Consulting approach, an art we all need to master
We all need to switch between two hats in our work lives – One related to SAP Technical Consulting (to provide solutions to a given business requirement) and the other related to “Handling the Customer”. The later is most commonly referred to as “Consulting Skills”
They say, Consulting skills, cannot be taught. They say, there is no rule book which can lay down the consulting rules & guide lines. Well, it is said correctly. A consulting approach one should take depends on too many variables (mostly subjective in nature) like the persons (client) involved in the situation, the rapport we enjoy with them, the trust the client bestows in us, the prevailing situation, etc. Based on my personal experience, I thought it would be useful for the community at large, if I could spill the beans to some extent, demystifying it to the extent possible.
These are the 10 attributes I would like to present, acknowleding at the outset that this is not an exhaustive list, for the simple reason that it cant be so
1. Be Process Oriented:- We often hear this phrase in our lives. And I believe we all understand its importance. So, i will quickly jump to a simple example to explain this
I personally categorize the consultants into 2 categories – For example, a FICO Technician and FICO Consultant. The difference between the two is:-
a) A Technician:- knows to put the soiled clothes in a washing machine, put the detergent, power on the machine, choose 1 out of several washing programs and press the START button
b) A Consultant:-
– checks the condition of the soiled clothes,
– seggregates them based on stains / cloth type (cotton, wool, etc),
– knows the relevance of each washing program,
– understands how each of the washing program works (i.e. how many times the machine washes and rinses the clothes in each program)
– And hence, understands which program is the right for a given type / condition of the clothes.
I deliberately wanted to bring out this distinction so that people can introspect which category they fall in.
I deliberately wanted to bring out this distinction for another reason. Nowadays, when I take interviews, I notice that the CVs are no short of mentioning all the possible areas of their module. But the moment you ask them a question in any of the area, they start explaining what ticket (incident) they got in that area and how did they resolve it, with no or much weightage to the process at all. Everyone starts from being a “Technician”, but there must be continuous efforts towards becoming a consultant.
2. Timely communication:- From my experience, I can say that most of the escalations dont happen for the reason that consultant is not competent enough, but for the reason that communication is not flowing properly. It is very important that communication keeps flowing at regular intervals. This is especially important, because the SAP support industry mostly now works in offshore model.
The idea here is “Never keep the client guessing”. I see consultants trying day in and day out to resolve the issues raised. Some times it may take multiple teams to resolve an issue and hence the delay. But when the client is not aware on what is happening to their ticket, they naturally resort to escalating
One example I always give to my team is – Assume you lodged a concern with customer care for some issue and no body is giving you an update, though they are working very hard to resolve the issue. How would you appreciate this? Naturally you would get frustrated
We must understand that we, the SAP consultants, are working in similar service industry. The same response we expect for our issues from a customer care center, our clients expect the same from us. Especially, when you are working in a support project, keep updating the ticket log every alternate day. That would let the end-client sitting thousand miles away know that their issue is being worked upon.
3. The Art of saying NO:- Say ‘YES’ and the person at the other end is always happy. Troubles start when we say ‘NO’ and this applies to all aspects of life. Hence, the art of “When to say No” and “How to say NO” must be mastered
A typical example would be – Assume your client has come up with a requirement which you know is not possible technically. With my experience I have learnt that saying NO upfront hurts the ego more often than not. Though you might be right in saying NO, it diverts the whole conversation in a different route.
In the given example, the following approach has always helped me – “Let me check this and I will get back. As far as my knowledge about the system goes, this is not possible. But I would like to give it a try and see if I can make it possible for you”.
