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Consulting room: The cost of not asking the right questions

Consulting room: The cost of not asking the right questions

Looking into how to improve projects with better questioning

Here is my own real example of not asking the right customer questions, or worse – thinking I had asked the right questions, but still ending up with a project situation that took longer and cost more than anticipated.

This column should serve as a reminder that if you want to be profitable and have great customer satisfaction, projects need to be done right the first time. That means asking the right questions upfront and not assuming anything.

?The brief

Over the holiday period, I was asked by a colleague to help set-up their new computers and network. Now while I have reasonable technical knowledge, I am not an engineer, but would consider myself to be quite competent around SMB PC networking, security and associated applications at a sales/solution level.

First mistake! While it is important to back you own ability, never underestimate the challenge of keeping up with evolving technology or new products and how they work together.

The brief sounded simple enough. Help set-up the home/home office network with faster switches and wireless networking to take advantage of newer technology and machines. However, after digging a bit it started to get more complex. As a result of the increase in speed, there was now a new “application” to view multimedia files (photos, music and video) from the PC in the office via a media server in the living area and so onto home theatre equipment.

One other problem identified was that there was poor wireless network coverage in the living area as all the IT equipment was in the office area on the other side of the house and it was “old” 802.11b/g. Not a problem! Both the multimedia requirement and the house were relatively new and there were structured Ethernet/phone outlets in the living room to service this via Ethernet cable.

I drew up a diagram and discussed the design with my colleague before he ordered the equipment. It showed the multimedia connected to the cabling and a “new” 802.11n wireless access point in the office to improve coverage and speed to the living area. Mistake 2 – forgetting about the application.

While this all worked when assembled, it did not solve his problem. Yes, we got blazing wireless “n” speed and coverage in the living room, if using a notebook. However, he had an application for his iPhone that acted as a smart remote control for his multimedia equipment and the iPhone didn’t support the newer wireless “n” standard, only the older wireless “b/g”. I only found out after starting the migration. I have not covered the migration of data to the new machines and setting up the storage device, or even the fun of updates, patches, cable mismatches and so on. It eventually all ended well as my colleague understood that he was pushing the envelope with his applications, and was a little “different” to the average user. But suffice to say if this was a paying customer, I would have made little if any profit and could have potentially jeopardised any repeat business.

Lessons learnt from this experience are to never assume anything, ask, clarify and don’t expect the customer to understand the technology. Sometimes they will say yes, but their vision or comprehension of what is possible does not match their application expectations.

Also, do your preparation carefully around the project time and cost. It is better to err on the side of caution and explain the amount of work required, your time and value add to ensure a greater outcome for everyone. It’s the old adage: “Under promise and over deliver”.

Cam Wayland is a director at channel consulting firm, Channel Dynamics. cwayland@channeldynamics.com.au


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