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25 April 2007

RATER: Responsiveness

Responsiveness is the last of the categories in the RATER framework.

The first thing you think of when you reflect on responsiveness is usually speed of response. That’s what is usually meant when talking about IT systems responsiveness and quickly responding to a client or stake holder’s requests is an important part of this attribute.

Call centres recognize the importance of answering the customer call as quickly as possible, and it is usually one of the most important metrics in any service oriented customer contact environment.

Professional consultants and service providers are also very aware of the importance of a quick response. People are coached to return emails and calls on the same or next working day, and to keep people informed of what is happening as work is in progress.

There is more to responsiveness than a quick reply though. How many times have you been questioned or challenged about a decision you have made, and your first response is to justify or explain what you have done?

I’ll give an example from my work life; when I was writing more specifications documents I would have to present the specs to stakeholders and various project participants to get the document approved for the next stage of the project. My usual method was a combination of group and individual presentations/walkthroughs after many hours of investigation and careful thought.

Naturally no-one else has thought about the specifications as broadly or deeply as me, the business analyst, and so it would be frustrating to have to deal with challenges. But each person’s feedback was important in two ways; firstly it would check that my assumptions and analysis was rigorous, and secondly it allowed the other project participants and stakeholders to be heard and to engage with the project.

I had to suppress my instincts to instantly explain why I had made certain decisions or described things in a certain way and instead listen and acknowledge what the person was saying to me and look at how it could be a contribution to the project. This doesn’t mean an endless cycle of document revisions. It simply meant listening and talking with the stake holders about their issues. It was taking their feedback “onboard” for want of a better cliché.

My example is provided to illustrate that responsiveness goes beyond being quick. It has to be an appropriate response to the interaction. It includes acknowledging the other person’s idea or request, and engaging with them before providing your response.

It helps to think about the people you are interacting with as collaborators on a problem. They are helping you tease out the subtleties or complexities of a problem which will,. In the end, enable you to deliver a better solution.