These lines mentally prepares the end client to receive the jolt and the NO later on does not come as a shock
4. Build personal rapport:- More than just the relationship for work, try to build a personal rapport with the client. It needs you to have the eye of eagle to not miss the opportunities in which you can build that personal rapport
Few examples here would be:-
a) Once in a while, drop a note to your client to check how they are doing and check if all is fine with regards to work and if they need some support from you.
b) Say that “if you need any urgent help, just give me a call. I will take it on priority”. I must say that after I did this, the client reduced raising P2 tickets. They give me a call and I get the work started and ask them to raise a ticket just to ratify the process. More often, what I get in this case is a P3 🙂
c) When you get a priority incident (P1/P2), make sure at the end you speak to the requestor and say that “We will ensure this never gets repeated. In future, if you need any assistance, I am just a phone call away”. But make sure, you just dont make these promises, but also fulfil them
d) When you provide a solution that is tough or under tight timelines, there is no harm in asking your client for a treat. These lighter moments help you to build that rapport
5. Know when to bow down:- They say “Customer is the king” and rightfully so in our industry. While many a times we do end up in a debate with regards to the deadlines, solution with our clients, we must know where to stop. Know the stake holders / senior personnel of your client and if the matter reaches them, it is often advisable to accept their word. Saving the relation with the client should be the utmost priority.
Depending on the situation, you can say that the timelines are not realistic and it is likely to affect the quality of the solution. They may not accept it, but will prepare them mentally again, to receive the jolt later on
Also know which side of the fence your managers are. Without their support, there is absolutely no point in a consultant fighting on his/her own. There are communication hierarchies in every project and it is important that the communication is routed through proper channels.
6. Desire to learn new:- As a consultant, it is very important to keep learning what you dont know, learn new technologies, new areas / sub areas in your module.
Subconsciously, we often create our own comfort zones and we dont want to step outside them. But soon we realize that things are not working in our favor and the reason we still dont make out that we are outdated with our skills. For us, it is important that we keep learning the new areas in our own modules, learn about the new enhancement pack features of SAP, learn new SAP technologies if possible or may be venture into a new module (fully or partially to know its processes)
I strongly urge people to participate in SCN (Preferably) or any forum relevant to you or whichever you like. SCN is one place where you can learn from others’ experiences. Even without actually working on an area of your module, you can still know a lot about it
7. Raise a flag when needed:- Though we may not want, but the requirements from the clients change too often, after the realization has started. As a goodwill gesture, we may accomodate a few small changes. But when things are going out of hand, it is important to raise a flag to all stakeholders and keep them updated.
If need be, have an issue log maintained wherein you capture the issues, when they were reported, and the way forward on them. This will help you to keep an objective progress of the issue with all data captured, to save your own Skin at a later stage
8. Give back:- When we grow, we dont grow on our own. We directly or indrectly take / get help from many resources. It is one’s equal responsibility to leave the footsteps for others to follow
Mentor those below you not just for SAP skills, but for other soft skills too. Share knowledge, help those around you self-lessly, for it helps to create a better community around you
Who knows, sharing knowledge in SCN forum today, you might be helping someone and that someone may become your team member in future, fully equipped with the knowledge and there by wil make your own life easy 🙂
9. Customer wow:- The IT industry has transformed from where earlier we used to focus earlier on “Customer’s delight”, now the focus is on “Customer wow”
“Customer delight” is when you give them what they expect and “Customer wow” is when you give them more than what they expect.
A simple example would be – When you are asked to develop a custom report with some information, use your experience to assess how valid is the requirement, can it be adhered through some standard feature or workaround, or assess what additional information can be plugged into the report to cater to the growing business volumne
10. Work life balance:- While many would argue why this aspect has to be a part of the consulting approach, I firmly believe it should be
When you are balanced, you are relaxed. When you are relaxed, you are at ease. And when you are at ease, you produce the best out of you
Steal some moments from life, plan your vacations once or twice a year, even out of a tight business day – shut down your laptop to spend time with your family or old pals, be spontaneouos towards planning little moments of life and surprise people.
I wish all the readers of the blog a balanced life and hope these tips would go a long way in benefitting one and all.
Do share your feedback. It encourages me to do better 🙂
Br, Ajay Maheshwari
PS: Tagging various forums to cover a larger audience