Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bulletproof Your Business Case

No matter when or how you prepare your business case, there will be a sinister, uninvited stranger in the room when you present it for review. You can't bar him from the meeting. You can't prevent him from speaking to everyone present.

Know for certain that he will be there and he will be working against you. He "comes with the turf," whenever you project future business results. His name is The Credibility Question. He is the moving force behind questions like these:
  • How do we know that we'll actually see the projected results?
  • How do we know that you compared different options for action fairly?
  • What's the likelihood that results turn out differently from what you have predicted?

Such questions are inevitable when you project ROI or other business case results. You are predicting the future, after all. (For a complete introduction to business case projections, see the whitepaper Business Case Essentials or the eBook Business Case Guide). When a business case fails to achieve the desired outcome—funding or project approval, for instance—it is often because the author was surprised by the questions or answered unconvincingly. How well you anticipate and address the issues they raise can make or break the case.

The uninvited stranger is not easily neutralized, however, if you wait until you complete and present the case to think about him for the first time. The key to scoring high on credibility is to build in "bulletproofing" as you build the case.

Reveal Your Methods
If you have ever read or written scientific research reports of any kind, you know that most science "cases" have the same structure:

  • There is a statement of theory, hypotheses, and the problem or issue in view.
  • Later in the report come the results of the experiment or field study.

But that much alone does not establish the validity of the results or "make the case" for the author's conclusions. Other people trained in the same science need to know how the results were obtained, in order to decide whether or not they mean what the author says they mean. Thus, science reports include a "Methods" section presenting the author's assumptions, experimental protocol, testing conditions, and so on.

For exactly the same reasons, a business case report needs to explain how cost and benefit items were identified and how their values were estimated. This means:

  • Defining the case subject fully (not just naming the subject).Indicating specifically whose costs and benefits are included, over what time period (scope and boundaries of the case).
  • Explaining the rules for deciding which cost items are appropriate (usually through a cost model).
  • Presenting the rationale for legitimizing benefits (explaining how the action contributes to business objectives and why reaching those objectives has value. For more on legitimizing benefits, see the whitepaper "Soft Benefits in a Hard Business Case or the Business Case Guide).

Build in Cross Functional, Cross Organizational Input
Important actions in a complex business environment usually have consequences that cross boundaries of all kinds: organizations, functions, budgetary categories, management levels, and more. The business case analysis of these actions gains credibility when it has cross-functional, cross-organizational input from knowledgeable people in each of the areas impacted.

Contributors from outside your own immediate group can help you fill in the cost model, legitimize benefits, and estimate the cost or value of different impacts with an authority that you cannot achieve on your own or with just your own people.

Transfer Ownership
Getting business case input from people outside your own group also builds credibility in another way: it creates a transfer of ownership. People who work on something and contribute to its design naturally develop some sense of ownership for it. The business case coming up for review is no longer just your case. It is their case as well.

Ideally, your group of contributors will even include stakeholders and potential decision making recipients for the case. Because they helped build it, they understand the rationale and logic behind it better than anyone who simply reads the report. People who work on something usually do not want it to fail.

Design for Credibility
You can add credibility through other case-building steps as well, by:

  • Explaining which assumptions behind the case are most important in controlling predicted results (this is sensitivity analysis).
  • Reviewing what has to be managed or controlled in order to bring about the expected results (in other words, identifying critical success factors).
  • Estimating the likelihood of getting other predicted outcomes, if important assumptions change (this is risk analysis. Read more about risk analysis in Newsletters 47-49, "Can you ever be Certain?).
  • Showing, where possible, that your approaches to "costing" or "valuing" have been validated in previous experience.

In brief, none of the credibility-building steps above comes about by accident. Credibility will be there only if it is planned and designed into the case in a process that begins as soon as soon as it's known that a business case is needed.

Take action by learning more in a business case seminar or read The Business Case Guide.

Marty Schmidt
24 June 2008

10 Ways To Explain Things More Effectively

10 Ways To Explain Things More Effectively
By Calvin Sun

In the course of your work, you may sometimes need to explain technical concepts to your customers. Having them understand you is important not only for technical reasons, but also to ensure customer satisfaction. The ability to explain things clearly and effectively can help you in your career, as well. Here are a few tips to help make your explanations understandable and useful.

#1: Keep in mind others' point of view
You've probably seen the famous illusion that looks like either a young woman or an old woman. Two people can look at that same picture, and they can have opposite views of what they're seeing. Keep this idea in mind when explaining a concept. Something that might be perfectly understandable to you might be incomprehensible to someone else. Don't be the person customers complain about as using "geek speak."

