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Build Better Relationships through Open Communication with Clients

Product Team
Health / Stress / Burn-Out

29 March, 2019

Mike Mitchell
Mike Mitchell

Interim/Fractional CPO at Trigr Innovation

Mike works through a situation with a client who holds his company up to impossible expectations regarding his company’s availability and software consistency.

Problem

I led product and operations at a SaaS company providing an incident management and communications platform. I had teams in development, QA, support and client services, but also contributed regularly to sales pursuits, and interacted with clients on a daily basis.
One of our clients was an energy company, and was really tough on us--they didn't like us making changes to the platform. Their position was understandable—tens of millions depended on them for electrical power, and fines were huge if they didn't respond to outages quickly. So they had to rely on us to be available and their emotion was always high. But of course as a commercial software provider, we needed to make changes to the software, and this necessitated occasional short maintenance windows.

Actions taken

Over time, I built a relationship with the executive responsible for risk management and business continuity at the customer. I was open and honest about our own company challenges, and listened closely to her concerns as well, paraphrasing these back to her so that she knew I understood. As part of this process, I exposed our development plans and had weekly meetings on progress in addressing specific enhancements they had asked for. While this information was unrelated to our release management and maintenance practices, clear communication and rapport built trust and confidence that we could get through issues together.

Lessons learned

Ultimately, this process led to a much more open communication style about challenges presented by global infrastructure and what we were doing to address it, not only with with the energy company, but with all of our clients. This led to better relationships with clients, who were more understanding and also more open with their own needs, and ultimately greater retention.

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