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Good Partnerships: Relationships

At Mindset, one of our core values is to build Deep and Trusting Relationships.  This applies to everyone we interact with: our partners, our employees, and of course, our customers.

One of the things that I love most about my role at Mindset is the impact that I get to have on our customer’s experience with us, and ultimately, our ability to build that long-term relationship.  Here are a quick 5 ways in which we ensure that we’re living our core value, and building relationships that last.

Quick background:  prior to joining Mindset just over two years ago, I had never been in a consulting role, but had frequently used and purchased consulting services from a variety of vendor.  As anyone who has used 3rd party vendors in a large IT firm can tell you, the experience that you get from various providers is mixed. I was frequently frustrated with the service that I was getting:  requests went unanswered, problems were not well understood by the service provider, and once the contract was signed, it was suddenly much more difficult to find someone to talk to. This is the experience that I bring to Mindset and the way that we work.

Do What’s Right for the Customer

I recently heard from one of our best customers something that absolutely made my day and completely validated our approach.   Paraphrasing: “I feel like Mindset actually wants what’s best for us, and you’re unique in that way”.

It seems obvious, but it bears repeating:  if you’re not focusing on what the customer really needs, but are instead trying to sell them just what you have, ultimately the relationship will not last.  In our business, sometimes this means walking away from engagements that don’t align to our core deliverables. It might also mean providing an unpopular opinion with regards to recommendations that were provided by a different third party – in fact, we’re often brought in to customers for the sole purpose of providing that ‘independent voice’ that allows them to be sure that they’re getting what they need from another services company or software vendor.  

Ultimately, if we’re not giving our customer what they need to improve, we’re not providing them value, and the relationship won’t last long.

Truly Understand What the Customer Needs

One of the keys to doing what’s right for the customer is understanding what they need in the first place.  We have specific processes for doing this (have I mentioned Design Thinking??), but it can also be as simple as just listening to the customer.  I don’t mean listening to figure out what to pitch next, but listening to truly understand the biggest challenges they’re facing.

Through this understanding and true listening, we drastically improve the chances that the final proposal/solution will not only solve the problem that the customer knew they had and could articulate but will also provide value in ways that the customer may not have even expected when they engaged us in the first place.

Don’t Make it Harder Than it Needs To Be.

Confession:  I don’t like contracts.  They’re time-consuming, often confusing, and introduce players into the solution-providing process that frequently don’t have the context of what we’re actually trying to accomplish.  Quite often, this process actually makes it less likely that the engagement will be successful.

Rather than specify how to absolve liability for anything and everything that could go wrong, I’d much prefer to pull together a simple agreement that ensures that both parties have a clear understanding of what we’d like to accomplish and get to work.

Therefore, we do our best to keep it simple.  For instance, when we build contracts to support our Agile development approach, we put in very little specificity with regards to the functionality that’s going to be built – one of the core tenants of agile, after all, is that what we hold to be most important today will almost definitely change tomorrow.  That said, we DO put in clear expectations about what success looks like, and how we’ll measure that success and hold ourselves accountable to it.

This goes beyond contracts to our solution design, as well – if all that our customer needs is a tweak to the process, that’s what we’ll recommend.  If we can deliver what they need with a quick implementation of an out-of-the-box application, so be it.

Get It Right.  If You Didn’t Get It Right, Fix It.

Speaking of accountability, with every project, we’ll do everything we can to be sure that we get the solution correct.  We use really smart people, well-defined processes, and advanced technology to get it right most of the time. Alas, software development is a combination of art and science, and also includes humans (at least for now?), which can contribute to quite a bit of unpredictability to the equation.

So, stuff occasionally doesn’t go as planned – when that happens, we’re ready to step up and make it right.  Late nights, long weekends, deliverables outside of what was outlined in that contract that I mentioned – this stuff is all on the table.  As long as our customers are at the table ready and willing to make it right with us (and they always are!), we’re happy to dig in and get it done.

Take the Long View.

This is less a specific activity and more a culmination of everything that I’ve outlined above.  When we engage with our customers, we’re in it for the long haul. As we’ve clearly outlined with our core value, our business model is built upon more than just a single transaction.

The final step in this relationship is a true sense of trust between our teams and our customers.  They know that they can be transparent with us with what they need and that we’ll steer them right with our recommendations.

For me, as a former “Big IT” buyer, this has been one of the most satisfying elements of moving to a role as a consultant/vendor.  I love making my customers happy, and being able to build lasting relationships in which we become a trusted partner that our customers truly rely upon to be successful.

What are some things that you’ve seen or appreciated that lead to long-term relationships?


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Luke Van Epern oversees the Solutions Delivery practice at Mindset, following 12+ years of experience implementing enterprise software solutions at large IT companies in the Twin Cities. He uses the perspective he gained as a member of "Big IT" to help Mindset's customers find ways to disrupt their status quo, and to build a delivery organization that can regularly exceed customer expectations.

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