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Professional Services Automation

The Soft Skills of Services Delivery in 2021

Published By Guest Blogger
The Soft Skills of Services Delivery in 2021

It’s probably not surprising to hear that, for most companies, service delivery has been negatively affected by COVID-19. Before getting too riled up, it’s important to remember to practice patience; it may just hold the key to getting things back on track in 2021 and beyond.

Companies have been rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic, with impacts on operational continuity, staff morale, and customer demand — an especially stark reality for professional, managed, and embedded services organizations. While we often hear about how technical skills and strategic know-how are essential elements for the path forward; as a services leader myself, I’ve found that a softer skill can be the key to unlocking issues with service delivery and business continuity. Patience.

Unpredictable and unfamiliar work conditions can degrade services delivery

While the life of a services consultant is often hectic, working conditions were fairly predictable and familiar prior to the pandemic. They were usually working face-to-face with their clients, an arena that most consultants live for and gives meaning to their work. These nearly predictable and familiar work conditions have been upended. For the past year, consultants around the world have been forced to work from home and take their face-to-face client work to Zoom or Teams where the dynamic can cause more friction in many ways.

Potentially reduced engagement

Normally when you're face-to-face with people, you can see everybody, and you know if they're responding. When working remotely, it can be much more difficult to engage with team members or customers and know if you’re reaching them. This may require more deliberate means of communication, and you’ll need patience to find the new tactics that work for each individual.

The need to adjust for different personalities

We all have different personalities and working remotely during turbulent times doesn’t always lend itself well to allowing our best inner selves to shine. Practicing a little patience can make all the difference – it allows us to be patient in allowing others to engage in their way, and patient in ourselves to find our unique way to shine.

The marathon of remote work

More people are working remotely and putting in more hours than ever. Despite working from home, most of us tend to have more meetings. Maybe it’s because things like instant messaging and emails don’t always resolve problems — so quickly hopping on a Zoom meeting to discuss things makes more sense. The trouble is that we sometimes end up spending days going from one virtual meeting to another. Running a marathon every day can wear on anyone.

At Changepoint, we were already having bi-weekly one-on-one meetings with our associates but we decided to push those meetings out to every three weeks — and sometimes every four weeks. It may seem counterintuitive to meet less frequently, but it gives everyone a break so that they can stay focused on the work-related matters at those meetings. They can then have free time to just give someone a call and check-in. It's giving people more breathing space to help with the barrage of meetings that they now need to attend. The marathon doesn’t have to be run in one day, we need to be patient with ourselves to spend appropriate amounts of time in all aspects of work and life.

Cabin fever’s effect on interactions and productivity

The mood in the remote workplace

I think most people in the remote workplace are getting a little stir crazy these days. My team likes to travel, see new things, and meet people face-to-face. These days they’re feeling a little frustrated during times of self-isolation. When they're not working with customers, they're trying to look for process improvements. Now that they're remote, they have to think and work differently, including:

  • Improving communication with their customers.
  • Providing customers with more formal documentation.
  • Working on things they couldn’t usually get to due to travel commitments.

I’m finding that these improvements are helping everyone continue to feel efficient. They feel that are still providing value to their customers while relating better, finding more common ground, and becoming more understanding of one another.

Interactions and productivity

What was previously a one-week on-site project, is now a two-week remote project. Leaders, remember patience as you need to recognize work will naturally take longer than expected. On the flip side, there is a delicate balance to being patient as you also need to remain committed to the project so that the delay doesn't go on endlessly.

For most consultants, interactions and work with your team are usually remote until you are together at a client site doing what consultants do. But you also have meals together to rehash the day and share what is going on in each other’s lives. Yet when they're remote all the time, they’re doing their own thing and multitasking — as are you, and it can be a harder lifestyle to manage particularly without that in person comradery. You still have to commit to the time that's been scheduled and focus, for work and for home, and you still have to rely on others to get their job done — that means you've got to be patient. That’s the balance. You have to recognize that you can’t do everything at once, and some things are going to take longer to complete. Planning and patience and maybe a little laughter as a team will get it done.

