Your Relationships Aren't Symmetrical. Why Should Your Collaboration Tools be?
Asymmetry may have negative connotations, especially in client services. But we disagree. We think asymmetry is the hallmark of great client service.
You want your services to empower your customers, you want to collaborate, and you want to lead them to their goals. At Coordinate, we prefer (and recommend) asymmetrical customer/service provider relationships — ones where the burden and complexities of a project are distributed to give the customer a simple and delightful experience.
Specifically for SaaS, your project management should be asymmetrical. Keep the complexities on your end as a service provider and give the customer a simple, streamlined view of what they need to do. After all, the customer partnered with you for your knowledge, guidance, and recommendations to solve a problem.
Without asymmetry, customers get dragged through unnecessary aspects of project management. In this article, we explain why the beauty of your software experience lies in purposeful asymmetry, just like the nature of your relationships.
Asymmetry enables a simple, focused customer experience
Your customers want expert guidance, not a lineup of tools. You should focus on decluttering their experience to achieve focus and get them to engage.
Too often, software vendors have a heavy startup period, where it takes months to get a customer onboarded with multiple tools. This creates an overwhelming experience because the customer is eager to solve the problem but gets caught up in complex training of tools they don’t even need to use.
Instead, service providers need to do the heavy lifting themselves and focus on leading the customer to the solution. Imagine you’re an artist, and the customer has a vision for a piece of art. The customer tells you in simple terms what they want. They don’t need to understand color schemes, texture, and composition — you do. Neither do they need to watch you work in your messy studio. You’re the expert, and they trust you to produce the best artwork based on their vision. But it also doesn’t mean the customer is a passive, one-time receiver of the solution. When you have your first sketch ready based on their inputs, they can plug in their feedback, and together you can discuss any changes in preferences and goals.
Similarly, as a service company, your goal should be to use asymmetry to simplify the experience for your customer. Integrate everything they need to know and do in one place and set them up for success with a clear roadmap — outline goals, keep the north star in front of them, hold them accountable to their goals, and celebrate wins along the way, so they see value, not clutter.
Asymmetrical relationships can actually increase collaboration
A simple experience helps customers advocate for themselves and clearly communicate their needs. This leads to better collaboration because both the service provider and customer are part of a shared plan that they can view to see what is going on, who is responsible, and track progress. This is especially useful for service providers that have a portfolio of high-touch enterprise customers.
Take the case of FanThreeSixty, a platform that helps high-performing sports organizations utilize their fan data to grow revenue and elevate the fan experience. Being in the dynamic field of sports, the company has to navigate ongoing high-touch relationships and complex seasonal campaigns. This meant multiple documents, emails, and too many tools. FanThreeSixty’s Client Success Leads (CSLs) were struggling to stay organized and were spending too much time to keep customers on track. As a result, the focus on goals and proving value to the customer got relegated to the background.
With Coordinate, the company creates shared plans for each customer campaign. The key stakeholders can view the centralized dashboard to provide context, see what’s next, and ask questions. All communication and progress are documented here. This shared plan serves as a visual aid and a mechanism to keep both sides accountable. The CSLs feel empowered and are able to speed up the time to value so that customers know they are closer to their goals.
How we built Coordinate to be asymmetrical
Our collective personal experiences as founders led us to build Coordinate in a way that would facilitate healthy asymmetry between vendors and customers. The project owner can lead the way, taking on the brunt of the hassle, while the client/customer intuitively understands where they should weigh in.
The seed for this idea was sown when all three of us founders were renovating our homes at the same time. We didn’t know what it takes to get a mortgage, what underwriting entails, or why the banks care about amortization periods. We weren’t the experts. So we turned to different mortgage portals like Rocket Mortgage and Better.com. All I said was that I was interested in a mortgage. I received an email with 10 simple tasks. I completed my tasks — mostly just providing straightforward answers — and my mortgage was approved. Next, the portal asked me for a few documents to complete the process.
Applying for a mortgage can prove to be a complex process, but the portal handled the bulk of the complexity behind the scenes. They just asked for information and input in clear, simple ways. That’s how SaaS vendors/project managers should interact with customers. As service providers, we want to bring the customer along on a simplified journey and lead them to specific goals. But we still need to collaborate in an asymmetrical way.
And so, we designed a branded portal with features that facilitate this asymmetry:
Automated reminders and alerts
With this feature, you hold your customers accountable without the need to follow up manually. On your end, it helps set expectations and deadlines to ensure there is progress towards the agreed-upon goal. On the customer’s end, it simplifies what they need to do — complete a single task by the deadline — without cluttering their day.
There are a lot of moving pieces when you are managing multiple customers. With this feature, you get a high-level view of status, milestones, and next steps. It helps you prioritize tasks and keep information handy. This is especially useful when internal transitions or role handoffs take place. Often, information gets lost in transition when a sales rep or customer success manager leaves, leading to loss of communication and even customer churn. This feature keeps information in constant view for you, but the customer just has to focus on their (smaller) share of the work.
Collaborative project management
With this feature, you can collaborate quickly and easily without being overwhelmed by information. Different stakeholders may have questions about different aspects of the work, so Coordinate curates views for each project stakeholder.
Asymmetrical software can create a unique harmony
While philosophy and the SaaS world seem to have little in common, there’s wisdom we can draw upon. The German philosopher Theodore W. Adorno explained that asymmetry does not mean the complete absence of symmetry. Similarly, asymmetrical software builds upon a partnership in which service providers and customers are equal (symmetrical) but the former take on the lion’s share of the project.