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    Customer Satisfaction

    February 4, 2002) - Our conversation with Marty Fahey, CEO of Webhire (see Article) got us to thinking about Customer Satisfaction. It's a world gone crazy out there with customers flaunting 120 page specs for $1Million procurements. The market remains squirrelly with bad pricing methods, growth that threatens viability, and a group of players teetering on the edge of their seats with recovery hopes. After last year, it may be that the best a customer can hope for is continuity in the name of the company delivering the system. We have heard stories of smart vendors who simply refuse to bid on the 120 page spec. We bet their other customers are happy.

    In any technical business, particularly software, Customer Service is a bugaboo. With products as inherently customized as enterprise style ATS, it is unlikely that every user will be happy in every situation. ATS products inherently bring accountability to processes that have been murky at best. That means that from the gitgo, some of the customers are unhappy because the reality of their performance is now showcased. In spite of efforts to the contrary, all ATS installations require modifications to user work styles. Unless this dynamic is managed carefully, it will always result in unhappy users.

    Overall, customer satisfaction is a blend of perceptions from management to end users and everyone in between. Given the state of the art in software (it's all pretty bad), keeping a customer happy is a combination of expectations management, sophisticated politics, good support teams for inevitable problems, consistent promise keeping and rapid attention to clearly identified problems. At the customer end of the equation, the problems are quite straightforward. At the supplier end, it's another story entirely.

    We think Fahey made a very interesting point. We know that Webhire is moving very carefully to manage their growth while maintaining a commitment to have all customers up and running within 90 days. This means, we think, that there will be work that they turn away because they know they can't meet customer satisfaction goals and the turnaround time. It's a smart way to manage growth. If the customer relationship is going to start badly, don't start it. It will be unprofitable.

    The only companies who can afford to treat customers worse that a guarantee of happy turn on within 90 days are the enterprise firms (Peoplesoft, SAP, Lawson) who are serving their captive markets revisions to existing products. In that game, slow service is the norm.

    We really like the Webhire model. The rest of the industry should consider refusing business that can not produce customers whose systems are running smoothly within 90 calendar days of contract award. 

    - John Sumser


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