Customer Service Application: Project Management

Abstract

This paper illustrates a project management plan to be adopted in developing a new customer service application. The background explores the basis of developing the new project by identifying the existing market needs. The plan illustrates the various aspects that will be considered in developing the product. The plan is organized into two main parts. The first part illustrates the issues that will be evaluated during the planning phase, such as the project description and the factors considered in selecting the project coupled with the project objectives and requirements. Additionally, the plan also illustrates how the project objectives will be prioritized. The second part of the plan illustrates the project scope, the work breakdown structure, and the cost management plans to be implemented.

Introduction

Businesses in the retail sector face numerous pressures arising from external factors. Some of the sources of pressure include the high rate of globalization, change in consumer behavior, economic, technological, and political changes. These changes have stimulated the need for firms to improve their operational efficiency. Effective customer service management is one of the core aspects that businesses should take into account. Customer service influences the effectiveness with which organizations achieve long-term competitiveness. The intensity of competition in the retail industry underscores the importance of firms nurturing repeat purchase behavior amongst their customers. Nguyen, Neck, and Nguyen (2009) emphasize that good “customer service depends on leaders who empower employees to meet the needs of customers through a clear sense of direction and purpose” (p.3). Effective customer service is subject to a number of fundamental elements, which include understanding the customers, developing a customer service strategy, effective management of workforce, and developing service standards.

Project description

This paper illustrates the various project management issues that will be taken into account in developing a customer service application. The application will enable retail firms to improve their service delivery services. One of the aspects that the application will focus on entails developing a database that retail firms can rely on formulating their customer service management strategies. For example, the application will enable retail firms to identify repeat purchase behavior amongst customers. The application’s capability to detect repeat purchase behavior will be achieved by detecting credit and debit card numbers used in purchasing products and services. Subsequently, it will be possible for retailers to identify loyal customers hence formulating an effective customer retention strategy, for example, offering them higher price discounts.

Selection of project

A comprehensive analysis was undertaken in screening and selecting the project. The checklist model was adopted in selecting the project from a number of potential projects. The projects entailed developing an online purchasing application, a customer service application, and a new consumer product. A number of aspects were taken into account in designing the criteria to be adopted in selecting the customer service application as the desired project. Some of the issues that were weighed include

  1. The riskiness of the new application
  2. Cost of developing the application
  3. Interference with stakeholders
  4. Product durability
  5. Stability of the project development process

The cost criterion entailed estimating whether developing the project is within acceptable and reasonable cost estimates while the riskiness criterion involved assessing whether the project will require investment in new generation technology. Furthermore, the selection criteria also involved assessing whether sponsors and project team members will support the project. The product durability criteria involved assessing whether the project outcome will have substantial market potential. On the other hand, interference with stakeholders entails assessing possible resistance from stakeholders. The chart below illustrates the performance of the three projects based on the above selection criteria.

Performance Criteria
Criteria High Medium Low
Project A; online purchasing application Cost x
Market potential x
Development risk x
Project B: Customer service application Cost x
Market potential x
Development risk x
Project C: New consumer product Cost x
Market potential x
Development risk x

The above table shows that investing in developing a customer service application is the most attractive project as compared to the other projects. The customer service application will be focused on improving service delivery amongst retail firms. Additionally, it will enable retail firms to gain sufficient market intelligence. Subsequently, the firms will develop competitiveness with regard to customer service. The choice of this project is informed by the high rate at which consumers are gauging their loyalty towards a particular store on the customer service experience received.

Project goal

The project’s goal is to provide firms in the retail industry, such as convenience stores, supermarket chains, and other small and medium-sized retail enterprises, with an opportunity to enhance their competitiveness by improving their customer service delivery.

Project objectives

The new customer service application aims at achieving the following objectives.

  1. To enhance the effectiveness with which retail firms undertake their marketing activities such as promotional activities.
  2. To enhance the effectiveness with which firms in the retail industry develop effective knowledge of management systems by understanding the customers’ purchase behaviors.
  3. To promote the utilization of technology in customer service amongst retail firms

Project requirements

The success of the project will depend on a number of issues, as outlined below.

