take from this moment?
      3. Now it begins
        1. At this time everybody must speak their mind;
        2. Set up a time limite, like 10 minutes;
        3. Give post-its and pens to everybody;
        4. Write everything that have been happening, both on good and bad ways;
        5. Write about your project, your tasks, your mates, your coampany’s environment;
      4. Let’s discuss!
        The main goal here is to split the good and bad opinions into two different visual areas and, during that, discuss about everything. The whole team must discuss about the topics and it’s everyone’s responsibility to understand the message.

        It’s very common to use some analogies. As an instance, a balloon (where the bad things are the sand bags, that pushes the balloon down, and the good things are the air, which pushes the balloon up). It can also be a rocket (in the same way of the balloon), or even a boat: the good things are the wind that gives speed to the boat, and the bad things are the anchor.

        Activities analogy with a boat
        1. Starting by a volunteer, everybody must speak the post-its that have written and the whole group must discuss about it.
          1. If it’s positive, it’s placed over the wind (on the image above);
          2. If it’s negative, it’s placed over the anchor;
        2. During this activity, when someone is speaking about their post-it, everyone that may have a similar opinion about that subject can interrupt and contribute to the subject and place their post-it also;
        3. The team should discuss about all the topics and understand how does that affect them;
        4. This activity will probably take the majority of your time, and will depend on the number of people who’s involved;
      5. The most important part: action plans!
        1. Now that everybody knows about everything that the team have been facing, it’s time to create the next steps;
        2. For the good things, the compliments FOR THE TEAM are free. It’s not time for feedback sessions;
        3. Regarding the bad things, the team must bring up the most important topics, and create an action plan for each of them. It must contain:
          1. What’s the problem? Eg: The bugs report have been hard to understand and track;
          2. What will be done to solve? Eg: We will set up a new storytelling way to describe the bugs in a way that everybody understands and group it all using a new open source tool;
          3. Who will be responsible? Eg: The main QA professional;
          4. What’s the deadline? Eg: One week starting from next monday, September 1st;
        4. It’s important that everybody leave the retrospective having a mission to accomplish. It will improve the sense of ownership inside the project;
      6. Feedbacks among the team

        The retrospective can get deeper depending on the team’s maturity to discuss about the project and about themselves. If you have an under-construction team, that doesn’t has a strong relationship yet, don’t worry about including this practice. It can be added while your team develops itself.

        But if you already have a mature team, that knows each other and are feeling free to give each other straight feedbacks, it will be very important! A well given feedback among the team will increase the confidence within it, and will make people to work better on that group. Be careful not creating a conflict here. You, as the retrospective leader, must know the limits.

 

You’re done

After your retrospective you probably will have an action plan for every point of problem. It was you goal, right? It’s very important for your organization and for your way to get the work done for that specific customer.

But the team also gets very important benefits from that. With this practice you will ensure that your team is under a continuous improvement process, and their trustship, ownership sense, and team work are growing.

 

You can find more useful content about retrospectives, from Scrum.org.

Avoiding problems, Customers, Office

Did you really SAY the message you wanted to?

August 20, 2017
communication

We must communicate!

Every day we must communicate to other people and send them many types of messages. Either it is a customer, a work mate, or even at our personal relationships. The subjects will be many: negotiate, deliver something, ask for something, or even to give bad news.

 

Did the person on the other side really understand?

Frequently I see situations where people from the team will say that they have already warned and notified the customer consistently, of important news, as instance. When it is really relevant, my head always brings to me the same question: “did the person on the other side really understand and received the communication the correct way?”.

 

For most of the situations (I hope so), it will be an easy “yes”, but for the times when I hear that the communication wasn’t well understood, I like to think on three different perspectives:

  1. Did the person on the other side just don’t get the message?
  2. Did the person on the other side don’t want to get the message?
  3. The person who was giving the message. Did he communicate the proper way?

 

One scenario

Recently I’ve been involved in a scenario where, after finishing all the resources that could solve one big problem, a very hard news, very critical to the business, should be given to a customer. I kept distance from the first communication iteration, and just supported the team on how to understand the whole scenario, and let them think about actually giving the news. For my surprise, I heard NO bad ECHO comming back from the customer about that subject.

Here is our case! Few days later I started thinking that the customer didn’t actually understand the news. If he had, we would have a crisis on the relationship for sure.

 

Then we stablished a new plan, to make the communication again. The message was very well supported, we spoke to everybody who could be affected by the communication, checked all the people that could help, and even tried to put ourselves on the customer’s perspective. With that we’d understand better how that would affect the business and how we’d feel if it was our bag of coins.

A new communication was done, in proper commercial time, in a loud and clear way, counting with the main customer’s sponsor. This communication was also formalized.

 

That time, yes, we heard the ECHO. 

 

So, what we cant take of it?

Getting back to the first three questions of this article, the conclusion is that we hadn’t passed the first message in a proper way.

How can we be sure that the message was passed in the right and straight way? It will depend on each scenario. But I’m leaving a few tips that I believe can be useful for many of them:

  1. Make sure you are very well contextualized, and all of the rest of important people, with all the relevant history of that news:
    • What are we talking about? – What’s the problem?
    • What happened? – What is it about? Who’s involved?
    • What was the happenings that made us reach this point? Create a timeline!
    • What’s the problem? Where is it? IMPORTANT! Have it very clear.
    • Who failed? – The objective is not to point fingers. You must understand how does that affect your team and organization, in order to improve and avoid that to happen again.
  2. Understand the problem’s impact:
    • Who will be affected?
    • Is there a prejudice to the business? Will someone loose money, or make less money because of it?
    • Who had the responsibility of avoiding the problem to happen? You? Your team? Your company? Someone that you can’t manage?
  3. Action plan – the problem already exists and there’s no way back, right? Let’s move ahead! What will we do now?
    • If the problem is really big, MAYBE creating a suggestion of action plan can soften the bad news.
    • Make it very clear to the other side, that you and your organization are well commited and want to help to minimize the issue. Use this words! “We are well commited and want to minimize the impacts”.