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How the cherry on the cake can impact your reputation as a Software Company?

While being a software company, we know how fast can spread an information through social media and turnover of employees, refer to our previous blogs on the subject. The veracity of the information doesn’t influence the speed of diffusion, or if it does, it is the bigger, the better. In our competitive environment, reputation is a powerful weapon, most of all when it concerns repeat business rates

On one side of the coin, reputation is a threat. In case of incident, a situation of crisis might appear.  We then have to react fast and the more transparently possible. A long term process is then necessary to erase the incident from the memory. Even years after, traces can still emerge.

On the other side, a good reputation is a strong asset. Reputation works deeply in the customer’s unconscious and motivates trust and will.

To emphasize our point of view, we have many times tried to quantify reputation and this is a difficult task. Most of the studies focuses on ethics, financial performance, social responsibility, quality of product and services, focus on customers and reliability. We cannot disclose the customers numbers nor are we a marketing research company….. a word to the wise is enough!

We, Simple + Smart, think that the most relevant factor is your customer’s feedback. Of course, they are the one to be convinced and satisfied. Their feelings about your services can be spread via personal means of communication and in their professional sphere. This may adversely affect your reputation on a large scale.

As a software company, the first step toward a good reputation is to secure the quality of your products and services during the whole life cycle, long after you have made the sale. Customised trainings, up-dated user guides, detailed information on the software are ones of the simplest solutions.

We want your customers to remember you as reliable because you have transferred enough information for the customer to be autonomous. On the long term, they will recognise your professionalism and spread the word

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Training Impact on support costs in software companies

In your company, nowadays the business requires update or create software(s). Moreover, the business expects the support (internal or external) to help them. And that is a cost that most companies usually do not take into account: it is part of their IT department or to the vendor’s package.

Once the changes have been implemented, different factors reveal the support as a must. That is where the costly useless nightmare generally starts.

–       First, how does the support, usually dedicated to hardware, help the business?

–       Second, are the teams willing to change their habits to finally use 100% of the ‘new’ software capabilities?

We all have experienced a short deadline and something going wrong, out of our control, and calling for hours the support…. for no satisfying reply. As the Murphy’s law works, it is Friday and the report has to be sent yesterday! How many times have you called the helpdesk, to be answered by the good willing support staff doesn’t have any clue, or will come back to you in a couple of hours. Most of the companies have resolved the problem by providing a very complete user guide and help online. Done once and for all. But usually not updated. Even more, the company you’re working in has paid and organised a training six months before you have been hired. What a shame, the training was also done once and for all. Now, your turn to come through the situation.

This last aspect is reinforced by the high Singapore turnover of staff. What does happened to the new comer? She/He will have to read the 100 pages manual stored on the common drive in *.pdf …. hiding her/his joy! Good luck to understand it.

The second issue, the lack of willing to change, is usually solved by the fact that the idea comes from the business. However,  what about the acceptance of the changes and the efficient usage? We, in Simple + Smart, think that training, user guides and learning processes have to be sold to the teams! We believe that learning is a marketing process: we show and convince the teams how to use the new software at its full capacity.

So to resume the whole support cost situation, we should all consider that to measure it, and most of the time to lower it, is to tailor a user friendly specific user guide.  Often austere, too technical and old fashioned, user guides can be design and though to be part of the global strategy to make the team accept the changes. More important, is that by providing a good experience, the users are not reluctant to open the so called manual. We haven’t discuss the interactive and multi-media support that is provided, but that is another subject. We just want to show you how simply a company can easily lower their support cost and ensure a win-win situation.

What do you think? Share your comments and points of view.

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How to simply improve your repeat business rate?

Software vendors usually provide solution to companies that are seeking the most appropriate systems for their staff and assets. One of the challenges, you as vendors, are facing is to find efficient technologies for your clients’ requirements.

However, if your efforts are mainly focused on building a technical solution, without also providing simple and easy to understand user guides and training for the solution, there is an inherent risk that your client will find the whole automated process not only time consuming but also extremely frustrating. The frustration comes when the end-users have to sift through vast amounts of technical documentation to get their work done. As a vendor, not providing the contextualized help on the spot, directly impacts your support costs, as this means, having to invariably deal with the escalating costs from receiving numerous calls from your client. For your client, this problem directly impacts their productivity and efficiency. The whole process defeats the purpose of putting in place an automated solution in the first place, and it is therefore unlikely that your client will look to sign on repeated business with you.

As business owners, we all know that reputation is everything. So while after-sales support are usually included in the agreed Scope of Work, ensuring that the client’s end-users understand the solution deserves focused attention, and one that will ultimately affect what your client has to say about you, and the reputation of your company. Once a client is unsatisfied, the damage can be exponential with the risk of losing ten potential future clients. To compound the problem, your clients have immediate access to the market by way of various social media networks, like Tweeter or LinkedIn, which can irreparably damage your reputation instantly.

