In the DC area, there used to be a department store whose slogan was “Where Integrity Shops”. As a kid, I never really understood what that slogan meant.
I now realize, of course, that it’s all about taking care of the customer. What got me thinking about this was a recent letter to the editor in CIO Magazine (http://www.cio.com/archive/110102/feedback.html. It referenced a previous article (http://www.cio.com/archive/080102/truth.html) which dismissed the value of software vendors’ customer references, arguing that customers receive freebies in return for giving glowing references. What got my attention was that letter to the editor was from Bob Dutkowsky, Chairman, President and CEO of J.D.Edwards–part of which I quote:
“At J.D. Edwards, we expect software buyers to ask reference customers the tough questions. We encourage our reference customers to speak with total candor about our failures and successes-our prospects should know how we deal with problems when they inevitably arise. The J.D. Edwards sales process emphasizes how our company does business-because in the end, it takes both our software and our partnership with customers to make their business stronger.”
Now, I haven’t worked with J.D. Edwards software in a few years, but that message speaks volumes. I sure hope it’s true, and if it is, it’s certainly laudable. Doing “whatever it takes” to make the customer happy–within reason, of course–is what it’s all about–for any business. A customer who is easy to work with, pays their bills on time, etc. is a customer that should NEVER be lost. (There are some “toxic” customers that are worth losing, but that’s a story for another day.). Some of my personal customer experiences, on both sides of the counter, have been particularly memorable. Here’s a couple of stories I love to share:
– One time, late to the airport, I ran up to the gate where the door was already closed and the plane was pushing back. Maybe it was my lucky day, but they BROUGHT BACK the plane to get me on board. A customer for life? You bet. Unfortunately, this particular airline later fell victim to bankruptcy during the airline deregulation era. – A client was trying to close the books for the month, and desperately needed to resolve some errors. They called me on my cell phone as I was boarding a plane, and I had to cut them off, but promised that I’d address their problems as soon as I landed. Which I did–in person–straight from the airport. They talked about it for months-“Boy, John flew straight here to help us!”.
You get the idea. It’s all about taking care of the customer, and all things being equal, the one who does it the best, is likely to keep the customer-hopefully forever. Before I was an independent consultant, I worked for one of the largest software
companies in the world. My favorite position was what I affectionately call “the fixer”. I would fly around the country (sometimes 6 or 7 cities a week) and just fix problems for clients. No problem was too large or too small, and all in the name of customer satisfaction. You probably know where I’m going with this. I think Lawson needs to re-gain its old ‘Get a Customer-Keep them for life’. Sure, the biggest customers have the loudest voice. But, what about the smaller ones-who pay the same percentage for support as the big guys? If you’re a new client, running all of the latest versions, and you’re not a beta site or a “lead adopter”, you still should get help without having to scream. If you have support cases that are open for months for the same issues related to Portal 3.0, maybe there really is something wrong. The “it works in our labs” answer just doesn’t cut it-get out of the labs and into the real world. If you’re going to support the Environment on AIX 5L, you better have more than one darn test server running it. I realize that some support issues are self-inflicted, but Lawson needs to do a better job of resolving ones that are “Lawson-inflicted”. I don’t know if you noticed Lawson trumpeting this past month about their 5th annual certification for “effective customer support”. I want to know where they get their support numbers. How many times have I been surveyed? Zero. How many calls have gone unanswered or simply unaddressed for months? Don’t ask. Don’t get me wrong, Lawson does have good support. I just think they could do a whole lot better, particularly when an issue straddles development and support, when an “issue” really is a “bug”. So, my challenge to Lawson is this: Read the J.D. Edwards letter, and adopt that type of a commitment to your customers. It HAS to come from the top, and it HAS to be fully supported throughout the ranks. Put together a SWAT team of top-notch support people and developers (and supplement them with some partners and independents). Make a commitment to have the “top brass” visit every client at least once a year to assess support issues, and make sure that every high-priority issue that goes unresolved for more than a week is addressed and resolved.