Until only recently, the Services Lifecycle Management (SLM) solutions purchase/acquisition cycle was a fairly closed-loop, highly structured, and oftentimes formal process. Potential users obtained most of their decision-making data and informational input directly from the vendors, sought the recommendations of published buyer’s guides and directories, and picked up on the latest “buzz” at industry trade shows or via services trade publications – all historically serving as powerful and rich resources.
This was the way SLM solution decisions had been supported and made for decades. But then, the Internet, blogs and social media changed everything – including the means by which information is gathered, reviewed, and analyzed; how potential vendors are evaluated and selected; and even the way in which customers position themselves as potential buyers in a largely buyer’s market.
In October 2010, The White House Office of Consumer Affairs reported that dissatisfied customers will tell between nine and 15 people about their negative experience, with roughly 13 percent (i.e., or about one-in-eight) telling more than 20 people. Satisfied customers, on the other hand, will only tell about four to six people about their positive experience.
Therefore, according to the report, customer service failures are likely to be communicated two-and-a-half times more often than customer service successes. As a result, services organizations need to maintain a ratio of roughly 2.5-to-1 satisfied vs. dissatisfied customers just to break even in terms of word-of-mouth customer service feedback.
In all likelihood, customers will become even more critical – and communicative – about their service experiences in the future, based on the widespread usage of social media tools and technology devices. This presents a new front for services organizations to address in an increasingly social media-influenced marketplace; however, there are still many other challenges that must also be addressed.
The three most uniquely daunting challenges faced by services organizations over the past few decades have included the following:
- Transforming themselves from manufacturer/OEM cost centers to strategic lines of business (i.e., with their own executive-level management and P&L responsibility)
- Shifting their operational focus from company-centric to customer-centric, whereby the customer represents the focal point of their universe
- Learning how to treat their business-to-business (B2B) accounts with the same high level of service and support that other vendors use to treat their business-to-consumer (B2C) customers
Surely there have been other equally daunting challenges facing the services industry throughout this period, as well, including:
- The globalization of business operations
- An uncertain cycle of volatile economic upturns and downturns
- The proliferation of new technologies and applications
- The continuing shakeout of marginal performers, and the resultant consolidation within the supply side sectors
- The widespread growth of social media for business purposes
However, while each of these business game-changers ultimately impacts all business segments, the three challenges outlined in the top list above focus uniquely on the services sector.
It is no longer good enough to tell your customers that your organization is “no worse” than any of its competitors (the “like-company” comparison); because, if you do, you will risk hearing something in return such as, “I understand that. But what I don’t understand is why you can’t process my order as accurately as Amazon.com or QVC, or handle my return – and process my credit – as quickly as American Express!”
Companies like Amazon.com and QVC are maximizing their use of the Internet’s communications capabilities by making not only the purchasing process easy – but the returns process as well. For example, you might purchase an item from one of these vendors via telephone, laptop, iPhone, tablet or other handheld device. Once you obtain a customer number, it’s all very easy to place an order.
The overall customer experience is then heightened even further by the high level of communications provided to the consumer (i.e., the receipt of a near-instant e-mail confirmation of the order; the subsequent follow-up e-mails when the item is shipped; notification of when an item is on backorder; etc.). Even the return process is easy: if the item isn’t what you thought it would be (e.g., wrong color or size, you already got one for your birthday – whatever!) you can simply return it in the same packaging used for the initial shipping along with the supplied return mailing label, and a return receipt and credit notification will be forwarded to you (typically) in a matter of days – if not hours!
By simply delivering (or promising) the same-old, same-old treatment to your existing customers, you are guaranteed to continue treating them as “just another business account” (i.e., the “B” in B2B). However, your customers are quickly becoming accustomed to being treated better as “C’s” by some of the most successful B2C vendors. They are also increasingly being empowered by the Internet; a seemingly unending number of new technologies, apps and devices; and the ongoing explosion of social media tools.
The time has come for your organization to recognize that these “new” levels of customer delivery performance are now the norm – and that its customers will increasingly settle for nothing less than the best.