When you consider the cycle of acquiring new business to business sale and the efforts it involves, your priorities should be balanced between both winning new business, as well as driving repeat business from your existing clients. Why? Satisfied and loyal customers can be an ambassador for your company, and bring in additional business from “word of mouth” recommendations. Acquiring new clients is a far more expensive undertaking than sourcing for new projects from existing clients. Once a client establishes trust with the quality of the services and deliverables offered your company, the value of the transactions will go up because of the increased level of trust. Further, in a transient employment market, like in Singapore, when an employee moves between companies, the ‘happy’ user that goes to the next company can be your ‘knight’. Otherwise, the former employee could spread the word that you, as a vendor, have not provided the appropriate after-sale service… and once again you’re losing potential clients, without being aware of it.

Establishing trust with a client involves creating a fantastic first impression which continues even after the delivery of the system. Get it right the first time. Keeping the client informed at every stage of the development in the delivery process, and ensuring that there is pro-active and comprehensive advice available to your client, to help them understand the software solution delivered, is essential.

Providing the client with the right set of services and tools, either through easy-to-understand, contextualized manuals or user guides, training (including “train-the trainer” workshops) to train their staff, as well as ensuring easy to access and knowledgeable after-sales support will be critical in creating that final lasting impression with your clients. So some parting words to software vendors out there: don’t put all your eggs in the pre-sale basket, but focus time and money on ensuring that your client is happy after they buy.

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Must have vs. nice to have

Recently I was talking with a manager from a local Singaporean company about the way Simple + Smart could help them with their Transfer of Knowledge plan. During our conversation the manager asked me a very interesting question: ‘Is a Transfer of Knowledge plan something that a company absolutely must have? Or is it really one of those ‘nice to have’ things?’

Some companies hold the opinion that there is no point in investing in a Transfer of Knowledge plan when, thus far, they have functioned pretty well without one. The old ‘if it ain’t broke’ theory. This seems to be a particularly common thought process at this particular point in economic history. Of course smart companies are realising that this is exactly the time when you most need to look at investing in change, and developing robust fundamentals in your organisational structure. Not only to be a survivor at the end of all this turmoil, but also to differentiate in today’s competitive global market.

To decide whether a Transfer of Knowledge plan is just a ‘nice to have’, or something that is imperative to the success of your business, I suggest that you do an internal review to discover how comfortable the staff is with current handover processes, with existing documentation, and how they access company specific information. Then look at staff turnover and exit interview information, if such exists, to determine why people are leaving. This information should provide you with some insight to how your current processes are affecting the on-going performance and job satisfaction of key individuals within your organisation.

Recently there seem to be a lot of articles relating to the reasons behind today’s high attrition, especially with Generation Y staff. In one such article (see below link) they mention studies that had found that today’s younger workers have absolutely no intention of sticking around if they don’t feel like they’re learning, growing, and being valued in their job. A consultant who researched years worth of exit interviews found that a loss of training opportunities, and a lack of mentors in the workplace, were two of the biggest reasons why young workers left. Basically this can translate to: a lack of a strong Transfer of Knowledge plan could be leading directly to talented staff leaving your organisation. Suddenly the ‘nice to have’ is taking on a more significant role, you could even say that it is a ‘must have’ to ensure continuity, and overall success.

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Transfer of Knowledge: how to measure it?

The other day I attended a business event with AustCham. One of the people I met there asked me a simple question: ‘How do you know that once the Transfer of Knowledge plan is in place that it actually works?’

This is an interesting question, and of course depends a lot on the actual information being transferred and often also the method in which the Transfer of Knowledge is conducted. In many cases it makes sense to develop a list of questions such as the below. This list of questions would be first given to the Subject Matter Expert whose knowledge it is that you wish to retain, and then to the new staff member once the Transfer of Knowledge project is complete, to ensure that the information has indeed been transferred.

An example list of questions may look like this:

  1. Name the most common words, acronyms, and terms used in your company, and in the specific role.
  2. List the steps in all key processes the role is required to complete and explain briefly why each one of them is important.
  3. List the common challenges any beginner in this role faces.
  4. Troubleshooting: Describe how to troubleshoot the most common issues faced, and list the items to check in order to resolve it. Within the process of resolving these issues, list who should be contacted, and why (including all points of escalation). Also note the level of priority for each issue (i.e. an issue vs. a crisis).
  5. List all role related resources: documents, experts, samples, websites, etc. and where and how to find them.
  6. For each role specific task define what constitutes ‘complete’, and what would constitute an ‘excellent’ level of delivery.
  7. Where applicable define the standards or rules for each role specific task.

Once a new hire has been thoroughly trained and transitioned into a role, their responses to the above should replicate those of the initial Subject Matter Expert. If this is not the case, then a gap analysis will need to be conducted to determine where the Transfer of Knowledge has failed and why.