#2: Listen and respond to questions

It's easy to become annoyed when someone is asking questions. However, try to resist that reaction. A better attitude is to be happy that the other person is interested enough to ask questions. To minimize confusion and misunderstanding, try to paraphrase or summarize a question before you answer it. This step is particularly important if you're in a group setting, and you've just taken a question from someone in the audience. Repeating the question for the entire group helps everyone better understand your answer.

#3: Avoid talking over people's head
When you explain things to people, do their eyes glaze over? Chances are it's because you're talking over their head. Symptoms of such behavior include the use of jargon and acronyms. Remember, the people you're talking to probably lack your specialized knowledge, so you should use readily understandable terms.

The same goes for acronyms. They're important, but if you use them, define them in "longhand," followed by the acronyms in (parentheses), so that everyone's clear. Doing so avoids the scenario of situation normal, all fouled up (SNAFU).

Even within IT, the same acronym can mean different things. For example, both "active server page" and "application service provider" have the acronym ASP. A story from the Vietnam War era further illustrates this point. A young woman brought her boyfriend home to meet her father, a retired military officer. The woman was nervous because the boyfriend was a conscientious objector. When the father asked the young man to talk about himself, the latter replied, nervously, that he was a CO. The father clapped the young man on the back and congratulated him, thinking the latter was a commanding officer.

#4: Avoid talking down to people
Avoid the other extreme as well. Don't insult people by assuming that they're only as intelligent as a three-year-old. An attendee at one of my communications training classes described it aptly as "Barney communications."

Greek mythology has references to two monsters, Scylla and Charybdis, who sat on opposite sides of a narrow strait of water. If a ship sailed too close to Scylla, it was destroyed and the sailors eaten up. If the ship sailed too close to Charybdis, it was destroyed by a whirlpool that Charybdis created. The ship had to go right between them to survive. Follow that same principle with your customers: Make your explanations neither too complicated or too simple.

#5: Ask questions to determine people's understanding
The people you're talking to shouldn't be the only ones asking questions. You should be asking questions as well, to make sure they understand. Your questions can be open ended, which gives people a chance to provide detailed information, or they can be closed ended, which generally calls for a simple yes/no response. In either case, asking questions tells people that you're interested that they understand.

#6: Focus on benefits, not features
What's the difference? A feature is some inherent property of an object. A benefit, on the other hand, is a way the feature helps a person. For example, one of the features of a Styrofoam cup, because of the material used, is insulation. Someone who's planning a party probably doesn't care how the cup provides insulation. That person is more interested in the fact that such a cup keeps hot things hot and cold things cold.

In the same way, try to focus on benefits of technology rather than features of technology. This distinction becomes more important the higher the level of the person you're talking to. The CFO probably has little need to know about the specific commands and steps involved in setting up database mirroring. That person will want to know, however, that such a practice reduces the chances of data loss.

#7: Use analogies to make concepts clearer
An analogy involves explaining an unfamiliar concept in terms of a familiar one. For example, in drawing an analogy between a firewall and a bank teller, you could say that people don't just go directly into a bank and take money out. They go to the teller and identify themselves; the teller makes sure they have enough money; and then the teller gives them the money. Similarly, a firewall ensures that people who want access to a system really are permitted to have that access.

When choosing an example for an analogy, first figure out the general principle you're trying to explain. Then, choose something from real life that illustrates that principle. Say, for example, that you're trying to explain memory leaks. Suppose you conclude that the principle involved is that of taking without giving back completely. An example/analogy might be the consequences of pouring a cup of pancake batter into successive measuring cups, or the consequences of lending money to your brother-in-law.

#8: Compare new concepts to familiar ones
Another illustrative technique is to use a familiar or existing product as a comparison. If you're explaining a new release of a software product, the comparison is easy. Simply discuss the additional capabilities it has over the previous one or how key features are different. If the person hearing your explanation is also an IT person and is familiar with different or older technology, try explaining in those terms if you can. For example, when explaining thin clients, consider a comparison to the old 3270-type terminals that IBM once used for connection to mainframes.

