Transforming Market Research into Customer Satisfaction and Retention

Leveraging Market Research into Customer Satisfaction

Webster’s New Millennium Dictionary defines market research as ”the investigation and analysis of consumer needs and opinions about goods and services”. However, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, market research is defined more as “the gathering and evaluation of data regarding consumers’ preferences for products and services.” Thefreedictionary.com complicates matters by defining it as “research that gathers and analyzes information about the moving of good(s) or services from producer to consumer”.

While the three of these distinguished resources provide different “takes” on what market research really is, we prefer to define it essentially as the sum of all three, taking into consideration each of the implicitly stated nuances, by defining it as: “the data collection, analysis and assessment relating to customer needs, requirements, preferences, expectations and perceptions with respect to the goods and services they acquire and use”. In this way, we believe that market research can always be relied on as a tool to support a service organization’s ability to measure, gauge and assess what it will take to understand its customers – and ultimately keep them satisfied and loyal.

We prefer to define Market Research as the data collection, analysis and assessment relating to customer needs, requirements, preferences, expectations and perceptions with respect to the goods and services they acquire and use.”

Regardless of which of these definitions you prefer, one thing remains perfectly clear – market research is a powerful tool that can be used to:

  • Collect and analyze all of the data and information you need to understand your market better, and make your products and services more appealing to your customer base
  • Assist you in identifying and prioritizing market targets that can be exploited to meet your business development goals
  • Provide a foundation upon which all of your customer-focused activities may be supported, measured and tracked
  • Enable you to define, quantify and articulate specific goals and objectives to all affected parties – internal & external
  • Support your ability to measure, monitor and track your customer relationship management successes (and failures) on an ongoing basis.

Measuring Customer Satisfaction Is Important; But, How Do You Do It?

Many services managers mistakenly use “customer satisfaction” and “customer retention” as interchangeable terms; however, they are two entirely separate and distinct things. Customer satisfaction is, basically, “keeping your customers happy”. However, even satisfied customers may consider switching providers for better prices, greater coverage, or just because “it’s time”, etc. As a result, the best way to define customer retention is essentially as “keeping your customers – customers”.

Among the most commonly used alternative measures, or surrogates, for tracking customer satisfaction are typically things like:

  • Increased sales/account revenues,
  • Increased profitability,
  • Repeat services sales/contract renewals, or
  • Improved levels of customer retention.

However, not all of these measures may be either relevant – or accurate, as:

  • Sales/account revenues may be growing more as a result of inflation and/or increasing services prices, rather than as an indicator of customer satisfaction;
  • Increased profitability may be more a result of improved internal services operations and/or cost-cutting, than anything the organization has done to make its customers happier;
  • Repeat services sales may be more the result of customers feeling “locked in” to existing service contracts, or believing it will be easier to “re-up” with your organization than it will be for them to find a new vendor; and
  • Customers may stay with you longer than they want, simply because it is easier than switching.

As such, the primary goals of a Customer Satisfaction research program should primarily be to:

  • Identify the specific product and service attributes that are proven to be important to customers;
  • Provide baseline measurements of both importance and satisfaction for future trend comparisons;
  • Determine the relative strengths/weaknesses of the organization’s current products, services and support offerings;
  • Identify the critical areas requiring improvement;
  • Collect data that can be used to set targets and goals; and
  • Provide a scientific and statistically valid means for measuring and tracking customer satisfaction over time.

Where Should You Focus Your Market Research Efforts?

In considering launching a new (or refining an existing) customer satisfaction/market research program within your organization, there are essentially four questions that you will first need to answer. They are:

  1. Does your organization already have a formal customer satisfaction measurement and tracking program in place? Is your survey research plan designed to yield the specific types of outcomes that are needed to support the organization’s business development plan?
  • Some organizations have no formal customer satisfaction measuring & tracking program; surveys are performed only on an ad hoc basis – if at all!
  • As a result, customer service improvements are probably not supported in a consistent manner, or with all of the necessary data and information to justify making changes – in fact, some problems may go unnoticed, and realistic priorities may not be easily set.
  • If the research plan is not specifically designed to support the subsequent action plan, then you may end up not collecting adequate information to make key decisions.
  1. Should we conduct our customer surveys internally, or should we use an outside market research/consulting firm to design, conduct and analyze our surveys? Which methodology will yield more actionable results? Which way is better?
  • By conducting your customer surveys internally, you may lose the perception of objectivity and, thus, credibility; plus, you run the risk of administering what may appear to your customers to be either an “unprofessional”, incomplete – or even worse – misdirected survey.
  • An outside market research firm generally has the ability to design, execute and analyze surveys more efficiently than your own organization – and can maintain an entirely objective posture throughout the course of the research (e.g., collecting and analyzing responses, providing customer feedback, etc.).
  • Most internally conducted customer surveys turn out to be little more than exercises in public relations, and generate neither statistically valid nor actionable survey outcomes; especially in cases where your service performance is poor, or major improvements are required, it is generally better to go outside.
  1. What type of survey methodology should we use? In person, telephone, mail, e-mail, or a combination of methodologies? How can we tell what will work best with our particular mix of services offerings and customer base?
  • Alternative survey methodologies may reflect substantially different levels of costs, coverage, response rates, statistical reliability and skewness, effectiveness, usability of outcomes, and applicability to the overall business plan.
  • Accordingly, the methodology you choose will dictate – to some degree – the likelihood of generating actionable survey outcomes.
  • E-mail surveys have become relatively inexpensive to conduct, but may not always be the best way to reach all of the customer base that you want to reach; telephone and mail still represent alternative methodologies for some organizations.
  1. Should we be surveying our existing customers, or should we be focusing more on surveying the market prospects that we hope to convert to customers in the future? Where should we be focusing our market and survey research efforts in the short term?
  • The answer is “yes” – to both!
  • In general, customers always come first – you cannot afford to lose the customers you already have (for any number of reasons).
  • However, you may also want to survey the general market base (i.e., prospects) in terms of their awareness and perceptions of your organization, as well as the likelihood of their buying/acquiring your products and services in the future.
  • As a surrogate, you can also survey “New Wins” and “Lost” Prospects” in combination with existing customers to determine what brought them in – or what drove them away – in addition to what makes them happy.

