This column, the , showcases Business Objects' "Culture of Trust" best practices in building customer loyalty. Two customers - Jonathan Rothman, director of data management, Emergency Medical Associates, and Tom Nather, senior systems analyst, business intelligence, Penske Logistics - validate that the process works well beyond systems functionality into the realm of guiding strategic decisions. The objective of this column is to showcase best practices so that you may integrate them into your own IT environments.

Dave Galloway, group vice president of customer care, shares Business Objects' focus on a culture of trust as the foundation to build customer loyalty. According to Galloway, "Hundreds of decisions are being made by the engineers every day. If you cannot drive the culture, those decisions are going the wrong way. You can't be watching every decision. It must come out of their decision to do the right thing for the customer."

Trust, a value that cannot be purchased but which needs to be earned, requires credible and consistent actions demonstrated over a sufficiently convincing period of time and events so that a predictable behavior of mutual consideration is established. Galloway shares how people processes inside the company and in collaboration with OEM partners and customers, and systems infrastructure, build a basis for earning loyalty. Evaluate which of these best practices you can replicate in your enterprise.

Customer needs that earn loyalty are described in the March issue:

  1. Minimize turnover to preserve communications and improve accountability.
  2. Share IT's intense focus on solving customer problems.
  3. Collaborate across multivendor teams.
  4. Employ R&D to build strategic advantage.
  5. Optimize multitrack communication channels.
  6. Leverage executive communications, a powerful tool.

Minimize Turnover to Preserve Communications and Improve Accountability

"Working with the same team preserves communications and holds them accountable for business results. Better decisions are made in less time." - Director of Business Intelligence

Business Objects teams are powered by an overarching attitude to "out-process the customer" in maintaining continuity of communications and accountability. All aspects of the customer environment are in perpetual motion: customers' marketplace and IT needs, customers' staff and skills needs, and Business Objects' solutions set. Business Objects has built an infrastructure of support staff technology and processes to learn and know more about the customers' environment than the customers themselves because a breach in continuity is expensive for the client and Business Objects.

Business Objects employs a four-pillar strategy to maintain continuity and reduce turnover. The team is driven by the goal to know the customers better than the customers know themselves (see Figure 1). First, under the motto, "We Know You Better," the Business Objects team works to understand the business mission for all customer projects to help the team stay focused on the customer's mission. This helps establish the foundation of commitments, expectations and trust. Second, teams go through training on partner products to support the customer environment. This enhances professional skills, confidence to solve problems, morale and stability. Third, to reduce turnover and retain talent, career growth is encouraged with continuity in mind - with the account base and industry. This rewards performance and enhances loyalty. Business intelligence (BI) skills are highly marketable, and low employee satisfaction will not create the loyalty required to effectively serve clients. Business Objects manages and rewards management for high employee satisfaction and low turnover through formal reward and recognition programs. The last measure is to maintain an infrastructure to enable collaborative content sharing and account management, allowing teams and customers to review and track progress.

Figure 1: Minimize Turnover to Maintain Continuity, Accountability


Questions

  • What tools do your vendors employ to deliver continuity through people and processes?
  • How can your team assist the vendor teams to meet new needs?
  • Do you measure continuity as a managed attribute in your environment?

Share IT's Intense Focus on Solving Customer Problems

"Every instance where IT provides input to business teams is an opportunity to either build trust or to lose credibility." - Senior IT Project Manager

"Our attitude is that if the customer is not fully satisfied, we lose. The whole purpose of BI is to be able to help to make the customers' business better - that's what we are committed to achieve." - Galloway

At Business Objects, customer-facing teams share an intense focus on customers' business problems as opposed to a narrow technical focus for each project. This bridges the technology and business teams, often revealing hidden benefits and resulting in better business understanding and improved technical implementation.

Questions

  • Can your vendors articulate business value for your projects?
  • What process do you employ to ensure shared focus and intensity?

Collaborate Across Multivendor Teams

"We expect vendors to work across the 11 other IT partners we have in our environment." - Senior MIS Manager

"We totally believe in collaboration across multivendor teams. No finger pointing." - Galloway

This approach is supported by investment in training and advance preparation. Galloway explains, "The goal in a multivendor environment is that the Business Objects team must be as good technically as the vendors of the products we connect to. Therefore, we are as good as anybody at Oracle, Sun, Microsoft, IBM or Teradata. This is a huge credibility, trust and competitive advantage."

Business Objects trains employees (560 support and 900 in research and development) not only on their own solutions, but also on partner products and equipment in their own lab. Business Objects invests heavily in partner platforms and products. With more than 750 OEM partners and alliances, they see cross training as a critical foundation for customer success and staff confidence. To extend their ability to solve customer problems across vendors, they are able to use partner resources to assist on a high priority basis through an industry-collaborative arrangement, TechNet (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Working Across Multivendor Teams


Questions

  • How do your vendors prepare their teams to support your multi-vendor environment?
  • How well do you leverage the vendor investments to support you?

Employ R&D to Build Strategic Advantage

"We need our technology partners to have skin in the game. They can show value by investing in R&D and developing features we need." - IT Director

Although formal programs (advisory boards, beta programs and direct development team links to customers) try to anticipate needs, and while such requests for very specific features are not frequent, Business Objects is committed to solving customer issues. They believe most customers do not and should not want one-off builds of the product. Whether customers do or do not have the upfront investment for modifications, but are willing to put skin in the game by partnering in testing and marketing, Business Objects welcomes such opportunities.

Galloway elaborates, "In the end, financial contribution is insignificant in comparison to the value of partnering on a solution that has value to the client and solves a larger industry issue. Most customers don't realize how important this is to us."


Questions

  • Which collaborative opportunities could provide you an industry leadership advantage?
  • Have you explored partnering with your vendors?

Optimize Multitrack Communication Channels

"Today, we employ a variety of strategies to work with our IT partners." - IT Manager

To support the customer across all touchpoints, Business Objects teams carry the same objective here, to out-process the customer and know more about the customer account than the customer to add value (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Multitrack Communications


Sales, support and management processes are formalized to measure customer success against business targets. Strategic and tactical management processes enable the engagement of the right resources.


Question

  • Are you familiar with your vendors' processes to support your environment?

Leverage Executive Communications, A Powerful Tool

"What we need from IT vendors' executives is continuity of sponsorship." - IT Director

Business Objects executives are assigned key accounts to ensure strategic long-term vision. Their approach is: What would you like me to know, and how would you like me to drive our agenda to best support you? A specific focus, says Galloway, is also strong partnering relationships with other technology partners/OEMs and how they work together in the giant ecosystem.

Question

  • Can your vendor executives help bridge gaps among your IT partners?

Critical Thought

  • Would your IT team consider developing a "Culture of Trust" measurement for your relationship with vendors?
  • Which tools and policies would you measure?
  • Who would participate in such measurements?
  • Are your vendors likely to favor or decline such a measurement?
  • How would your enterprise leadership and culture respond?

Note: To maintain objectivity and credibility, independent interviews with IT director level customer contacts validated best practices. I did not request or receive a fee from companies profiled in this series.

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