We’ve spent the last few weeks talking about software vendors – what makes a good one, how to tell and how to know what questions to ask. Now let’s talk about what makes a great customer. In order to have the best customer experience, there are some things that you should know.
Remember, you are going to be in this relationship for a long time (unless you have a really crappy software vendor and rip it out quickly, which I hope you never have to do).
There are a few things that all companies (manufacturing or otherwise) can do to make their software-buying experience run as smoothly as possible. Everything that you do affects the way that you will experience the product, the service and the relationship with the vendor, so do what you can to make the most of it.
When you ask a question of the vendor, really listen to what they’re saying. Their response tells you a lot about how they do business and will help you to navigate their systems and processes smoothly.
By the way, they should have clear systems and processes, so this might be a great time to ask them about one of the processes that make them unique and practice your listening skills.
On the reverse side of the equation, the vendor can tell a lot about how you do business and what your expectations are based on your questions (and they should listen to you just like you did to them). Ask the questions that are important to you throughout the buying process to know that your concerns are handled and that you feel the as confident as possible going into the implementation process.
Give them time.
To be clear, I don’t knit. I don’t have the patience for it. Even though I don’t, I know that repairing a hole in a sweater is a daunting task. Think of your software platform in the same way. Every “stitch” or piece of the software is in some way connected to every other and it takes time to repair or replace things within the fabric of the tool. If you are making a demand of your vendor, ask them how much time it might take to do the job (and hold them to it). Then give them the time to do the work. It’s not easy.
Hold them to it.
I mentioned it above. As a customer, you have every right to get what you pay for and get it on time. If you allow a software vendor to miss deadlines without penalty, you are making it difficult for everyone who comes after you. Pay it forward by making sure that you are holding your vendor to the (written) promises they make.
When you are able to state exactly what you need and why you need it, your software vendor should be able to tell you exactly how they could deliver this for you. The vendor will be the best person to share with you how the product design should be done in order to achieve what you need and the very best way for them to do that is to know exactly what the outcome should be. If you don’t know your requirements clearly, ask them for help.
Stick to the list.
The very worst thing that you can do as a software customer is to allow scope-creep into your project. This is especially true where the item(s) in question are “nice to haves” or things that didn’t make the original requirements list. “After demands”, the things you think of after the project requirements are complete, are difficult for a vendor to deal with and quickly wear out the goodwill between the parties. We usually cost-share follow-on project work with customers so that we can keep the current project on-track. Ask your vendor if they’re willing to do something similar for you.
Use your complaint card wisely.
Sometimes, things don’t go as planned. Nobody plans to do a job poorly, but accidents happen. If this happens to you (again, I don’t wish this on you), you have the right to have the vendor make it right. Tell them exactly what you need, what your expectations were originally and what they are now and why. A good software vendor has planned for these situations and can handle them without killing the project. I would caution you against holding your vendor “hostage” to your demands, however. This is never a good idea and it will negatively affect your relationship with them long into the future.
An open dialogue throughout the process is the key to having a strong foundation for a long-term relationship with our customers. If a customer has spent 100% of their available funding on the original project and doesn’t have access to any additional resources once the project has started, I want to know that. We would handle a conversation around a new requirement that has come up during the project (scope creep) entirely differently if we know that the customer absolutely needs to have the work done and has no money to do it.
Building a strong relationship with your software vendor is critical to both your success and theirs. I hope this information is useful to you as you work with your current vendors and when it’s time to find a new one. In the meantime, ask us any questions that you have.
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