I was at a friend’s house a few weeks back and I kept hearing a thud every two minutes or so. I couldn’t figure out what it was until I went to the sun room and realized it was a bird. The bird would sit on the fence, look forward (which happened to be a window in the sun room) and then the bird would try to attack his reflection. In doing so, he would slam into the window, slide down the window, jump up to his feet and then fly back to the fence and would repeat…over and over and over and over. Watching this was providing great entertainment for me but I thought of Albert Einstein who said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
For some reason, I started thinking about customer reference programs and how many groups there are and blogs (including this one) that give you tips and pointers on how to run a program. Most of these tools should be used as guides and not as the only way to do things.
There’s no “paint by numbers” approach to running a reference program. Everything isn’t going to work for all programs. Depending on the vertical, the product, the customer base, the location and the needs of the customer reference program, each program is going to be different. However, there are still some common things that all programs should have including respect for the customer, not assuming you know what the customer is thinking and knowledge of what the purpose of the program is.
Folks who tell you that there’s only one way to run a program aren’t telling you the truth. Having run reference programs for almost ten years and at a bunch of different companies, I can tell you that not one of them have been identical to another one. Each company has its own needs, wants and roadblocks when it comes to the reference program.
Don’t be afraid to try new things. See if what works for company X will work for you. But like the bird flying into the window, don’t keep doing it over and over again if it’s not working. Try something new.