The Failure of Customer Leadership

One of the chief complaints of end users with SharePoint (and, to be fair, just about every other technology out there) is the failure of IT, engineering, and/or administrators pool4(whomever owns the platform) to respond to their requests in a timely manner. People are understanding if you are up front with them about your priorities, business pressures that limit your ability to respond quickly, or management overrides of the most well-intentioned plans. But keep those people in the dark, and they will not defend you or the system.

In a couple of my SharePoint presentations, I like to share the story of my experience having a custom pool installed in my backyard while living in Northern California. My kids were still small, and the excitement around having a pool put was palpable. We sign the papers, and literally the next day the contractor shows up with a couple massive tractors, rips into our back lawn, and at the end of the day leaves us with the shape of our future pool. As he leaves, however, he tells us “You’re gonna love me for a couple days, then hate me for a couple pool3months, and then love me again at the end.”

The next day, nothing. A week goes by, and no word from anyone. We have a giant mud hole in our backyard, but nothing else happens. A couple more weeks go by before we finally see someone – the sub-contractors show up to remove our ripped up sprinkler system from our former lawn, and do partially complete the rough interior of the pool, and then nothing for a couple more weeks. No returned calls. Another couple weeks go by, and we’re getting frustrated by the lack of information. More than two months pass since the initial hole is dug before we see a sudden flurry of activity. The decking (patio area) contractors show and wanting to do their part, but the gas lines aren’t in yet (which would have been a huge screw-up). Luckily I am home to catch this. It takes another week to sort it out, but I still haven’t heard from the primary contractor. Gas lines and heating equipment finally go in, tile and surfacing are finished, and we start filling the pool.

The entire process took just over 3 months – a month behind the promised schedule, and the day before our pool is completed, the contractor knocks on the door. As predicted, the final product was impressive….and we hated our contractor.

pool5As we sign off on the acceptance paperwork, the contractor kind of chuckles as he sees how happy we are with the end product, and turns to me and says “So, if you know of anyone else who would like a pool built, feel free to pass along my contact information.”

If you know me, you know that I speak my mind. I told the guy flat out that I would never recommend his services. As a former technical project manager, I know how important communication and visibility are to end users. While I understood that the contractor was probably dealing with city inspectors and necessary approvals at each stage of my backyard project, the fact that he did not have the common courtesy – the bedside manner, if you will – to return my calls, to manage the customer experience, I could not recommend him. Regular updates with no change in status would have been better than no updates. His level of service was unacceptable.

The lesson to be learned here is to show some customer leadership. In SharePoint deployments and customizations, it is especially important to keep your end users in the loop on what is happening, constantly managing their expectations. Failure to do so could impact your customer adoption strategies.

My recommendations:

  • Design a process for change management.
  • Communicate that process.
  • Make changes visible to the organization.
  • Follow through on the plan and your commitments.

The worst thing you can do to your end users is lose them before things have even started. Have a plan in place prior to deployment, and remember that the whole reason you’re building out this technology is to benefit them.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.