Why customer engagements today are all about business outcomes

Michael Ouissi Profile picture for user Michael Ouissi July 21, 2022 Audio mode
Michael Ouissi of IFS considers the impact of change management and trust - and why it's essential to achieving successful business outcomes.

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( © eamesbot - Shutterstock)

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” Attributed to a proverb from the 17th Century, this phrase is increasingly appropriate for businesses today. Companies engage with services and solutions not for the gratification of something shiny – but for the benefits – the “proof” that will be seen over time.

Businesses invest in service relationships for the opportunity to grow, and work more efficiently. And to realise value of outperforming their previous results – along with those of their competitors. In short, proof means tangible outcomes that can be measured.

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. Too often, businesses claim that their customers are at the heart of everything they do – but draft a business case that is more aligned to a product, 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. To achieve long-term value, that kind of investment requires change. It’s essential therefore that the solution is right for the business and the people who will use it. Otherwise, costs can rapidly ramp up as organizations 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 organizations 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 centered 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 programs 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

When thinking about transformation, the impact of change on people has to be factored in as early as possible – for the benefit of engaging both employees and the impact on customers.

Part of the value of your organization is in its people. Those same people who already feel pain-points with their existing solutions while striving towards that 'moment of service'. People change is a challenge to consider as companies deploy new technology and bring people along the journey to create value.

Change is also an opportunity to build trust with vendors. For value to be realised over time, it is vital to start change conversations early to have a long-term view of joint goals and accountability. Vendors need to identify value with the customers. They also value the opportunity to review and course-correct against goals on a regular basis as part of a continuous engagement approach. Without key milestones to reassess and measure progress, 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. Value should never be focused on product features, functionality and pricing, or boxed solely around that initial purchase. 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.

If the proof of the pudding is truly in the eating, get the recipe right.

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