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Please refer to Part 1 of this blog for the context. Here are the other two stories!

Putting yourself in the shoes of the customer – Role Play with Humour

My next story comes from a very key engagement we had with one of my strategic Client Accounts. This was a high-octane production support project for a global Bank, for what was perhaps their most business critical and complex application. Though the delivery team was putting in long hours, the project had frequent serious customer satisfaction issues.

The usual leadership delivery review deep-dives happened and we identified certain core issues permeating the whole team; essentially pointing to the need for a sea change in the attitude of how the delivery team approached and responded to customer issues, with very patchy or even absent communication.

The delivery leader for the engagement, RK as we called him, came up with an innovative approach to transform the team culture. He along with a couple of people from his team created a skit/play and diligently wrote down a detailed script. The play went something like this:

  • Production support team members who were taking the fire from the Client played the role of “the Client”.
  • The Project Managers and Team Leads took on the role of “team members”.
  • As per the script, different production support problem scenarios played out, with the “team members” responding and reacting to communications from “the Client” in the typical way that was in vogue
  • The play had real-life cases built into it, along with liberal doses of humour. After a “rehearsal”, when it was held in front of the whole project team, it was a grand success with everyone having a great time.
  • The play had a profoundly positive impact on the whole team. Team members got into the shoes of the Client and were at the receiving end of typical responses to the “production support problems” and got a dose of their own medicine. Project Managers and Team Leads became more empathetic to team members’ perspective when under fire.
  • The play was structured in such a way that it had scenarios which showed up the problem areas (what not to do) and had scenarios which showed the right way to communicate (what to do).
  • It was such a great learning experience for everyone in the team and since the team was getting augmented with newcomers, the play was made part of the induction program for all newcomers.
  • The project came out of the red soon thereafter, with the Clients writing many appreciatory notes on specific team members.

My own story as a “Customer”

While the previous story was about using a “Customer Proxy” approach to change culture, I was fortunate to also learn from the totally new dimension of directly being in the position of a Customer. After decades of providing IT consulting and application services to Clients worldwide, here I was starting up on my own, building out a digital SaaS platform.  While we had our target customer segments in mind and involved a couple of them early in an MVP, my Co-Founder and I essentially played the role of the Customer to our development team; it was our money, time, effort and dream on the line. Here are some key experiences/learning I had along this journey:

  • Having had the benefit of interacting with Clients for many years, my Co-Founder and I decided that we will do things the right way from the start of the platform development lifecycle  – in the true spirit of “Shifting Left” on putting quality first in every step of the lifecycle starting from the left going all the way to the right. So were put in our best efforts to create very detailed business requirement documents and test scenarios for the functionality we needed in the platform. In retrospect, we felt this really helped removed ambiguity in many cases for the team and in managing complexity.
  • While the development team was dedicated and did a fine job of getting us across the line, there were many instances that added to our business pressures and uncertainties when viewed from our lens as the customer.
  • As it generally happens, the development team was a mix of some very good people and some who were quite immature, but what stung us was not immaturity resulting from lack of experience but immaturity resulting from attitude. For example, doing numerous tests and uncovering basic bugs just to find out that a developer did not read the requirement spec properly was frustrating. We may be detail-oriented and also expect it from others, perhaps many a times it turns out to be too much of an expectation. Nonetheless, my Co-Founder and I made sure in every interaction with the team we demonstrate attention to detail, and the team later told us this was a great learning for them too.
  • Communication tends to be a common problem. Proactive communication is generally too much to expect, but what was certainly expected was at least proper and timely communication. Anything that adds uncertainty is a common bugbear with Clients, and communication or the lack of it plays a big part in this.
  • It was important for us to take the time to explain to the team the importance of what they were building to the future of our business. Teams tend to get immersed in day-to-day pressures and there are many reasons to lose focus and energy. They needed to be brought back to accomplish what we collectively had to accomplish, through many one-on-one and team sessions. It was all certainly worth it.

A final word

Many organizations are today undergoing a major upheaval and having to rediscover themselves to stay relevant to their customers and stakeholders. Adoption of a Digital way of doing business has become essential to handle the uncertainties and take advantage of potentially wider and newer customer segments. Many methodologies, processes, and technologies are available today for leverage, especially Agile, Lean, and Design Thinking, which certainly help in naturally bringing in the customer perspective into the team’s way of working. Still, a top down well thought out approach to inculcating the right values into the organizational culture is of paramount importance, to make the organization customer-centric or customer-obsessed.

Ramki Sethuraman