  1. Project communication; the process of implementing the project will be subject to the extent to which the various project team members collaborate in generating and sharing project information. In order to foster collaboration, the project manager will be required to implement an effective communication strategy.
  2. Feasibility study; an extensive feasibility study will be undertaken in order to identify the existing gaps with regard to customer service delivery amongst retail firms.
  3. Human resource management- the success of the project will be influenced by the extent to which the various stakeholders are managed. Subsequently, it is imperative for the project manager to adopt effective human resource management practices.

Project stakeholders

The process of implementing this project will not be undertaken in isolation. However, it will take into account a number of stakeholders, as illustrated below.

Project contributors

These stakeholders include the various individuals who will directly contribute to the development of the application. Some of the project contributors include the project team, project sponsors, and the project manager, as evaluated below.

  1. Project sponsors – independent and corporate sponsors will be sought from the external market. Some of the institutional sponsors to be sought include international consultancy firms such as Deloitte & Touche, KPMG, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Additionally, well-established Information Communication Technology firms such as Microsoft, International Business Machine, and Dell will be sought in order to provide the necessary technological expertise. The project sponsor will aid in formulating the project charter and identifying areas that require adjustments.
  2. Project team – a project team of five experts will be developed. The team members will include experts in customer service and software development. These experts will be outsourced from well-established consultancy firms such as PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Microsoft.
  3. Project manager – the project manager will be charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the various project tasks are executed within the set timeframe, and it does not deviate from the predetermined project budget. Additionally, the project manager will ensure a high level of collaboration between the project team members.

Target stakeholders

These stakeholders include the various individuals and institutions that will utilize the project in their operation. The core target stakeholders include customers and retail firms.

  1. Retailers – the process of developing the new application will focus on assisting retailers in improving their customer service delivery. The data generated by the application will enable retailers to determine their effectiveness in fostering customer loyalty by assessing the customers’ repeat purchase behavior.
  2. Customers – the project will aim at developing a database on the consumers’ purchase behaviors.

Prioritization of project objectives

This project is multi-purpose, which means that it aims at achieving a number of objectives. However, during the initial phases, the project will prioritize enhancing the effectiveness with which firms in the retail industry rely on market intelligence in their operational processes. This objective will be achieved by developing a software application that will enable the retail firms to develop a reliable database on customer purchase behavior. Therefore, the project will improve retail firms’ effectiveness in managing and utilizing knowledge. The high rate of technological innovation with specific reference on information communication technology has increased the need for firms to develop competitiveness by leveraging on the available market information.

Consumers are increasingly demanding high quality and unique services in their purchasing process. Consequently, most consumers are basing their loyalty decisions on the nature of customer service. Nguyen, Neck, and Nguyen (2009) assert that most “firms are competing in a complex and challenging environment, which is transformed by diverse macro-environmental factors” (p.3). In order to survive in such an environment, the need for firms to develop adequate competitive advantage cannot be ignored. The achievement of competitive advantage in the contemporary business environment is not only based on tangible and physical resources, but it has also shifted to knowledge. Nguyen, Neck, and Nguyen (2009) assert that knowledge management has become a vital element in developing and sustaining competitive advantage.

In order to achieve this goal, the process of developing the new application will mainly depend on market information. Subsequently, the project manager will conduct a comprehensive feasibility study in order to understand the industry trends. The feasibility study will aid in determining the prevailing consumer behavior with regard to customer service and the firms’ commitment to giving customers optimal services. Additionally, the feasibility study will aid in identifying potential gaps in existing customer service applications. This goal will be achieved by evaluating the existing systems. Subsequently, it will be possible to improve the functionality of the new application by improving on the existing market gaps.

The second objective will entail evaluating how retail firms can utilize the application in formulating their customer service strategies. For example, retailers will formulate effective promotional strategies such as price discounts based on market intelligence developed. This capability will enable retail firms to formulate effective customer retention strategies. The final objective, which entails promoting the utilization of technology in customer service amongst retail firms, will be the last consideration. This aspect arises from the view that this objective will only be achieved if the application is developed successfully. In order to enhance the attainment of this objective, the project manager will ensure that the development of the application is based on the available market information. Therefore, the likelihood of the application gaining sufficient market acceptance will be increased. Focusing on the above issues will enable the project manager to establish the foundation on which the project will be implemented.

