The Great Tussle – Customer Satisfaction in Software Business

The question begs, who is responsible for customer dissatisfaction in a software company? Is it the sales guy who sold the shiny plane? Or the projects team? Who implemented a Bus, and when push came to shove, appended some weird-looking wings to the Bus and told the Customer, ‘The plane is ready to fly’; just to beat a deadline?

The sales team must close the deal; it is a KPI. They work with numbers. Every week in the review meetings, they must report some hope, some promise. Some leads move from obscure-to-hot faster than a Falcon 9; only to stay hot for so long. It is always interesting to watch as Joe the sales guy coughs to clear the throat on the question, ‘Joe, update us on your pipeline’. Joe will run through some numbers and conclude with, “half of these deals are on the decision-makers table, and I am very positive”.

They are super optimists. I guess they must be to survive in their game.

The target client knows Joe is more than eager to close the deal going by his number of emails, calls and late-night WhatsApp chats. He ups his demands and lowers his offering. Joe, eager to close the deal. After the long dry period ticks, all the boxes put paper to ink and with a big smile enters the room announcing, ‘I got the award letter!’ Joe is off to the next kill. He can toast. At least for now.

We have now set the stage for the Project team. They look at the deal on paper and the 2 months’ delivery timeline promised and sulk. Half of the product requirements promised do not exist. They would require at least 4 months to develop with the ever-finite resources available.

The client is very excited. There are already talks of a big media launch in 2 months. The clock is ticking.

The project team comes up with an agile approach and prioritises the deliverables. They put in extra hours in the evening, giving their best. It takes even their weekends up and the days fly by quickly. The 2 months are up. No launch. It extends an extra month. Just as fast, extra time is up. No goal. Review meetings are uncomfortable, tempers are rising, doubts and blame games begin.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, the project finally goes live after 6 months. The project team is relieved, they can afford a smile, but the customer is dissatisfied. The project completed way over-schedule and over-budget. What went wrong?

Randall C. Iliff, an expert in complex business systems with more than 30 years of experience, recommends several approaches for what he calls the deadly divide between pre-sales and post-sales.

First, the company should view the pre-sale and post-sale as part of one system and optimise the integration between them for the best results. Pre-sales is an investment and not an end unto itself. The true win should be the successful implementation of the project, leading to a happy and satisfied customer.

That the sales team should understand what each of the promises means and what it takes to execute them.

In conclusion, the sales team and the projects team should continuously learn, and collaboratively seek to optimise what works for the long-term benefit of the organisation. The focus for both should not be on the short-term wins of an award letter or a go-live but a happy customer. For the customer is the Jury at the end. Is cross-selling and up-selling not up the road?

By: James Njuguna - Head of Project Management Office