Project Everest

(Dis)Connecting with customers between project months

by
Alexander Teicher
Alexander Teicher | Dec 1, 2017 | in Ideas Box

One difficulty inevitably faced by PE Ventures at one point or another in their life-span is the time between project months. The lack of presence by projects from March-June and August-November can present a problem for established contacts to raise any issues or present new opportunities to PE. Trying to establish relationships with new customers is also inhibited by the breaks as there may have been a few promising meetings had or communications made yet that good work cannot continue once the project ends. Several companies we have got back in touch with here in Timor have expressed how they had been contacted before and were unsure if we were the same people or not, with one company even telling us how they tried to collect recycling for ERS however had thrown it away after they couldn’t get into touch with the contact number left with them. These examples highlight one of the biggest weaknesses in the Project Everest model for ventures, the downtime between project seasons.

 

Potential solutions to this are varied, with the most immediate and obvious solution being to have someone on the ground in country permanently. While this is the dream and end goal of all projects to have a permanent presence and business operating in country, oftentimes there is not enough of a business case to warrant placing someone full time to where the Project is operating. From this a Catch-22 arises where it is not worthwhile having a permanent contact however a permanent contact could enable the continuity that engages customers. This continual presence could thereby develop the business case to a point where it is valid. To make a leap of faith like this early however is understandably too financially risky for Project Everest and therefore trekkers must put into place procedures to reduce the impact of their absence.

 

Existing strategies include the handover process and associated documents, giving incoming trekkers the necessary context to continue with the project and make almost instant progress, however this is limited due to being written and any further questions difficult to get replies from the trekkers who might know the most about any given issue. Particularly customer details and views, as these are included in most contact lists but again are limited in their detail which is expected, as otherwise there would be vast amounts of largely irrelevant information superfluous to the proceeding team’s needs. While these methods help with the trekker’s understanding of the project and that sense of continuity, until the following month starts, this helps the customers or relevant partners little.

 

One proposal solution is to have a permanently available email, routed through to PE headquarters where any necessary connection to relevant parties is made. This could include a notification being sent to past Trekkers and TL’s if they choose to opt in and are happy to continue being part of the project. An option for this is to use Crowdicity to facilitate this discussion. This would allow the relevant people who were fully involved previously with a certain customer or contact to be able to give more details and ideas to the current team by tagging them in either a discussion thread or private post for the relevant project. This solution is, however, time-expensive for alumni and would not be very attractive to people who have since their project joined the workforce or have study commitments. Are there any other programs that could be used effectively to achieve a similar result in notifying past members of a query?

 

Another solution that could be implemented more immediately is to emphasise with trekkers to clearly communicate the structure of PE and how our projects operate throughout the year, particularly with individuals who will be a recurring contact for us. This proactive approach would enable them to appreciate how our projects operate and eliminate frustration or confusion as they have a clear understanding of our ‘down-times’ throughout the year. While there is a well-established procedure to communicate end of project to stakeholders there is perhaps a lack of emphasis in initial communication to contacts who perhaps may not be at a stage to warrant a sign off notice at projects end.

 

Hopefully I have raised some questions to challenge how Project Everest deals with customers and maintains the excellent relationships we have with them. Any suggestions or criticisms will be more than welcome as we try to continually improve how we do things in country and as an organisation. This is less a criticism of current processes and more of an assessment of where we could improve.

 

Seth Coetzee Dec 12, 2017

I completely agree that the downtime between project months presents huge problems, and it is something we need to try to find a solution to. In regards to your first proposal, I think there is definitely some merit to using past trekkers/TL's to maintain contact, although one obstacle would be keeping all those interested always 100% up to speed with what developments occur. A potential system could be to firstly keep a detailed record of who specifically was involved in every contact with every stakeholder, then routing all communications in the out-of-country months through a nominated country operations officer (e.g. jimmy/lisa/zoe for fiji), who could then forward the communication out to the right person based on the specific stakeholder/situation. Happy to offer any help I can to develop some kind of system for this!

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Alexander Teicher Dec 12, 2017

Hey Seth,
Thats exactly the kind of system I was thinking of, where a permanent PE staff or someone heavily involved is the first point of contact for stakeholders and then as you said they can route any queries to the appropriate past trekkers or TL's. In July there was an excellent contact list with details on who contacted that stakeholder and during our handover process we will try to update that for our team.

In terms of a system I am not sure if there is an existing software/application for this (surely there would be) and if we could implement that it would be fantastic. Recently we started using HubSpot to keep track of customer relations and I have mentioned that more specifically on your post about communication. I am not sure if HubSpot has the capability to do what we are talking about but I will look into it.

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Nic Makram Dec 13, 2017

Yeah as you guys have said, the handover period between months is an inefficiency in the way PE currently operates in country. Each team only has 4 weeks in country, and currently - even if the handover documents from the previous team are very concise - it takes a few days to properly get into the project and then you spend a reasonable amount of time throughout project writing handover documents for the next team, taking away time from the project itself.

This process makes it hard to efficiently make progress on the project, so if we can improve the handover process and make it as autonomous as possible, I think we would see more progress made by each month on the actual project.

It's good to see PE currently looking at different handover processes, ie. using a business plan as well as a handover document, but work can still be done in regards to the contact records. Teich has got some good ideas about how we can improve these systems so hopefully we can trial these out in the near future.

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