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Customer engagement must be business outcome based

3rd Nov 2021
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Recent years have seen a radical shift in what businesses seek out when they engage with solutions and service providers.  Today, they want more than just a product or service, project or business case. Instead, they are looking for a successful business outcome, together with clarity on what that business outcome will be, and what value the engagement will bring them over the longer term.

Take the UK’s Royal Navy, for example, value is not derived from buying a patrol vessel, but rather from the outcomes it will achieve as a result of being bought, such as keeping shipping lanes safe from mines and allowing safe passage for other boats.

Value always needs to be customer-defined, of course. Even today, providers too frequently try to write a business case that is more aligned to the products or services they want to sell than the company’s needs, with the end result that the organisation doesn’t buy into the approach - and instead forms a view that the provider does not understand their business or their goals.

Far too often value is assumed to be frozen, when it is actually tied to industry and market dynamics. Companies and the provider they buy from, identify value as fixing an issue in time, as a one-time project, focused on a pain point identified at the time of engagement. That’s short-termism, solving a one time problem but not equipping the business for the future. Value should never be focused on product features, functionality and pricing, or boxed solely around that initial purchase. Otherwise, costs can rapidly ramp up as organisations look to adapt unwieldy architectures to ever-shifting market requirements and business needs.

Too many solution providers play into this false belief, simply selling in the product and then failing to provide any real interaction or engagement beyond ‘go live’. This has to change. First, value needs to be customer-defined. Second, it needs to be assessed continuously to better track how it is evolving.  Many organisations are specifically looking for long-term value from an engagement, they want to know how they create a long-term sustained partnership rather than a traditional technology vendor to customer relationship.

Defining value and continuous check-ins

To deliver true value over time there has to be a continuous measurement process along a value roadmap. Measuring should never be a ‘once and done’ thing. There should be a ‘cadence’ of continuous check-ins. Otherwise, value will drift off track and end up far removed from the original business objectives.

This ongoing measurement is something that far few vendors do consistently and many completely neglect. Forward thinking vendors, in contrast, seek to address this head on. We are therefore seeing growing numbers of voice of the customer (VOC) programs, targeted at helping to capture customer sentiment along the customer journey, from initial engagement right through to final delivery and beyond. This creates the foundation for a more partnership-based relationship centred on ongoing interactions that help define what value means to the customer. Highlighting the growing prevalence of these programs, Gartner now has its own Magic Quadrant in place for VOC. And VOC programmes are certainly one way in which ongoing value can be delivered.

It is also important to highlight here, however, that value should never be defined by the vendor or provider in isolation. Vendors need to evolve from selling what they’ve got, to selling what the customers really want and need; providing expertise to define value over time and taking into account longer-term goals. Value should always be a two-way discussion in which customers are the ultimate arbiter. In line with this, IFS has built a digital business value assessment tool, which is now a module in IFS Cloud, so that all customers are empowered. When it comes to technology, ensuring it actually delivers business value is fundamental. Without that, it may simply make processes more complex. Clarity on value means clarity on changes needed inside the business as well – and processes and people should be included in that calculation.

All this relies on open, transparent, and continuous engagement. Once value is jointly defined for the customer, it’s the job of the vendor to help them achieve it. Enterprises increasingly understand this need and are looking for trust and partnership. Many realise that now is the time to ‘transform or die’.

Change management and trust

People change is a further challenge to consider though as companies deploy new technology and bring people along the journey to create value. Once again, this is far more powerful and effective if it is considered early on.

This requires trust. For value to be realised over time, it is vital to have a long-term transparent relationship built upon joint goals and accountability. Where vendors do not identify value with the customers or revisit and reassess progress against goals on a regular basis as part of a continuous engagement approach, they will inevitably fall back into the one-off delivery bucket.

But that trust needs to go right back to the initial value-driven engagement. That’s where the outcomes of the project are first defined and agreed but also, where that ongoing process of value engagement and measurement begins and where the customer starts off on that journey of interaction with the provider, which will deliver optimum value over time.

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