[thelist] customer relationship advices

Zhang Weiwu zhangweiwu at realss.com
Tue Aug 24 23:30:39 CDT 2010


Entering web business in China Beijing not so long ago I found myself
inexperienced in customer relationship. Last year there was a new
"communication official" entering my old customer organization (an NGO)
who take charge in web related things. She is the first "communication
official", the organization doesn't have the role before. She tries to
hold a strong position, argue new changes to the established website to
"fixing previous damage made by us". Her argument is the change request
is due to we didn't deliver good product in the first place. The change
she asks to do includes:

    * Type 1: something like font not looking good enough (fixed by
      replacing text with <img alt="...">) can marginally be said to be
      "our damage".
    * Type 2: some like change 3 column to 2 column are hardly possible
      "our damage" but only her personal preference. But our customer
      argues it being our fault anyway.

With long-term co-operation in mind, we did the change for both types.
Then, when realizing new more changes following, we did a bitter
argument on budget, in the end we didn't manage to increase cost of the
website when changes are increased, and they didn't manage to get Type 2
change done for free any more. The bitter argument caused both party
never want to do business with another in the future.

This month another new "communication official" entered my other old
customer organization (another NGO), and exactly the same thing
happened. Like last year, there wasn't a role "communication official"
in this organization before her. She started a change list, again,
partly can be said "we didn't do it well in the first place" (again,
replacing text with images tops the list), partly only her personal
preference (change "Dowload report" link from right side to left side).
Like the last year's customer, she ask (demand, more accurately) the
changes to be applied for free. Our previous contract, which is signed
and done before she joins, was not paid yet so there is a reason she
think we want to work on it to get last contract paid and closed. This
is also the same situation with our last year scenario.

This time I think I had the bad experience of last year, I should do it
smarter than last time. But I don't know what I really learned in last
year's story. What should I do? Should I hold a strong position during
arguing increase of the budget (with her aggressiveness, this should
mean end of business relationship with her), or should I believe a
sacrifice of working hour in the beginning "warming period" would ease
the relationship for the long run?

A few more details:

There are a few difference compare to last year's scenario:

    * last year "that communication official" complain we don't follow
      her but proposed a lot of suggestions, she want a told-and-do
      military style, asking certain things exactly according to her
      requirements, and the relationship is not good when we didn't
      fully follow. Learning the experience, this year we try to be
      passive towards aggressiveness, "this communication official"
      complain we are not working in pro-active way, that we offered so
      few suggestions that she have to generate to do list to us. (but,
      if we suggest something, that should be done free of charge, "of
    * last year "that communication official" changed her requirement
      several times (e.g. green background replaced with blue after a
      month). She was not aware in advance that she needs so much
      changes back and forth. This year "this communication official"
      stated in advance that we will not meet her "judgement of what is
      good" in the first run, that she will bring new change requirement
      after current changes done, showing more experience but not less
    * last year "that communication official" said they will only pay a
      limited amount for the web project, this year "this communication
      official" said the website is very important and she can pay more
      for really good work (after saying we have done really bad) and
      that we must trust her judgment on what is really good. Meanwhile
      the current organization size is 4 time bigger than the
      organization in last year's scenario.

Customer organization management style:

    90% of the personnel in the current customer organization has been
    replaced in last 3 years, means they have new people every 2 months,
    and interview from time to time. Some say in such "new face everyday
    organization" if you can manage to stay as partner you hold a good
    position, as no one else can work for such organization. But "this
    communication official" obviously seem to not to weight the fact we
    have been doing business with the organization for 3 years, longer
    than most employee could stay there. I feel "this communication
    official" have the ambition she could establish most thing anew with
    her better management thus old partnership are part of the bad
    inheritance she doesn't weight. (She might believe it even more if
    she managed a more successful web project before, but I hardly
    know.) I had a smalltalk with one of her colleague. There are only
    one person I know now, because most but that one quited this
    customer organization in last a few years. He thinks she look not
    bad in bringing new establishment with new management, a quite
    promising person, but the non-profit organization's stressful
    competing culture won't change and will last the next decade if the
    organization survived, demonstrated by the general management style
    and the fact most new employee are hired from highly competing
    business industries instead of from people who had experience
    working in other NGOs.

If you want to give me advice based on our work I can reach you to show
our work in private to avoid giving away customer organization name in
public, even tough I am confident the typical Chinese-text-only culture
environment stem them search this post from the Internet. But please
consider giving general suggestion on this list as well so others might
learn a bit.

Thanks a lot in advance!

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