Companies invest considerable time and effort putting together request for proposals (RFPs) for software solutions, evaluating different features and functions, and ultimately selecting a solution. But what happens after the initial implementation and go-live is completed? How does the vendor-customer relationship continue to deliver value? That’s the main question I discussed with Stacie Vroman, Business Product Owner at BluJay Solutions, in a recent episode of Talking Logistics.
What’s next after go-live?
At the go-live, evaluation and implementation teams are ecstatic because their jobs have been successfully completed. But that’s just the start of the much longer-term relationship between a customer and the software vendor. So I began my discussion with Stacie by asking her what the next step should be after go-live.
Stacie says, “It’s really important for the vendor to understand the customer’s business and their industry. For example, if you’ve just implemented a domestic transportation management system (TMS), how are they managing their international shipping? Often that’s done by a different group.
“Also, what’s happening in their industry and the world that could affect the customer? For example, BREXIT, what can you do to ensure your customer is going to succeed in those areas? Can we add visibility or reporting that will have a positive impact on our customer?”
Start from the beginning
Ideally, companies should think about what happens after the go-live from the very beginning — that is, they should include it as part of their vendor evaluation and selection process. Is this happening today? Are companies looking beyond features and functions and looking into how a vendor could serve as a long-term partner?
“Absolutely,” states Stacie. “At the kick-off we’ll bring in people from other parts of the company such as finance to understand what we can do as a next phase. We can plan for what we can do with the customer a year or six months down the road to increase the value of the relationship.”
Another aspect of the evaluation should be the “fit” between the customer and vendor, the alignment of culture and objectives. Stacie notes, “We’re engaging with customers even earlier in the process to make connections between our various teams and not just the customer’s operations, but also their other groups such as finance and warehousing, to ensure there is a cultural fit and that conversations on objectives are happening early on.”
Cooperating to address change
The supply chain industry is always changing and both companies and vendors must constantly adapt to those changes. I asked Stacie how customers can work with their vendors to make sure their evolving needs will be met.
Stacie notes, “We have a customer advisory board where we present our development roadmaps and what we’ve built to see if there are things we’ve missed or if there are other things we should be doing to meet their future needs. If we’re going to do a major development project, we include customer stakeholders to make sure we are incorporating their feedback. We also offer a portal for customers to submit business issues or areas for improvement that we can act on and provide feedback to them.
“We also have our user conference where we engage with customers and partners to let them know what we’re working on and what our roadmaps are. We use focus groups to allow customers to provide feedback and suggestions. We also engage at the C-suite level to ensure we incorporate their feedback as well.”
Benefits of a strong relationship
If you’ve selected the right vendor and developed a strong working relationship, what benefits should you expect? Stacie says it’s “continuous improvement and return on investment. For example, we had a customer in the UK who suggested a reporting enhancement that received very high support in our customer voting process. We worked with that customer and the others who voted for it to get feedback, make sure we didn’t miss anything and produce the best solution possible for their needs. We want to deliver products that our customers love and will use, so their input and feedback are critical to accomplishing this.”
But since vendors have so many customers to deal with, how can a customer make sure their voice is heard and their ideas are not ignored? And what are the most critical factors to ensure a strong customer-vendor relationship? Watch the full video for Stacie’s insights and advice on those questions and more. Then post a comment and share your perspective on this topic!