There has been a long running discussion in professional service organizations about whether the technical project team members should be engaged with clients, or whether they should be sheltered from clients often under the guise of allowing them to focus on their task list. In my experience as a Project Manager and Customer Success Manager, I’ve found that allowing them to engage with clients directly streamlined project communication, and expedited the “right” development.
An April 2012 Inc article “The New Rules of Customer Engagement” by Wendy Lea outlines the new customer engagement paradigm. The focus has shifted away from single, often isolated touch-points to a much more integrated, customer-focused, results-driven experience. This particular article is geared towards engagement in social media, it drives home the point that customer service is no longer seen as just part of the sales process. Every conversation that happens, in any venue must be driven toward customer resolution.
A October 2014 Survey Monkey blog post discusses 5 crucial reasons to engage your customer service and product teams as a means to deliver consistently great customer service. It argues that product project teams don’t spend enough time with marketing or customer service to fully understand customer issues and sentiments.
Overall, I think we can agree that being fully engaged with our customers, including fully understanding customer issues and sentiments, is imperative to our business success. Even further, it is a given that our organization needs to be fully engaged across internal teams. I argue that the technical project teams also need to engage with customers directly. Three critical reasons include:
- It streamlines customer communication – When a technical resource needs to make decisions based on business requirements, it can be significantly easier to communicate a question directly to the customer. Critical details often get lost in translation when the technical resource communicates to a project manager, who then translates it to the business user.
- It simplifies the project management role – By allowing the direct communication, the requirement for the project manager to be technical becomes minimized. The PM should still understand the technology, but their focus becomes more of a facilitator and a remover of obstacles.
- It more closely aligns the customer to the technical team – When the technical project team engages with the customer, and visa versa, each begins to see behind the curtain. This allows each side to more fully appreciate the challenges and opportunities that exist. If the customer never experiences the technical process, or the technical team never experiences the business requirements, you lose the epiphany moments that come from truly solving the customer’s problem rather than more superficial symptoms.
I have seen great success with having my technical teams engage with customers directly. It becomes my role to manage the scope, prioritize the follow ups and generally keep everything on track. I step in to facilitate conversation or remove barriers to success, but don’t get in the way of progress. I challenge each of you to review your engagement model and figure out how to incorporate customer-technical resource communication.