Leaders can bear the burden of maintaining good relationships

Working remotely means everyone, including leaders, vendors, consultants, employees, and customers, must work harder at maintaining good relationships. People aren’t able to meet in the break room, kitchen, or even board rooms anymore to talk and share stories. I think that everyone, especially leaders, really have to think about those they haven't heard from in a while and at least check-in on them. As an example, one of my associates and his wife were expecting a child recently — and I didn't find out the baby had been born until a week after it happened. These are the joys of life that you want to share with others and not miss. There are always reasons to celebrate — even the little things. It takes an intentional effort to keep in touch and maintain that solid connection with each other.

Practicing more patience improves service delivery

We all want to do a good job, complete tasks, and show value in our work. For that to happen in a company, you have to be able to work with your peers and colleagues. Consultants know this as well as anyone, if they don’t get much collaboration from their clients and stakeholders, they are likely to find failure quickly. We all know remote work hasn’t made this easier – so what’s the solution? Here are some examples.

When working with a customer, consultants may notice gaps of silence. Instead of becoming frustrated, be patient. It is best if all engagements are via a video call. This can make it easier to keep the connection and physically see when customers have that puzzled look, which signals they might need help. I've asked my team to make sure they have a list of the attendees and their roles to help initiate dialogue and increase participation.

When I’m on video calls, I sometimes find it helps to ask direct questions of individuals by name to make sure we’re all on the same page — and ensure everyone has a chance to be engaged in the conversation. During video calls, there are a few other things we do to make things easier for everyone:

  • At the start of every remote engagement, we use a splash screen to remind everyone to put away their phones, close emails, and turn on their camera.
  • In a business-driven implementation, we strive to teach our customers how to fish. One thing our software consultants will do when they’re walking someone through how to do something is let the customer drive instead of just chauffeuring them through the process. Most people learn more through doing than by being told. This is easily replicated in virtual meetings on Teams and Zoom, instead of sharing your screen ask your customer to share their screen and talk them through the steps. Guide rather than show.

Working remotely is harder on relationships, so leaving room for different personalities is essential because people are people, even virtually. And we’re all better when we listen to each other. There are going to be times when it's really hard to develop that level of intimacy with a customer but allowing them to feel comfortable being themselves can make it easier to bring out the best in everyone.

Remaining flexible

Besides patience, remember to remain flexible. It’s not uncommon for some of my consultants to start their day with a 5 am meeting, and end that same day with a 7 pm meeting. I make sure that my team knows they don't have to be online all day; they need to take breaks in between to go out and maybe get some pizza or run on their treadmill — or maybe just read a book or watch something. It’s not about the hours worked each day, it’s more about delivering on time and focusing on enabling the customer’s desired business.

Leaders will need to adopt a more patient stance

People are your greatest assets. This isn’t just lip service. For services organizations in particular it’s pretty simple: without your people, you can’t offer services, and there isn’t revenue potential. Leaders need to remember that about their people. For myself, I recognize that I have an excellent team. If one person falls, the other team members are there to pick them up. They know how important it is to be patient and support each other — that’s just how we work. It's pretty amazing.

I think if people know where you’re coming from as a leader and you set the proper expectations, then they can become more relaxed. It’s imperative that as a leader, you don’t just remain in work mode all the time. It's about communicating expectations so that everyone knows they need to get these deliverables done, but they also do need to take some down-time. Developing a patient and strong support system needs to start at the top of the organization and work its way through every aspect of the culture.

Better business outcomes require patience

It’s essential to trust that your people understand their roles. Yes, they are going to make mistakes from time-to-time; just be patient and reach out by phone or video call to find out what happened, how you can help, and make sure they have the right tools to improve service delivery to customers. Remember, they're a champion for the company, your team, and ultimately — the customer. With everyone remaining positive and practicing patience, achieving better business outcomes is well within reach.

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Written by Guest Blogger