#9: Use the concepts of subsets and supersets
Brooklyn is a subset of New York City, because all of it is a part of that city. Conversely, New York City is a superset of Brooklyn, because the former contains, in addition to all of the latter, other boroughs as well. These concepts are helpful in describing, for example, a "lite" versus a "professional" version of a software product. If the latter does everything the former does, plus more, it truly is a superset of the former, and the former is a subset of the latter. Be careful, though: If the "lite" version does even one thing that's missing from the professional version, there's no longer a subset/superset relationship.

#10: Confirm that your explanation makes sense
Once you've finished explaining your point or answering a question, ask a final question yourself. Make sure the people who heard your explanation truly did understand it. Consider asking them to give you the explanation in their own words, just to double-check.

Ten Trends in Contact Centers

Today’s best-in-class contact centers have a secret – they are implementing the following trends for greater efficiency, effectiveness and ultimately operational excellence. Based on research of contact center executives, vendors and thought leaders, best-in-class contact centers either already have or will be adopting the following 10 trends in the near future.

1. Segment Callers by Economic Impact – In today’s environment, you cannot meet the demand of every customer making contact. As meeting that demand will get worse in the future, you have to know who your best customers are, be able to recognize them when they call and deliver superior service that fences them off from the competition.

2. Process Simplification: Make it Easy – Every customer contact system must have a process that minimizes what the customer needs to do (they don’t have to give their authentication information twice) and what the CSR needs to do (prior contact information is available). Process simplification is the goal.

3. Provide Opportunities for Customer Collaboration – Let customers tell you what they need by providing multichannel access and support. If you want customers to move to the Web, find out exactly what they need to try it and like it. Also, make each call an opportunity to collect valuable, relevant customer information.

4. Align Customer Touch Points – Customer contact channels must be “one.” Information on the Web must be the same as the store, the catalog, the salesperson and the phone. When touch points are aligned, the company presents a single image to the customer.

5. Make First Call Resolution a Priority – First call resolution is the key to caller satisfaction. Getting the technology, process, policy and information for first call resolution will become the prime directive for contact centers. Therefore, you have to understand if the problem prompting the call is being solved, how the problem is being solved or what you need to do to solve the problem.

6. Utilize Real-Time Information Management – Translating the information in the contact center into actionable information is crucial. Any technology that allows a closer look at what the consumer thinks, feels and wants is good technology and has a payoff. Make certain that whatever it is you collect that someone is using it. Collect reports and find out who is using what for what. Get rid of the things that are not being used.

7. Customer Experience: Pleasantries Pay – It is more than answering the call and solving the problem. Customers pay for a pleasant experience and the cost of providing that is nothing more than employing CSRs who understand customers and will deliver a pleasant experience.

8. Self-Service: More than an FAQ – As you cannot build out contact centers fast enough to keep up with demand, the solution is to keep customer satisfaction high by allowing customers to solve their problems in a self-service channel. Not all customers want this, but enough callers will to allow you to pay attention to more in-depth issues. However, self-service takes more than a Web site FAQ. One of the more successful applications to be adopted is natural speech recognition. We estimate that 35-75 percent of all telephone contact can be successfully handled by these systems. As these systems are now affordable and there are vendors with complete implementation experience, this technology will be adopted by all major contact centers in the next 10 years.

9. Adopt Technology that Delivers – You must stay on top of new technology and have a team that assesses its potential benefit. Language translation, speech analytics and natural speech recognition systems are having a big impact.

10. CSR Selection and Continuing Training – A poor CSR loses customers, so hiring individuals who can quickly learn and adapt and providing ongoing training is essential to a successful contact center. Contact centers that invest in training programs to ensure CSRs have the tools and knowledge to best deal with your customers will succeed.

By Barton Goldenberg (, president and founder of ISM Inc., a CRM, contact center and digital client consulting firm in Bethesda, MD and Richard Feinberg, Ph.D. ( a consumer psychologist, a professor in the Purdue University Department of Consumer Sciences and Retailing and the director of the Center for Customer-Driven Quality at Purdue University, which conducted the research for this article.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Slideshow: The Future of Social Networks

Interesting Presentation by Forrestor Research.

Download: Creating a Coherent Social Strategy for Business

Interesting read on how companies can leverage Social Networking tools like Twitter, FaceBook, Forums, and Online Communities to increase revenue and Customer Satisfaction. This was done by Forrester Research.

Click Here to Download

Online Communities & Economies of Scale

Here is an excellent article that discusses how Online Communities can be leveraged to create economies of scale and benefit your support business. The article reviews proven business cases where resources were re-allocated from Phone Support Personell to web support moderators, and it created efficiency within the support organization.