By Sumit Gandhi

Tired after what felt like a very long day, I got home to see my family enjoying a movie. They were having a good laugh, so I joined them hoping it would help me relax. The movie, “What Women Want” starring Mel Gibson, is about an advertising executive who can hear the thoughts of women. I had just spent the day in meetings discussing project issues, so my first reaction was: What wouldn’t I do to have similar powers and hear what my customers thought?

Many of us who have experienced project issues that negatively impacted customers would give anything to have these powers. Hindsight is always 20-20, and once these issues are settled and we look back on them, they often seem so avoidable. Think back on the issues you have experienced with customers, and you will realize that most of them were caused by not understanding what the customer really wanted.

I was talking with a few employees recently, and our conversation veered into why customers outsource. I was surprised to learn that most of these employees believed that labor arbitrage and the ability to scale were key reasons why someone would outsource. This may have been true 15 years ago. This is why outsourcing started, but these aren’t the reasons why customers outsource in today’s market.

If you talk to customer decision-makers and dig deep into why they are outsourcing, you will find that it’s because they want to move things or achieve results they have not been able to accomplish through internal resources. No longer do they outsource because they want to save money; they outsource because they need the competency that will help them achieve a higher output. In fact, most of them are willing to pay more for this.

Take the example of a customer who has his own captive operation in the same city where our offshore office is. Why do you think the customer would still outsource work to us when they have a captive that can scale and be more cost-efficient than us? The answer is simple. The customer was struggling to drive the desired output through their captive operation and wanted us to provide the required technical and functional expertise to help them make a quantum shift.

Take another example of a longstanding customer we have had. Our relationship with this customer has been turbulent for the last year or so. We were doing the best we could with the limitations we had in the client environment. We did two key engagements for them where we had delays due to changing requirements. As usual, our initial reaction was to explain to them why output couldn’t be met by the committed date due to these reasons. The team, however, decided to take a different approach. They went back to the customer with a plan of what needed to be done to achieve the output by the committed date. This meant that the customer also had to share the burden of some additional tasks. Some team members worried about how the customer would react to this, but they were amazed when the customer supported the new plan. The team managed to deliver the output by the committed date, resulting in an all-green CSAT (the first time we achieved this for this customer in a very long time).

A common thread you will see in both of these examples is that customers focus on end results. No longer are they content with your best efforts. What matters are results, and you will find customers extremely open to making changes that will help them achieve their desired output. That’s why they get external help—because they need a quantum shift, not just small improvements.

I’ve been in the IT industry long enough to know this is not easy to accomplish. It requires a shift in the way we have been thinking and working. We often end up hearing messages contradictory to this. Many of us focus on process metrics that show how successful engagement is, while the metrics that really matter are the ones that help track to the outcome.

I don’t think we need supernatural powers to understand what customers really want. What do you think?