3 Essentials for Delivering Project-Centric Customer Service

Customer service and project management are challenging endeavors on their own. Combining the two can be downright chaotic.

Every customer service incident can be thought of as a project. Managing inquiries and complaints typically requires intake, triage, research, validation, communication, and resolution. But all of this is done in a short amount of time.

Project-centric customer service is different. It includes project planning, resource management, risk monitoring, regular meetings, document collaboration, and more. These services are delivered over long periods of time, from a few weeks to multiple years.

Project-centric customer service is a new and important area for many businesses. It goes by many names, such as projects as a service, project services, project operations, or project delivery. Most organizations use legacy systems to deliver project services. The results are disappointing for both employees and the customers they are serving.

Customer expectations and technology have evolved significantly in recent years, and successful project-centric customer service organizations are getting three things right that many are missing:

1. Customer Visibility and Collaboration

Legacy project delivery meant compiling summary documents, running reports, and regularly scheduled project meetings to understand the project status. Customers today expect to see this information in real time. Successful companies have also enabled their customers to collaborate throughout the project lifecycle through modern digital collaboration solutions.

We live in an age when customers expect to be more involved in their experiences. Project-centric customer service requires more involvement from customers than any other area.

2. Document Management

Document management is often overlooked, but it is just as important as project management. Documents can easily be stored in a file share or cloud file management solution. But managing these documents quickly becomes chaotic. Internal and client project teams complain about duplicates, lost documents, confusing hierarchies, lack of consistent approval processes, and security issues.

Document management for project-centric customer service means developing an information architecture that can scale with complex and matrixed document management needs. This architecture requires a professional-grade document management solution.

3. Integration

When project visibility and document management aren't integrated, it creates a lot of extra work for project teams and frustration for customers. Creating one location where employees and customers can see project data (like the plan, status of work items) and documents (including which documents are secure and which are shared) is important. This not only reduces time spent getting work done but it also reduces context-switching, which is known to interrupt the flow of work and reduce productivity.

Successful integration means project management, document management, and collaboration solutions share a common architecture. This means project information, document visibility, and digital collaboration all take place in one location.

Successful project-centric customer service requires three things: people, processes, and technology. The people and processes are different for every organization; that's what makes them unique. As a result, there's no one-size-fits-all technology solution. But here are a few guidelines that might help:

  • Integrated beats best-of-breed: Don't look for a set of best-of-breed applications to get work done. Instead, look at integrated environments that make the integration step easier.
  • Look for a flexible framework: Look for solutions that offer a customizable framework so you can configure and integrate them to align with your unique people and processes.
  • Choose a solution that aligns with your roadmap: Look for solutions that are evolving rapidly and heading in the same direction as your business is heading; the only thing harder than getting it right the first time is having to migrate to something new.
  • Find your sherpa: A sherpa is someone who has ;been there and done that. Find someone who can show you how it has worked for others, but be sure that person is dedicated to listening to and understanding your unique situations and can connect the dots in a way that will be a competitive advantage for your organization.
  • Stay close to home: Chances are you already license many parts of the final solution from Google or Microsoft. Maximize the value from these investments before adding new solutions (or evaluate and consolidate your other solutions to do more with less).

Geoff Ables is managing partner of C5 Insight. He can be reached at geoff.ables@c5insight.com.