Project Scope

According to Lau (2005), scope management is a fundamental element in project management. The objective of scope management is to enhance the attainment of the desired outcome. Consequently, the likelihood of the target stakeholders achieving a high level of satisfaction is increased. Moreover, scope management is focused on ensuring that only the necessary tasks are undertaken.

In order to enhance the likelihood of project success, the project manager will subdivide the entire project into small, manageable, and deliverable project components. In the process of developing the customer service application, the definition of the project scope will be a collaborative effort of the project sponsor, the project team, and the project manager. The following issues will be taken into account during the scope definition process.

  1. Scope planning: progressive elaboration and documentation of the intended project tasks will be undertaken. The planning process will take into account the project constraints and assumptions. Moreover, the scope planning process will also involve evaluating whether the intended product design will meet the customers’ needs. This goal will be achieved through pilot testing. A well-established convenience store in the US will be selected in undertaking the pilot project. Pilot testing will aid in determining the effectiveness of the application in fostering interaction between the retail firms and their clients.
  2. Project initiation; this stage will entail the development of a comprehensive description of the intended customer service application. Thus, detailed product characteristics will be outlined in order to provide the stakeholders with a comprehensive understanding of the intended project. Some of the issues that will be considered entail defining the technical aspects of the customer service application. Subsequently, the likelihood of the project gaining the support of the team members and sponsors will be enhanced. The initiation stage will also entail developing a comprehensive scope statement.
  3. Scope definition; the project manager will subdivide the project into major project deliverables. The subdivision will aid in estimating the project’s resource utilization. Subsequently, the project manager will be in a position to implement effective project time and cost management strategies. Furthermore, the scope definition will also play a fundamental role in facilitating the assignment of project tasks.
  4. Scope verification; this stage will involve evaluating the applicability of the developed project scope in order to determine the degree of its acceptance. This goal will be achieved by evaluating the project deliverables in order to determine whether they are satisfactory.

Work Breakdown Structure

Adams, Means, and Spivey (2007) define work breakdown structure [WBS] as a deliverable-oriented plan that outlines the various aspects to be undertaken in a project. A number of tasks will be undertaken in developing the new application. Some of these tasks are evaluated below. First, a feasibility study will be undertaken in order to determine the exact aspects that should be considered in developing the application. Some of the issues that will be assessed during the feasibility study entail evaluating the likelihood of the software improving the retail firms’ efficiency in undertaking diverse customer service activities. Additionally, the project manager will conduct a comprehensive interview with prospective users in order to increase the likelihood of the software gaining market acceptance. In order to improve the likelihood of the software gaining market acceptance, the project manager will evaluate the industry’s best practices. This move will aid in formulating the project’s technical requirements, hence improving the project’s documentation processes.

A standard template outlining the best practices will be developed in order to enhance the execution of the project tasks. Experts such as software developers and programmers will undertake the designing phase. The programmers will aid in formulating an outline to be followed in the software development process. Therefore, the likelihood of the application meets the specified requirements will be increased. Effective measurement indicators will be developed in order to assess the application’s programs. Additionally, the indicators will aid in identifying possible deviations, hence the need to make the necessary adjustments.

The development phase will entail translating the documented steps into real software. However, the utilization of the software will be limited. Finally, address automation, which will include code building, regression testing, and static code analysis scans, will be undertaken. The final activity will entail testing the application. The chart below illustrates the project’s work breakdown structure.

Task name Duration [days] Start time Finish time Resource
Conducting feasibility analysis 15 4thOct. 2013 5thOct.2013 Project team
Analyzing and determining the project requirements 15 1stSept 2014 15thSept. 2014. Project team
Evaluating the industry’s best practices 15 16thSept. 2014 15thOct. 2014 Project team
Designing the software 10 17thOct. 2014 27th. Oct. 2014 Project team
Developing project indicators to be used in measuring and tracking progress 7 4thOct. 2014 11thOct. 2014 Project team
Developing the software 15 12thOct. 2014 27thOct. 2014 Project team
Evaluating the application’s automation 12 28thOct. 2014 8thNov. 2014 Project team
Testing the application 8 9thNov. 2014 17thNov. 2014 Project team
Gradual implementation of the application on selected retail outlets 10 18thNov. 2014 27th Nov. 2014 Entrepreneurs

Project time management

Project managers should ensure that projects are executed within the set period. Adherence to the set period is fundamental in minimizing the likelihood of the project experiencing challenges, for example, increment in the projected costs of the project. Cobb (2012) asserts that projects are subject to change due to diverse micro and macro-environmental factors. Subsequently, time management is a vital element during the project implementation process.

