Not long ago I wrote about Microsoft CIO Tony Scott's efforts to find out more about his company's customers by spending some time in a call center. It was valuable, he said, because "customer service people know things about products that product development doesn't know." Scott's experiences should result in easier-to-use products and/or improved online documentation.
Producing better products and better serving external customers are great reasons to spend some time in the trenches, but they are hardly the only ones. Prevoyance Group President Patrick Gray, author of "Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology," highlights another one, making employees more receptive to change, in a recent TechRepublic column.
Most companies promote change by trying to sell folks on the overall corporate benefits of a solution rather than individual ones. Yet few people buy into this approach, Gray says. While it's important to present corporate benefits in the early, business-case stage, companies should emphasize individual benefits if they want employees to actually use solutions and adapt to change, writes Gray. Traditional change management efforts "treat the community as a gelatinous mass, to be slowly coalesced and pushed in a single direction." Too often this approach results in unhappy users taking an adversarial position and resisting change.
I got a similar view from CRM expert Barton Goldenberg way back in 2007 when I interviewed him about gaining user buy-in for CRM implementations. Goldenberg told me he coined the term "3x factor" in an article he wrote in 1986. Here's how it works: For every piece of information users enter into a CRM system, they should receive at least three pieces of valuable information from the system. He told me:
What you have to figure out from users is, what is the 3x factor that will drive the one coming back into the system? We use a structured methodology to identify individual user need as well as group need. So the 3x says, "We have to figure out what is of value to the user in return for us asking them to give us a forecast, or competitive information, or a customer service incident." Can we get them qualified leads in exchange?" This becomes particularly important when you are working with external partners. Less than a 3x, and users will not use the system.
Promote cross-functional participation during the requirements gathering phase to ensure you identify the 3x issues for all of the major stakeholders, Goldenberg said. I think that's great advice, and I think it'll work even better if developers visit users on their own turf. As Gray suggests:
Spend a half day in the call center listening to calls or jockeying the cash register at one of your retail outlets, and you will quickly learn what kinds of appeals are likely to sway each user group.
Once you identify the appeals and convey them to users, implementation becomes a much more collaborative process. Users feel more personally invested in making it work, and IT staff can more easily relate to user concerns and solve small problems before they become big ones.