4 Ways Customer Intimacy is Becoming the New Differentiator

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What makes your software so special?

There used to be a time when clients would expect a rather conventional answer to that question, in the format of a Customer Value Proposition. Although variable depending on the audience, it would comprise of the following components:

  • the Product Leadership component or the features of your software, and its unique capabilities regarding its design, usability, integration,
  • the Operational Excellence component, which was the resultant of an internal capability to propose a competitive price through teamwork, problem-solving capabilities, and continuous improvement of internal processes,
  • the Customer Intimacy component or the ability of your organisation to build a long-term and trustful relationship with clients

It is still relevant today.

What has changed however is the relative value of each of these components. It was common for any customer value proposition to have a dominating value, a secondary value and a least important value: seven years ago, SAP would primarily drive a Customer Intimacy approach, while Apple had an obvious predominance of Product Leadership and Dell a distinct Operational Excellence approach. Now, with Customer being King ( see this excellent article from Geoffrey Moore, The Manufacturer’s dilemma), Customer Intimacy is not an option or a secondary value. It has become as important as the features of your software or the pricing model you set up for it.

With new technologies spreading out rapidly, and new concepts of software being “commoditised” at light speed, this demand for Customer Intimacy is becoming an opportunity to differentiate and deliver distinctive value to your clients.

At Petrotechnics, we pioneered 30 years ago the electronic permit-to-work space with a very innovative solution at the time. In 2012, we recognized that the market was commoditised and that our clients needed something different. We came up with a new concept to manage Operational Risk, but also a new approach to take care of our clients, which radically transformed our company. Retrospectively it is clear that four principles have guided our transformation and have been put in practice in the release of the latest version of our software Proscient 4.0:

#1: Automate as much as possible

Customers increasingly expect to meet their every day’s needs digitally through self-service. We have been looking at the requests our client support team receives daily and based on the patterns of the requests, we improved our tooling capabilities for our clients to become self-sufficient:

  • On a day-to-day basis: a need to change an element on the UI? A request to change the content of a form? A missing state in a workflow? Any super-user with the right permission can perform the change, test it, and then make it available in a production environment.
  • When upgrades are available: software upgrades are usually a daunting task, with a large team of IT and business stakeholders involved both from the vendor and the client’s sides. Based on this observation, we have decided to change our approach and get an “upgrader” available for each new major version we release. Clients are free to use it whenever they need it and can be ensured that their very particular set of configuration will get retained.
  • When new users come on board: if classroom training used to be the norm, we have now moved to a new model with more and more of our clients using our e-learning modules for a training on-demand, coupled with on-site coaching if required.

These improvements have had a massive impact on the total cost of ownership of our software for our clients: the various hidden costs that clients struggle to assess when tendering on the market are highly reduced. And from a vendor’s perspective, we have more time available to understand the needs on the market, and enrich the software with new features.

#2: Keep the human touch exclusively for complex situations

Leveraging technology leaves room for managing complex situations,

  • When building integration with other third-party systems: the main value of our software resides in the fact that it is a platform. As such, integration with the rest of a client ‘s IT eco-system is a key constituent of our value proposition, but requires some close collaboration with the IT and business teams of clients. Although some elements are “productised” and some connectors are ready-made, we often need to accommodate some unique requirements by working very closely with our client. This close collaboration requires time and effort, but it results in some very interesting first-of-a-kind-solution as we did with Accenture for the innovative PSORMS solution of Saudi Aramco.
  • When designing collaboratively: great software features do not appear out of the blue. They are often the results of a fruitful collaboration between forward-thinking clients and pro-active vendors. Recently, we have had the privilege to work very closely with a few of those clients, who helped us shape the design of some of our key applications such as our Emergency Management module or our Shift Handover module. These win-win partnerships are fantastic opportunities to challenge the internal status-quo for a client ( the common” no tool can deliver what we need”) and for a vendor to disturb the market with unique capabilities.

#3 Make sure clients can tailor your software as much as they like

When it comes to safety and efficiency challenges, cutting corners is not an option. For that reason, in our domain, we have to ensure that our clients can tailor our solution to match 100% of their target business processes. To meet that need, when we work with a new client, we propose him to start working with a set of best practices which comes with our licences, and which we built based on our 35 years of experience working in the hazardous industries.

Once reviewed and understood, the configuration work can start: using a intuitive app, our clients can adjust, amend, and add any bits to remove quickly any gap between the out-of-the-box software and the target processes they are modelling.

This app has massively reduced the time to deliver projects, from months to weeks, giving more autonomy and ownership to our clients, while freeing up vendors time which can focus on other more challenging tasks.

#4: Develop all-hands customer support

“All-hands” support is often seen as a buzzword in the tech world. However, even though some will dismiss its value based on bad experience, we have massively improved our ability to support our customer requests by just re-organising the way we work. We did not decide to request everyone in our organisation to respond to tickets during half a day per year. Our client support team has unique skills that not a lot of us could match. Instead, we have ensured that at short notice we could always mobilise small multi-disciplinary teams to propose quick and tangible answers to these trickiest tickets which have a potential to turn into commercial challenges.

Our customer support team coordinates the full life cycle of the tickets. What is different now is that various people get brought in front of the clients to clarify design elements, understand a requirement, or solve a technical issue: front-end developers, software implementation analysts UX designers.. a lot of people working internally now also work at the front-line with direct interaction with clients. It brings great benefits to all parties: clients appreciate to come-and-meet the “human team” behind our software and see these sessions as a sign of trust and openness from our side. Our internal teams have direct contact with the market and get first-hand information of the real challenges faced by the daily users of our products.

By leveraging technology, customer intimacy enables us to build better features and improve our internal processes, while growing a more trustful relationship with our clients. It took us time, but we are proud of the virtuous circle it has generated.

Have you experienced a similar situation?

B2B Software and Customer IntimacySOPHIE MENARD is Petrotechnics’ Partner Solution Manager. She is in charge of identifying synergies with technology partners and system integrators to deliver high-value solutions for Petrotechnics’ Proscient customers. Sophie is deeply involved in transforming the Proscient platform to address the current and future needs of the hazardous industries.

Sophie joined Petrotechnics in 2013, and has spent the last 12 years in the software industry, implementing and designing solutions in various verticals, including oil and gas, automotive and retail. Sophie’s earlier experience included being SAP consultant at Accenture and as a project manager, deploying Oracle retail solution.

Sophie is a graduate of ESCP Europe.

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