Insights

Customer Collaboration - A Great Way to Deliver Innovative Products

January 13, 2021

A transactional approach to sales is one way of  doing business. But often companies want to have a more relational partnership between their customers, or suppliers, and themselves. This article examines this more collaborative method of customer interactions, and EventMAP’s experience in adopting such an approach, and thereby driving product innovation.

Developing such a partnership requires effort, but in the longer term it also produces value for all concerned. A reason for this is that the supplier is able to build a longer lasting relationship with their client, and the client is able to benefit from a more personal customised association. This, in turn, can lead to a more intimate and personal business relationship which then brings opportunities to add value. Clients that form partnerships with their suppliers will often gain a higher quality and greater reliability in service, as vendors are more invested in the business relationship, and clients likewise. For many years we at EventMAP have found this to be a valuable approach, not only in terms of product development, but we have also found it has led to deeper and stronger customer relationships than would otherwise have been possible. It also makes it easier to develop client advocates for our products and services.

We have found that, in the longer term this partnership approach works for us, in that it allows both client and vendor to reduce overall project costs, operate more efficiently, achieve a business outcome more quickly. Why do we say this? Well, let us take each point in turn.

Reduce Costs for both Client and Vendor: With a transactional sale approach, the endeavour is to just make the sale. Once made, to a great degree, that ends the relationship unless for some reason the product or service fails to deliver, or as with consumables subsequent purchases are required. This may seem to be the least costly approach to business, as both parties transact and then walk away. But, with such a shallow relationship, resolving any issues is, in itself, shallow, and transactional. The vendor responds to complaints with a view to reducing any reputational damage, and the client just wants to receive some compensation to effectively reduce their overall outlay (give me a discount, or give me a free upgrade). An unsavoury outcome may easily lead to a loss of trust and consequently in future impact repeat revenues (the customer vows to never buy from you again). In turn, the client may suffer some financial hit (for example, unexpected repairs, or the need to make the purchase again earlier than originally anticipated). Also, given that disgruntled clients have been shown to more readily express their bad experience than happy customers, bad reviews can easily swamp positive ones.

In a partnership, the relationship between client and vendor would normally be more collaborative. Therefore, the client is more prepared to work with the vendor to resolve issues, and the vendor is more open to working with the client to satisfy the customer’s needs. This consequently deepens the relationship, making the customer life cycle longer, and ensures that the product or service delivers to the customers needs for a longer duration. This can reasonably be expected to lead to an extended business relationship.

Improves organisational efficiency: How does this approach improve efficiency?

If the product or service operates to the client’s basic needs, over the life of the relationship, it reduces the need to research and invest in new alternatives. Where this might involve the use of complex products, it may also reduce costs of staff training, as migrating from one service provider to another, can often entail learning new skills. In a partner relationship, it is hoped the product or service supplied is more likely to align with clients’ needs, meaning that the need for inefficient workarounds to overcome deficiencies in the product supplied are minimised. In some cases, a product or service can even be customised to individual client’s needs, from a more informed position on the part of the vendor. This in turn can further increase the product’s value to the client. This then may lead to an increase in corresponding customer loyalty to the vendor.

Achieves business outcomes more quickly: In a partnership relationship, both businesses work together to achieve objectives. When both the vendor and the client work as a team, not only can the client articulate their needs more thoroughly, but also the vendor can be more responsive, and freer to articulate concerns and issues the client may have overlooked. It also benefits the vendor in other ways, for example feedback from clients will doubtless ensure that the product is more attuned to customer needs, and in this way, more relevant to purchasers more widely.

At EventMAP we have adopted this partnership approach as a fundamental part of our methodology. Our software development has been considerably informed by our consultancy services. In turn this has meant that even in development activity in areas where no consultancy is involved, projects have been very customer-centric. It has meant that we have developed the skills to be able to understand and interpret client needs and develop solutions that focus on high value frequently used capabilities. Equally it helps us steer the project away from low value or idiosyncratic functions. These are skills that need to be learned, and embedded in the company’s whole ethos.

Of course, this alone does not determine whether we should commit resources to develop a new software product. There must be a clear market, and in addition to this, an opportunity, or a clear unique selling point (USP) to break into that market. This is especially so, when there are established players who are already dominant in that sector.

An example of this was a project we recently undertook with Peterhouse, at the University of Cambridge. It is the oldest college of the thirty-one institutions providing pastoral care to students. Like many other colleges, Peterhouse organises its own accommodation for the students in their care. Their incumbent accommodation booking system was based on an Access database and needed replacing. In addition, there were many other associated, burdensome, manual processes which relied on some onerous attention to detail, e.g. licence issuing, finance tracking and communications, etc.

Clearly this was an opportunity for the college to look at the whole process of managing accommodation bookings, and to make efficiency improvements. The desire was for a solution that would minimise human error, reduce the burden of heavily manual tasks, increase visibility of information and bring all of the processes closer together.

Peterhouse went through a Vendor selection process. As part of that activity each supplier was asked to provide a demo of their solution. Interestingly the selected product was not originally designed for the specific purpose of managing student accommodation. However, it did supply an excellent cloud-based Room/Resource booking product. Because the selected approach was collaborative, the College decided that such an approach, where an existing product could be modified to closely match their needs, was the better way forward. The result for the College and the supplier was not only an excellent tool designed specifically for the task at hand, but a new product with key advantages over competitor products, that would benefit the community of accommodation managers more widely.

The key deciding factors for both the client and the vendor in this case were:

  • The willingness and desire of the client to succeed in helping to deliver a better solution than current market offerings.
  • The transfer of the client’s experience and knowledge, on how to manage student accommodation, to a solution provider.
  • The enthusiasm of the client to collaborate and work together with the vendor to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome.

Through the supplier’s own requirements gathering process, it was clear that some of the market leading products were very dated and had become somewhat stale. Hence it provided an opportunity to break into the market with a well thought out and easy to use cloud-based solution.

Of course, some suppliers and purchasers will always want to have the freedom to enter a purely transactional sales arrangement. But our conclusion has been, that collaborative partnership approaches to application development can help supplier s deliver superb solutions with high value, well thought out capabilities, and providing a great user experience. At EventMAP we have found this a valuable method of developing customer-centric solutions. Perhaps, whether you are a client or a vendor, you will find such a collaborative approach to product or service development an invaluable aid to conducting successful business. This collaborative approach has additionally improved our relationships with clients who only need an off the shelf solution, as it has allowed us to hone our company/client interactions in a more responsive and customer-centric way.

As a Company committed to bringing the best scheduling and optimisation solutions to our clients, if you have a project you would like to discuss, or a challenge you have, and are looking to collaborate with a solution provider for a better outcome than can be achieved by just buying an off the shelf product, you can contact us here.

Or if you would like to have a demonstration of any of our products or our new product “Accommodation” please contact EventMAP.

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