Early in this new phase of my career journey, when I was trying to decide what I was going to do next, I was catching up with a colleague and soliciting advice when he asked a question that forced me to think for several moments. The question was: Do you prefer working for a software provider or a service provider? Here’s how I answered that question.
First, a little background – I’ve done both. I’ve been providing consulting services for over 30 years, starting when I was a technology and litigation support consultant with Price Waterhouse back in the mid-80s. It was so long ago, that PW was part of the Big Eight group of accounting and consulting firms* (after consolidation, they’re now the Big Four). Yes, I’m that old. Since then, I’ve spent over 21 years with two firms that provided both software and services and I had responsibilities in both areas of both providers at various times (starting even before “eDiscovery” was a thing). So, I’m very familiar with both product management and project management (as it relates to providing services).
With that said, here’s how I answered the question:
Honestly, either way, you’re a service provider. If you’re a software provider, you’re still meeting with customers periodically to discuss their desired business outcomes, just as you would as a service provider when you sit down to discuss a particular case and the client’s desired outcomes for that. You take feedback from the customer and from prospects to plan your product roadmap as part of the overall product management lifecycle to make sure your products are meeting the needs of the customers you have – and the customers you hope to have in the future – just as you do as a service provider when you meet with a client periodically during the case to discuss status, deliverables and deadlines.
You’re also providing software training to help them get the most out of your software product. You’re providing product support to address questions and issues they have and learning from each experience to improve that support experience for future customers with similar questions and issues. And, you’re helping prospects evaluate your product even before buying it by assisting them with a proof of concept trial.
Even if your primary role at a software provider is as a developer writing code, you can’t do that in a vacuum without understanding the needs of your customer. That’s one of the reasons software development methodologies exist – to get everyone on the team on the same page with regard to what capabilities and features need to be developed, the business reason for those capabilities and features and the value they bring to a customer. Developers who understand business reasons and customer value are better developers because they are truly thinking about what the customer wants and needs – they’re still providing a service for that customer by giving them greater functionality within their product. So, software providers are still really service providers – they’re just providing a different set of services.
To which my colleague responded: “Those are great points. But, seriously, which one do you prefer?” 😉
My old boss, Brad Jenkins, suggested many books for me to read over the years – some of which I actually got around to reading 😉 – but, the first one (which I did read, along with several of my colleagues) was a book titled The Cult of the Customer, by Shep Hyken. You can buy a copy on Amazon here**. The book talks about creating an amazing experience for the customer or client to the point that they’re not only “satisfied” or “happy” but to the point that they are willing to be an evangelist for your product or service. That’s how you build a business and “amazing service” became one of our core values going forward.
Don’t get me wrong, product capabilities and features are important to every eDiscovery software product and the ability to “check all the boxes” (or most of them, anyway) for prospects with regard to features is key to landing them as customers in the first place. However, services are the biggest factor in keeping those customers and keeping them so happy that they are willing to talk about how happy they are to additional prospects to which you are trying to sell your software. Great services sell software as much as great features do. eDiscovery software providers are really service providers too, they just provide different services.
So, what do you think? Are you an eDiscovery provider? If so, are you a software or services provider? Trick question! Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.
* – I can still name all original Big Eight accounting and consulting firms – without Googling it.
** – I get no commission or benefit from book sales, it’s just a really great book.
Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by my employer, my partners or my clients. eDiscovery Today is made available solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Today should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.