T.L.C

The last article I wrote spoke about keeping an open-mind and being receptive to ideas – because messages and lessons come from the unlikeliest of sources and often our prejudices and perceptions stop us from receiving / accepting them.

After reading that message a regular reader and friend, Kailash Acharya sent this note:

(I have edited his message to retain just the relevant portions)

Good articulation, J. Yes, even after many training sessions and reading stories / motivational stuff we miss picking the other side of the story.

In your last blog ‘Why Train’ we discussed how Telecom companies are not training their customer facing executives. There as well we need to take a look from owner’s angle. Or else why would someone who has invested so much time, efforts & huge money to establish his business ignore such a silly thing. As I’m working on technical side of telecom for the last 12+ years and I have seen how much investment it takes on technical side to run the show. And for them running technical services is much more important than giving great soft services. As customer would not join or leave them due to their call center’s treatment but due to their technical services. Yeah, but we have telco’s which are lacking on both front as well.

We should get a chance to talk to them once and who knows we might change our perspective about it.

(Unquote)

I guess by “silly thing” my friend meant that it does not take a huge effort or large sums of money to train people – someone who has invested crores (a crore is ten million) on a project should be able to get this done without having to stretch a lot. From no other perspective can training be seen as a “silly thing” and I know he did not mean that.

The day he sent me this note I was visiting a software company in Trivandrum. It is an eight year old organisation run by four friends (all in the 30s). Three of them had worked in other software companies and had quit the jobs to pursue their own dreams. The fourth member is a non-technical person who focuses on Business Development and Client Relations. They have around 60 employees, most of them techies, who are developing software products for clients located outside the country. They are smart and competent and the dozen or so customers that they have are happy. The Director – Technical said that for him qualifications did not matter so much, while recruiting new coders he chose people who loved coding and software development – they had to live and love software.

I was taken around the “shop floor” – the Director knew every project inside out and when we stopped at each workstation he provided an overview, following which I asked the team-member involved in that project a few more questions to understand their work better. I was doing this to understand the operations well and to think up ways to help them grow to the next level. My intention was to help them (the owners) see the possibility of releasing hitherto untapped potential and prompt a new spiral of growth.

Hearing the technical hands and their boss speak about their work with such intensity and passion charged me up too – it was a room buzzing with energy. Afterwards we settled down in the Conference Room and couple of other Directors joined the discussion.

Most of the projects they took on involved development of new software products to execute specific set of tasks for the client. They were not doing any maintenance or service. It was new product development that excited the owners. When I asked the Technical Director, the one who had shown me around, why they were not approaching clients in India he replied that it would mean a lot more hassles such as negotiations and probably having to drop prices. He added that it would also need a lot of discussion with the non-technical role-holders such as Business Head and Finance Head. He said they were comfortable doing projects that could be decided by the Technical Heads. I am sure the decision-making in the client organisation is far different from how he had figured it out.

After this conversation I had a separate chat with the Director – Business Development. He said that most of the present clients had come on board based on reference from a previous customer. The organisation had managed to carve a niche for itself thanks to the quality of work don earlier. He said that the former client did half the selling for them. They had clear-cut SLAs for all projects that were then broken into smaller chunks and progress on each was then reviewed on a weekly basis. The coders were in direct touch with the mapped employees in the client account and there was very little lag in their response to emergencies. There were weekly teleconferences to iron out differences and to set targets. The Director – Business Development was categorical that a lot of effort was taken to keep the clients happy.

All of the above looked like Soft Skills to me – not just Core Technical Skills – there was communication, negotiation, service and support, interpersonal skills and team-work in action. I guess it was happening so seamlessly that nobody noticed, particularly the people on the technical side, who thought that their knowledge of software is enough to win the deal.

I believe very strongly that no matter how good one is in the functional or hard skills, soft skills are indispensable when it comes to dealing with people at any level.

If business was about cold technical or functional skills then there would be no need to network, play golf with clients or wine and dine them– you just need to submit proposals and the client would decide on merit. This can’t be farther from the truth because even decision-making is subjective and dependent on emotions – most business decisions involve a significant component of likes, dislikes and prejudices.

Which brings me back to the comment made by Kailash – Yes, Technical Expertise / Skills have a huge role to play in winning the organisation new business and to retain customers – but unless the customer receives the necessary evidence first and support later on they will not have the confidence to remain with the service provider / vendor. If communication is poor and the response to queries/complaints indifferent then there is good chance that the customer is sticking on because there is no other option – and the moment they find an alternative they would walk out on you.

No matter how good the product or the services unless it is backed up with proper Communication, Service and Support chances of building lasting and stable relationships are pretty low.

So don’t risk losing a big opportunity, or don’t antagonize a big client, by relying just on the product to win you business – you are dealing with human beings. They need pampering, cajoling, praising, supporting … a huge dose of old world stuff is needed even to sell new technology.

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  1. Biju Krishnan
    October 23, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    Some of the Techies love their work so much that their soft skills are soft (weak) and some of the best soft skill smarties may be weak on the technical side. Yes we do get the rare breed who are great on both sides. Would it be better to teach the tortoise to run and the rabbit to swim or would it be better to train the tortoise to swim better and the rabbit ot run faster?

    • JayadevM
      October 23, 2012 at 8:01 pm

      Hi Biju,

      Good question! There is sense in letting people focus on their core skills, but in the Corporate world employees need a toolkit of survival skills.

      A rabbit and a tortoise can benefit from some lessons in swimming and sprints, resp. A mix of hard and soft skills are essential. Since one is not planning to remain at one level throughout his/her career long term survival is not possible by relying on his technical skills alone.

      A techie needs to interact with team-members and clients – there would be situations that involve presentation, discussion, debate, argument, persuasion and influencing. Can a techie sell his concepts if he does not a have any of the above skills?

      I failed to mention that the Director – Technical had praised many of his team members for the quality of work done and for their commitment to the job.

      – What skills are those? Hard or Soft?
      – And would the team-members stay for long in his team if he were to just allocate work like an automaton and not have any interaction with them?
      – Would the people stick on to this organisation if everything was very robotic and there was no support, guidance or recognition?

  2. October 24, 2012 at 9:18 am

    Wonderful! The power of positive thinking!

    Did you get a chance to check the website http://www.ezedcal.com/ta to manage editorial calendar easily for your blog and show your editorial calendar in your blog easily (optional)
    Thanks & Regards
    Malar

    • JayadevM
      October 25, 2012 at 7:19 pm

      Thank you for the kind words, Malar.

  3. Kailash
    October 26, 2012 at 6:31 am

    As usual on the money J,

    It all goes hand in hand, any loose brick in the wall would allow leakage to turn in a flood.

  4. Jamy
    October 31, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    Great read Jay!!

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