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Collaboration is defined as “the cooperative arrangement in which two or more parties work jointly towards a common goal.” This certainly has a pleasant ring to it. Just look at the delightful phrasing: cooperative arrangement, working jointly, common goal. In light of this, who wouldn’t enjoy collaborating? Unfortunately and surprisingly, the answer could be your very own customers.

Now, the message here isn’t that customers (yours or anyone else’s) are against collaboration, which is not the case. They’re all for it. But despite your efforts and investments – both of which may be considerable – you may not be delivering the kind of collaborative experience your customers want.

And once this gap emerges, the more that your teams push ahead on the collaboration, the more your customers push back. Of course, it’s nothing personal. It’s just a reaction to their perception that collaboration – however well intentioned – is something that impedes rather than enables progress, productivity and performance. How so? Bob Cross, author of The Harvard Business Review’s “The Collaborative Overload” explains:

“Consider a typical week in your own organization. How much time do people spend in meetings, on the phone, and responding to customer e-mails? At many companies the proportion hovers around 80%, leaving employees little time for all the critical work they must complete on their own. Performance suffers as they are buried under an avalanche of requests for input or advice, access to resources, or attendance at a meeting.”

Fortunately, for professional services organizations for example, achieving alignment with customers on the collaborative front isn’t difficult. What’s required is to identify and embrace the 7 factors that customers demand – whether they articulate it or not – when it comes to external collaboration:

customer collaboration

1. Completeness
Customers don’t want – and typically won’t tolerate – collaborating via multiple tools. They prefer a complete one-stop “omnichannel” where they can access all of their projects, files, conversations, requests, etc.

2. Speed
Customers aren’t going to gear down to match pace with a business’s collaboration workflow. They want to onboard quickly and easily, and this expectation includes being able to immediately access the portal after getting an invite vs. knocking the virtual door to get in.

3. Simplicity
Customers don’t crave simplicity because they can’t handle complexity. On the contrary, they crave simplicity because they’re smart. They wisely know that they shouldn’t have to do any heavy lifting to make collaboration work. To that end, they want to deal with a single project plan, use an intuitive interface that requires zero guesswork, and see color-coded tasks that point them quickly to what they need to do. Forget K.I.S.S. When it comes to external collaboration, it’s K.I.S.-O.E! (“Keep it Simple – or Else!”)

4. Customized
Customers aren’t impressed by or interested in portals that smack of “one-size-fits-all”-ness. They want a customized collaboration workflow and user experience that maps their unique needed and processes. They also want the portal’s look and feel to match their brand, so they see it as an extension of their operations vs. paying a visit to a business’s territory. This functionality is particularly desired by organizations with large or cross-departmental implementations that require a consistent look and feel.

5. Transparency
Customers are very sensitive of being kept out of the loop – because that can lead to being sideswiped by bad news like cost overruns, schedule delays, missed milestones, and so on. As such, they want collaboration to be transparent and in the open vs. taking place behind the scenes and out of view.

6. Clarity
Customers dread “kitchen sink” collaboration, which is what happens when a business decides to share everything in their ecosystem – including a huge volume of stuff that isn’t relevant and may not even make sense. That’s not collaboration, it’s chaos! Customers want clarity, which means they want information shared in the context of the work that’s being done. No more, and no less.

7. Synergy
Customers know what collaboration is – and they know what collaboration isn’t. They know it’s not just sending information or providing updates. That’s important – but it’s not collaboration. What customers are looking for is synergy, which is what emerges when they get value from the collaboration. That is, collaboration itself engineers benefits and advantages that they aren’t paying extra for, but are nevertheless reaping because it’s an expression of the engagement. Collaboration can’t just describe something. It has to add something. It also has to move a business forward and show productivity and progress gains.

Learn More
At Clarizen, we’ve designed our award-winning work execution solution with all seven of these customer collaboration factors in mind. That’s why Clarizen is championed by businesses and their customers alike – both of whom rely on it to reap the rewards that invariably flow from a “cooperative arrangement in which two or more parties work jointly towards a common goal.”

To learn more, schedule a guided demo or launch a 30-day free trial of Clarizen today.

Anne Catambay
As head of global marketing, Anne Catambay draws on more than 20 years of leadership experience in Silicon Valley. She joins Clarizen from Badgeville, where her global marketing efforts helped the company achieve a leadership position in a new market category (gamification). Prior to Badgeville, Anne held senior roles in global partner marketing at VMware, driving dramatic growth in a new market and seeing the company through acquisition (EMC) and, subsequently, through a highly touted IPO.Previously, she ran demand generation at Keynote Systems during the company's successful IPO, ultimately leading the company's partner marketing, corporate marketing and demand generation efforts. Anne also drove market demand in the Americas for British software company Systems Union. She holds a B.S. In business marketing, a B.F.A. in photography from San Jose State University and an M.B.A. from Santa Clara University.