The project manager will ensure that the process of developing the customer service application is undertaken optimally. This goal will be achieved by undertaking a comprehensive description of the various project activities. Moreover, the project manager will ensure that the various project activities are clearly defined in order to determine their complexity. Subsequently, the project manager will be effective in allocating time.

A Gantt chart will be developed in order to schedule the various project tasks effectively. The chart will outline the estimated start and finish take of the respective project tasks. Schedule development will enable the project manager to control the project effectively and factor in possible changes. The Gantt chart below illustrates the various project tasks that will be undertaken in developing the customer service application and the estimated time scale.

Project activities
Project activities

The project manager will ensure that the outlined project activities are executed effectively. Subsequently, the project manager will focus on achieving a number of milestones, which will be attained by assessing the following aspects.

  1. Evaluating the applicability of the customer service application in enhancing customer relationship management
  2. Assessing the extent to which the various project tasks have been completed within the set period.

Cost management

The Project Management Institute (2000) emphasizes that the “cost management element of project management is composed of the various processes required to ensure that the project attains the need for which it was designed” (p.83). The need to undertake effective cost management during the project planning and implementation process arise from the existence of resource scarcity. Nevitt and Fabozzi (2000) are of the view that project managers have an obligation to ensure that projects adhere to the set time and budgetary limits in order to minimize the likelihood of failure. Thus, the project manager will ensure that effective cost management strategies are taken into account. This goal will be achieved by considering various cost management aspects, which include cost control, cost estimation, resource planning, and cost budgeting.

Resource planning will involve the determination of the project’s resource requirements. Subsequently, the project manager, in collaboration with the project sponsors and the project team will assess the project’s financial and human capital requirements. Moreover, resource planning will also entail the evaluation of material and equipment requirements and their respective quantities. Cost estimation will involve estimating the projects’ financial requirements (Nevitt & Fabozzi, 2000). A financial plan (project budget) will be used in identifying the financial requirement of each of the project phases. The cost estimation process will also take into consideration possible variations. Subsequently, the project manager will ensure that the project is shielded against possible deviations. The project manager will use computerized tools such as spreadsheets, statistical tools, and simulation in estimating the cost. Thus, it will be possible to generate diverse costing alternatives for consideration.

The budget will play a fundamental role in ensuring that the financial requirement in implementing the various project tasks is taken into account, as a cost baseline with respect to the various project activities will be established. Moreover, the project manager can use the baseline in assessing the project’s budgetary performance. Therefore, it will be possible to undertake cost control. The Project Management Institute (2000) emphasizes that cost control “is concerned with influencing the factors that create changes to the cost baseline to ensure that changes are agreed upon” (p. 90). The project budget will also play a vital role in seeking finances from the target project sponsors. The chart below illustrates the estimated project budget.

Cost item Estimated cost
Market research $2,000
Seeking project sponsors and experts $2,500
Formulating the project plan $ 1,200
Software development and designing materials $ 3,500
Developing the application prototype $ 8,000
Cost of testing the application $ 7,500
Estimated budget $ 24,700

In order to improve the likelihood of success, the project manager will undertake a continuous review of the project in order to identify possible deviations. Therefore, it will be possible to undertake the necessary adjustments.

References

Adams, T., Means, J., & Spivey, M. (2007). The project meeting facilitators: facilitation skills to make the most of project meetings. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Cobb, T. (2012). Leading project teams: the basics of project management and team leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Lau, L. (2005). Managing business with SAP: planning, implementation and evaluation. Hershey, PA: Idea Group.

Nevitt, P., & Fabozzi, F. (2000). Project financing. London, UK: EuroMoney.

Nguyen, T., Neck, P., & Nguyen, H. (2009). The critical role of knowledge management in achieving sand sustaining organizational competitive advantage. International Business Research, 2 (3), 1-16.

Project Management Institute. (2000). A guide to the project management body of knowledge. New York, NY: Electronic Imaging Services Incorporation.