Part 1: What would you do? Disobey to delight?


This is the first post in a series of ‘what would you do’ pieces about real professional and customer service experience stories that can stand as lessons of what to do, and what not to do. The role and actions of the leader(s), service provider and the customer will be presented in each, with different outcome scenarios offered. I’m hoping that many will add their own thoughts, expertise and guidance so this grows into a valuable resource for discussion and insight.

Let’s jump right in with Case #1 – Disrupt & Disobey to Delight?

Overview: Prof Service consultant is stuck in loop as customer advocate with unresponsive partner/leader. What to do, what to do?

Leader Role: Partner – Sells, services & supports 5 ERP products and 1 enterprise collaboration application, plus custom add-ons. Active in the channel for greater than 10 years. Expertise in manufacturing, mining & oil field drilling.

Professional & Customer Service Role – Consultant: Also worked in the same channel for greater than 10 years, specializing as an expert in the enterprise collaboration application (trained the partner on it in years past), with decent knowledge in the erp packages. Wooed by partner to come on board for that expertise.

Customer Role: Mid-size manufacturer, with strong online catalogue sales channel. Three years into their implementation of the erp & collaboration system. Recognize they are not utilizing systems efficiently for CRM & Marketing purposes. Recently hired a new marketing/lead generation FT staff member.

The Story:

Consultant is tasked by Partner to demo functionality in the CRM system that is not yet configured or being used, for the purposes of training customer’s new marketing resource, existing account care rep and member of exec team on increased efficiencies & value. Exec member is ‘blown away’ by untapped potential and wants immediate action to get it up and running.

In the process of demo prep, consultant notes dirty data via a bad first load 3 years hence, segmentation redundancies in useless fields which are unrelated to, and useless for, native reports and lack of configured mgmt dashboards. Expresses same to Partner, with advisement this could be addressed in <2 hrs time without impact on any erp touch point fields.  Partner says, “No. Train only with they already have. Just ignore that exec guy. He hasn’t been happy in 10 years and nothing will make him happy. He needs to take responsibility for not using the system.”

Meanwhile, the exec guy (customer) is eager & excited to get moving using their system they way it was sold to them. Peppers communications to consultant with statements like, “At last! We’re looking at swapping out to another system, because we’ve paid for consulting over & over to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, twice the quoted amount, and we’ve never seen or gotten this stuff. You can get us on track. Let’s start working on this right now.”

So let’s review – we have:

  • Customer & partner, both dissatisfied & resentful of each other, alternately blaming and being defensive about who is responsible for the state of the systems & the relationship. One doesn’t want to pay another dime for services that should have been rendered by partner, but is willing to pay new consultant, and the other refuses to deviate from their ill-conceived training plan based on their own limited knowledge of the CRM system functionality.
  • Consultant thrown in the middle of the relationship drama, facing barriers and impediments to put head down, get to work & improve things all around.

In this case, the Consultant has three choices:

  1. Step back, letting the customer and partner duke it out themselves.
  2. Step sideways, do the required configurations quietly (unbillable) on a copy of the system, then demo to both the customer & the partner.
  3. Step up, staying in the trenches fighting for the customer, re-educating the partner in the process, to get permission to do the work openly.

What would you do?

I’d likely do several things in parallel.

  • First, I’d try a different tactic with the partner.  I’d work to pull them out of the same behaviors with and expectations of the customer by pointing out that they now have two new change agents on the field: the consultant & the new marketing resource the customer hired.  Small changes that can have big impact… “a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas.”
  • Both have fresh eyes and aren’t locked into the circuitous arguments that prevent real change from occurring. I’d position that as an opportunity, suggesting that both the partner and the exec guy step back, hand over the reins to these new folks for one week, then check the results. Move the actions away from the mistrustful players to enable a new relationship to be built within the organization & the partnership.
  • I’d clarify to both the customer & the partner that billing bitches are not appropriate discussions to saddle staff & consultants with during work sessions. Take it offline and speak to the people who have their own skin in the game on either side. New players don’t want or need to be poisoned, lest the cycle continues.
  • Confident that the partner won’t notice anyway, else it would have been addressed long ago, I’d quietly move the dirty, unused data to another field so the original field could be used as originally intended for marketing functions. (Only possible in this case, because there is zero chance for corruption or loss of data.) Quiet win for the customer at no cost to partner. ;>

When tight-rope walking between the needs of the customer and the partner who owns that customer, consultants have to balance ethics, ownership and advocacy very carefully.  What would you do?


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