In today’s new normal business environment, customer service is pivotal in project management ONLY if you want to ensure success. According to my firm’s recent research report, Amazon Effect, which covered the role of customer service for manufacturers and distributors, 67% feel customer service gaps vs. Amazon-like offerings. Technical skills alone will no longer be sufficient; project managers must create an environment of customer service to accelerate results.
For example, one of my clients has several projects going at the same time. One of them is crucial to bring staffing to the levels required to meet customer orders. They have found that if the folks on that project team are not feeling their importance to the company’s results and to their end customers, they perform their job; however, it is not enough! Progress is too slow. On the other hand, once they felt included in the process and a key part of customer service, results picked up. Do you want to leave your most important priorities to chance? Or would you rather create a customer service culture?
No successful executive will choose the former. Thus, it is worthwhile to think about how to bring an element of customer service into your projects and project teams. A few strategies to achieving a customer service edge include: 1) Engage employees. 2) Involve your supply chain. 3) Provide tools & support.
1. Engage Employees: You must start with an engaged project team. Little else matters. Have you ever seen unhappy employees with happy customers? Me either! It’s also likely you haven’t seen unhappy project team members with happy customers. Thus, start with your project team.
Do you have a compelling vision? Why would they feel their part of the project is important? Are they involved in making a difference in some way? Do they know how they contribute to the vision? How do they add value? How do they know? Are you providing feedback? Do you appreciate progress? For example, when a milestone is achieved, do you recognize the team? Also, are you giving project team members opportunities to get on the projects they are excited about or can learn from? A lot goes into engaging employees.
You’d be amazed as to how the most unlikely project team member can contribute to creating a customer service edge if included in the process. In my experience, I’ve seen engineers close a sale, I.T. leaders create customer intimacy, and supply chain employees create a customer service edge. The common ingredient is engaged employees. How important is service to you?
2. Involve your partners: Now that your project team is on board, you cannot afford to stop there. A customer service edge can only be created by involving your project’s customers, suppliers, and cross-functional partners – after all, how will you achieve your project objectives if your customers consistently change their mind at the last minute and your suppliers provide unreliable inputs to the process?
For example, in one company, we implemented a vendor-managed inventory program with our #1 customer, and we went from unreliable service levels to winning the coveted Supplier of The Year Award. We started with our project team and expanded to involve our customers’ project members and other partners such as carriers and IT partners so that we could collaborate for success. We became more intimately involved with our internal and external partners by collaborating with R&D and engineering on packaging, collaborating with our customers on the use of their demand data and sales inputs for the forecast and collaborating with carriers on optimizing transportation lanes and associated costs. Success followed as the project team saw these partners as part of their extended team.
3. Provide tools and support: Last but not least, the best strategies fail in execution; thus, what can we do to ensure we beat the odds and create a customer service edge? Focus on execution – blocking and tackling. Don’t just dictate a customer service style of thinking on your project team. Explain its importance. Provide coaching. Support the process with systems. Build customer service into the project team members’ expectations and coordinate with the appropriate leaders to make sure it is part of the performance management process. Celebrate success. With a clear strategy and the appropriate support, customer service will thrive.
In today’s new normal business environment, project results are of the utmost importance as growth and profitability is cornerstone to success. Only those who create a customer service edge will thrive. Don’t follow the pack; instead, stand out from the crowd with a customer service edge for your project, and leverage the opportunity to leapfrog the competition.