The Eminence of Customer Self-Service in the Cloud

M.George Walters, CEO, Harbour Mastery®
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M.George Walters, CEO, Harbour Mastery®

“There is an app for that” has become the catch phrase of the cloud ‘Self-Service’computing world but for CIOs implementing cloud-based ERP systems, there is much more functionality required that takes it beyond ‘bells and whistles.’ This is the space my company has worked in since 2003.

“In the ERP universe there are many inter-dependent components and stakeholders who need the opportunity to understand and struggle with those interdependencies”

Sometimes Function Follows Form

In a recent session with one of my newest clients, I presented an Online Customer Self-ServiceFormforthe logistics services delivery teamthat could be accessed through their web site. In the team was a relatively new employee who in his previous life was a customer of this company for 10 years. “In my ten years as a customer doing business with this and other companies like it, no one ever gave me such an easy way to request and confirm services with them,” he said.

In my 25 years as a solutions developer I had never heard such a visceral reaction to a 3 minute presentation. I was looking for feedback on functionality and what form we might present it through. He was looking for how his customers would immediately react to the form for doing business with them.

We then went on to discuss the functions, how confirmations would occur, and the details of the content the customer was being asked to provide. We looked at alternativesand what appealed to this former customer. Keeping it simple was critical to this team or their customers would not use it—they would still be calling, faxing and emailing. It was equally important that the business was getting what it needed–up front–without being an arduous requirement on the customer. The “FORM” is the key and then function must follow.

Not the End of the Story

I was on a bit of a high and later in the day had the opportunity to share the presentation with the financial billing department for the services the customer was requesting. The operations folks had only been concerned with what they needed to perform, their logistics responsibilities–identifying and delivering the services. The billing personnel however had some other concerns.

Since this was not a ‘shopping cart’ approach to buy and pay for things to be shipped, with a few minor tweaks we found a way to collect other equally important information that followed on the logistical services which were always billed after performance rather than before.

The CIO Perspective

This minor piece of a major ERP project implementation had dramatically highlighted what the CIO and CFO had emphasized from its inception.

“Our people need a system they can all operate within together. Our customers need a way to do business with us that leverages what that system has learned from them—what they want, when they are going to get it, what it costs, and an easy way to pay for it–with as much self-service and as little hassle as possible.”

What CIO’s Need

What we have learned that CIOs need and want from solution providers is what we call the 3 C’s -caring, collaboration and capability.

First they want a solution provider who cares enough to ask questions from a diverse set of stakeholders and to listen with an open mind about needs and possibilities. In the ERP universe there are many inter-dependent components and stakeholders who need the opportunity to understand and struggle with those interdependencies. It all starts with the solution provider being willing to give them that opportunity.

In the above scenario, the operations personnel needed to understand what customers wanted; they also needed to understand what finance needed. In juggling these three perspectives, the right on-line self-service form might finally emerge.

Second they want a willingness of the solution provider to collaborate on approaches to build form and function, to explore options until the right one is found. To do this, the provider must be willing to risk encountering dead-ends and then exploring more options until a satisfactory solution is found.

It is all too easy for solution providers to become a bit lazy sometimes and say “Our app doesn’t do that.” And not consider that they shape the app, the app does not shape them.

Finally they want the solution provider to be capable of seeing that the solution is delivered. This does not always mean that the solution provider has all the answers, but it does mean they know how to get the answers. This often means the provider has the ability to reach out and partner with specialists and innovators as needed.

Conclusion

Achieving the end result for what ‘self-service’ customers want in the cloud, is driven by how CIOs select their solution providers and what they insist on from them. The end result is found in form that attracts, engages, builds business and delivers service and the function follows to serve that for all stake-holders with a focus on the customer.

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