Every aspect of customer communication is always about people. A no-brainer, you might say. But the truth is that when we look at training programs, methodologies and publications for customer communication-related disciplines, there is surprisingly little content addressing human factors at the individual level. Granted, we are seeing a growing amount of publication content that addresses human factors at a collective level — user groups, demographics, teams, generations (i.e., Boomer, X, Millennial). Such group-level understanding is essential, but unless we take it all the way down to the individual level, we overlook the most powerful tools we have for both customer communication design and the management of design projects.
Dealing with human factors directly, thoughtfully and based on a well-thought-out methodology, yields success in all aspects of customer communication projects — document design, web design, content management, channel strategies, social networking strategies, management goal setting, requirements management, scope control and much more. And yet, what we see most often in customer communication projects is emphasis on technology, such as data extraction, document composition software, archiving, barcodes, IVRs, email response management, SMS APIs and content distribution software.
No matter what the mission of your project, no matter what technical disciplines are required to achieve the missions, no matter what kind of content or subject matter your project addresses, your project is really about people. Managers determine the goals, project teams define the requirements, internal stakeholders critique how they are implemented and ultimately end users embrace or reject the final design. Each step of the way, success is measured by how well your project satisfies people.
In coming months, we will explore the people side of projects at the interaction level, covering such diverse, people-oriented subjects as embracing stakeholder relationships, selecting and managing collaborative teams, designing customer-event-driven communication vehicles, creating customer-centric multi-channel communication strategies (can you really "drive customers to the web?") and positioning projects with executive-level managers.
Succeeding at the people aspects of design and project management requires recognition of the importance of perspective. Each participant's perspective is a product of his or her life experiences, influenced significantly by their current circumstances. The designer's or project manager's willingness and ability to see the world from others' perspectives is absolutely essential. As we look at the various aspects of customer communication design, we will explore the challenges and rewards of balancing the many participants' perspective-based input.
As you go about your responsibilities as a designer or manager, pay special attention to all of the people aspects of your projects. If you are a project manager, what does management expect of your project? What are your stakeholders' expectations? Do you really know? Have you listened to them? Are their expectations reasonable? Are their expectations aligned with your project's goals? If not, how do you correct for that? The goal is not just successful projecs. It's satisfied managers and stakeholders.
If you are designing customer communication, are you designing to deliver what your customers really need or what you think they need? Have you identified the events that take place in their lives that make your communications important to them? Given how today's technology supports highly customized customer communication, are you determining how to deliver exactly what each customer needs, exactly when they need it, through the channel that fits them and each of their information-demanding events best? This yields both successful customer communication and satisfied customers.
GEORGE R. WILLIAMS [firstname.lastname@example.org] has over 30 years of experience in the computer field, has extensive marketing and sales experience and has been a consultant in the application and marketing of technology for more than 15 years.