Agile, Product Management

Customer collaboration

This article is the fourth part of a series on: The end of the agile world hasn’t come. Read part 3 here.

The featured image suggests marriage.

Even if that may sound a little too strong, some features of a successful marriage should be found in a customer/supplier relationship:

  • trust & transparency
  • fair and square communication
  • shared vision

Agile prones customer collaboration over contract negociation. In other words, that’s about planning a long term relationship over trying to maximize revenue on the short term.

Especially in today’s software market, I strongly believe in this value.

Software products are buggy. Ill-conceived. And as there’s so many of them, it is virtually impossible to ensure the compatibility of your service with third parties’, leaving the end-user with a “franken-toolsuite” (understand: bits and pieces of services meant to work together without actually being able to do so).

In the meantime, software companies must deliver faster, and make money faster if they want to survive. How to make sure that they deliver the right value, for which customers will be willing to pay, if not by directly talking to them?

I can’t imagine how anyone, within that context, could stand against collaboration.

Trust and transparency

In a previous article, I already mentioned how important it is, in my opinion, to be transparent.

Trust is a difficult thing to build between two human beings. The best way is by having both parties doing all they can to earn it from the other. And as you’re the one selling (the one needing the other), you should be first in trying to earn the customer’s trust.

Honestly, I’ve never experienced, on the professional side just as much as the personal side, anything better than transparency to earn trust. Of course, sometimes you may disapoint the other party by not giving the answer they would have liked. But most of time they will be grateful for not hiding/lying.

Now for sure, that also comes with faithfulness. Once you’ve said you’d do something, you should do everything in your power to offer a solution to the user’s need. And yes, it is acceptable to tell your client that this or this feature won’t be built in the end. Just make sure you can provide an acceptable work-around (or a better solution).

Fair and square communication

That requires a very good level of communication. I’m not thinking of newsletters or up-sell mailing campaigns. I’m thinking about you picking up your phone and, when possible, meeting your client (yes, Skype is acceptable).

I’m talking about having a chat, on regular basis, with your customers. You should know and call them by their first names (unless they feeel it’s disrespectful). You should know what’s their mood and usual problems when it comes to the business you’re doing together. You should ask them to tell you about the least issue they’re seeing in your product. And even what’s their vision on what features should be added.

I’m talking about updating them about your roadmap, even if there’s no date carved in stone.

I’m talking about, as much as possible, having a friendly chat. Sometimes, that’s the only thing you’ll be down to when calling a customer. Sometimes, they’ll be too busy and won’t have time for that. Most of times, they’ll be happy you called, and that will make communication even easier for next time.

But most important, the only way for you to build the right product is by knowing exactly what problem it should solve. And only users can tell you what really annoys them daily. Setting up a good communication is essential so that you learn from them.

Shared vision

In my other article I mentioned above, I introduce the idea that sometimes, you shouldn’t sell to some customers. You could argue that it’s not the best way to do business. And there you’ probably be against the agile value.

If you’re married, you probably know that you need more than somebody who’s physically attractive. You need to share some values, the way you see life. You need a partner to build the rest of your life together. This is how you can have a long (ever?) lasting marriage. This is what will help you in times of disagreements and fights.

I’d say: it’s just the same in business. If your customer doesn’t believe in your vision 1) you’ll lose him before you realize 2) if he represents a huge revenue in your business, he’ll force you down a roadmap that will twist your product.

What’s really important in this value is that it corresponds to some essential and ubiquituous loyalty principles. Low churn rate, that is! And good product…

Featured image by Leo Grübler

3 thoughts on “Customer collaboration”

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