In today's digital, technology-driven marketplace, a company's greatest competitive advantage is its ability to offer an incredible customer experience. But delivering that starts in what, on first blush, seems like an unlikely place: with your software development teams.
"We've all been there, right? You're trying to do your job, get work done and the software you're using isn't working right. Or it has a glitch or a bug that you have to work around. Or it doesn't have quite the right set of features for your needs, though it might be close. It makes everything more frustrating, more difficult, and then you're not working efficiently or effectively," says Greg Law, CEO and co-founder of software quality startup Undo.
That means you're not delivering on customers' needs and demands as well as you could, and that's a huge problem. Today's hyperconnected, social-media saturated media landscape means customers can easily vent those frustrations to the market at large with a few keystrokes, which can have a direct impact on your bottom line.
Keeping your software developers happy, engaged and working productively has a direct correlation to the happiness of your customers, Law says, and that leads to better business outcomes.
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"Human beings need very high levels of precision, focus and concentration to be able to write quality code, and they need freedom to be creative and express themselves. They need to be empowered to make their own decisions, they need a comfortable atmosphere, and they have to have the resources easily available to do their job well," Law says.
Happy, engaged software developers can produce high-quality results, which impacts everyone else involved in the development, delivery, marketing and sales of the product, too, he says; it's a lot easier to market and sell a quality product that fulfills a customer need, and it's a lot more attractive to the market.
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The royal treatment
The savviest companies understand this, and it's why, in a tight IT talent market, software developers are treated like royalty; lucrative salaries, the ability to work remotely, perks like on-site massage, catered food, unlimited PTO and the like, says Law.
The companies who "get it" and treat their people well are necessarily going to see a return on that investment by attracting the elite tech talent; while these kinds of benefits and perks may seem excessive, they are paying long-term dividends, he says.
"A software developer who's even just a little bit better than the competition can result in exponential non-linear returns on whatever investment you make. It's somewhat akin to professional sports, in that even if your talent's just one percent better, that translates to a huge advantage," he says.
Organizations that aren't willing to make these investments are fooling themselves, says Chris O'Malley, CEO of mainframe technology services company Compuware. It's nearly impossible to luck out and find these specialized skills and abilities through outsourcing, so if you want to compete, you have to up the ante. Even startups with limited budgets can offer things that are attractive to developers, so it's not entirely about compensation, O'Malley says.
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"CIOs have to understand how this market has evolved and adjust... These developers are essential to your ability to compete, so you need to be able to raise the ante and invest in these developer resources, especially in this area! The environment in which the work is done matters. They want interesting things to do and the nature of the work counts just as much as how much they're paid," he says.
That's been true for Law's as well. He says as a startup, the company can't always go head-to-head with larger competitors on salary, but that a startup atmosphere, new and innovative projects and the ability to make a demonstrable difference to customers and the world at large have helped attract elite talent. And that, above all, correlates to a great customer experience.
"You have to be inventive, innovative and figure out ways to make this work and differentiate yourselves to create raving happy customers, because if you don't, you're doing a disservice to your company, you're doing a disservice to your customers and to your developers, and it's suicide," O'Malley says.