Of course we always need to ‘begin with the end in mind’ – and the end goal is to ensure valuable Intellectual Property is not lost when key staff members leave the organisation. Successful Transfer of Knowledge ensures that the impact of staff transitions is minimal.

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Transfer of knowledge: internet versus intranet

Last week I was in a business networking event presenting to a keen listener what Simple + Smart does. The listener asked a fairly typical question: ’Why do I need my company to have a Transfer of Knowledge plan, since everyone in my organisation just looks for any required information on the web?’

Of course, nowadays, any general information is to be found on the internet. However, as I pointed out to my listener: ‘What about the confidential information? What about the specific know-how and procedures of an organisation? Is this kind of information accessible by the public eye?, and if so Really????’ The listener couldn’t help but get the point of exactly what I was talking about and realise that while standard information is indeed accessible to everyone, his company specific intellectual property is not, and furthermore, absolutely and definitely should not be.

So I would like to talk today about the access we have on the internet versus the way we look for specific information on the intranet.

As much as the web is easy to access, and almost any kind of information you may need is there for the viewing, not only do you have to worry about the accuracy and currency of the information, but it can take a considerable amount of time to filter millions of ‘search results’ that the search engines provide you with.

On the other hand, a company’s intranet is often not easily accessible, even for those working within the organisation, with the highest levels of permission. People within organisations tend to store information that is accessible via an intranet, but relatively no one makes it actually easy to access. Options such as having keywords, indexes, and then when you actually read documents, having them in plain, clear English seem often to be lacking. Documentation can be too technical, too obscure, too unclear on the contextual nature of the information, – that is if you even manage to find it in the first place.

It amazes me how little attention can be paid to the accessibility, accuracy and maintenance of a company’s intranet. This is the lifeblood of the organisation, or should be, and as such must be kept clean of any toxins and fed constantly with fresh nutrients.

This is where having a dedicated Transfer of Knowledge project comes in handy. The project scope can involve tracking down all current documentation, mapping all current processes, and then ensuring the information is accurate, up to date, and in a consistent format. Once this is achieved developing/configuring your intranet tool, or even internal wiki, to allow for fast accurate searches within the pool of data is made possible. Of course as with any organism there is no real way to just ‘set and forget’. Your intranet needs to be continuously monitored, cleansed and infused with the latest information, retaining the consistency of format.

Once you have the lifeblood flowing in a healthy, consistent fashion you can go wild with how your staff utilise and access this information. Today’s world is all about mobility, tools such as iBooks on the iPad®, provide avenues for staff to tap into the internal wealth of information, with the speed that they have become accustomed to when searching via the internet.

The internet will never be completely replaced by your intranet, no matter how healthy your system is, and nor should it be. The internet working in conjunction with a healthy intranet is the ultimate goal, and can provide amazing benefits from productivity gains.

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Off the shelf versus customised methodology.

Often when positioning a Transfer of Knowledge project, people asked me, ‘What kind of methodology do you apply?’ At times they also ask if I follow the “Insert Name Here” methodology.

I am always quite overwhelmed by the number of business process methodologies that exist, are deployed, and are even ‘certified’. And while I am all for it, for those who need the structure of a tried and true methodology, strict methodology of any kind is worthless without appreciation of the subtleties of different environments and requirements, and also without passion.

So when it comes to defining ‘my methodology’ it is certainly none that is certified, nor really is it certifiable in its construct, because, by its very nature, it is fluid enough to meet the very unique needs of each different client. My methodology for Transfer of Knowledge starts with thoroughly understanding not only the clients current environment, but also their goals and vision. I then like to work on-site, hand to hand with the client’s experts, with their years of experience, and bring my out-of-the-box thinking, and completely personalised methodology to complement their wisdom. In my experience this is the simplest and most effective way to ensure success in Transfer of Knowledge projects.

Every now and then I get push back from those who have ‘drunk the Kool-aid’ of the latest off-the-shelf methodology. Their belief is that an unstructured, ‘customised’ approach to any project is too labour intensive, and ends up costing too much. While this has some basis in truth, given the amount of projects that seem to drift aimlessly away from scope, it is not necessarily a given, especially with Transfer of Knowledge projects. With a very clear scope for the project, a customised approach can actually mean a much leaner, less time consuming, and less costly way to reach the end goal. This approach can also be an investment, as often the methodology will be specific to the unique environment of the client and can therefore be replicated in their unique environment for other similar projects, which can not always be said of off-the-shelf methodologies.

‘Horses for courses’ of course, I certainly understand the benefit of strong, proven methodology for large, complex, institutionalised projects; but for my money I still believe in the worth of a customised approach to meet very specific goals in unique environments. I also feel that the customised approach lends itself to being delivered with passion, and in my experience anything delivered with passion is not only more rewarding for those involved, but also more likely to have a lasting impact.

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