Regardless of which research methodologies you ultimately choose, there are certain guidelines that must also be followed as you begin to collecting the desired customer data and information:

  • First and foremost, do not abuse your customers. Don’t survey them day-in and day-out; they are not on your payroll!
  • Focus on the “need-to-know”, rather than the “nice-to-know”. “Need-to-know” data will always pay off in the long-term, whereas “nice-to-know” data can be particularly expensive if you ultimately do not get much of a return for the amount of time and money you have invested in the research.
  • Collect as much customer data as you can internally, from as many sources as possible, including service activity reports, call logs, call center metrics, KPIs, etc. However, you must remember that while internally collected data is your “reality”; it will be “perceptions” that are your customers’ “reality”. You will need to carefully reconcile these two often disparate sets of objective and subjective findings.
  • Use complementary methods of data collection wherever possible:
  • Ongoing communications is a two-way street; stop … and listen.
  • Get everyone involved – sales and service reps, CSRs, Managers.
  • Utilize trade shows, seminars, workshops, webinars, users groups.
  • Leverage Blogs, tweets, newsletters, e-mails, Website – all with “real” feedback channels.

Once you get started, the key areas you will need to address as part of the customer satisfaction measurement and tracking process will include:

  • Customer attitudes and perceptions toward the importance of the products, services and support they are using, and the levels of performance they are receiving from your organization.
  • Identification and ratings of the principal selection and evaluation factors customers use to rate those services.
  • Customer needs and requirements for those services in total, as well as by key customer/vertical market segments.
  • Levels of satisfaction with your organization’s performance, identification of areas where improvements are required, and what it would take to become their “Total Services Provider”.

Among the key questions that will need to be answered from the results of the customer survey analysis are:

  • How satisfied are your customers with the organization’s existing portfolio of products, services and support?
  • What additional areas of service and support do they need, want, or expect?
  • What can be done to improve current levels of customer satisfaction?
  • How can your organization become more responsive to the needs of its customers?
  • What areas need to be specifically addressed in order to provide customers with “total service and support”?
  • Who makes the decision to purchase your company’s products and services? What message do they need to hear?
  • What are the primary, secondary and peripheral factors used by customers to evaluate service performance?
  • Are all of your customers’ needs being met? To what degree? What are your specific (and relative) strengths and weaknesses?
  • How vulnerable is the organization to losing customers to the competition? For what reasons? How can this be avoided?

What Are Some of the Potential Outcomes of Conducting Market Research?

The key outcomes of a baseline Customer Satisfaction survey program would be the strategic identification, analysis, assessment and profiling of your organization’s existing customer base, in total, and by principal customer market segments, including:

  • Determination of the principal purchase decision makers
  • Relative importance and “weights” of key services attributes
  • Satisfaction with the quality of your products, services and support
  • Correlations between product and service quality, and their
  • respective impacts on overall service performance satisfaction
  • Satisfaction with your organization’s pricing perceived value
  • Perceptions of customer loyalty to the organization
  • Customer usage/purchasing patterns
  • Other key factors likely to impact customer satisfaction

Other key market/business development factors that can also be examined include:

  • Principal types of products/services being used/planned
  • Plans for future purchases/upgrades/migrations
  • Primary “value-added” features used/required
  • Factors of importance used to select/evaluate vendors
  • Satisfaction with present product/service providers
  • Loyalty to present vendors likelihood to switch
  • Overall awareness/perceptions of the organization’s total portfolio of products, services and support offerings
  • Others, TBD

When conducted on a routine, periodic basis, tracking customer satisfaction over time can provide:

  • A comprehensive benchmark, or baseline, analysis, complemented by regular tracking/trend survey “waves”
  • A series of detailed analyses that explain key patterns, trends and areas requiring improvement over time
  • Executive-level management reports and trendsheets that address key patterns and their strategic implications
  • Identification of specific problem areas and recommendations for improving levels of customer satisfaction
  • The ability to develop both strategic and tactical “fixes”, both in total, and by individual customer/vertical segments

Knowing your customers can be an extremely effective marketing tool. The more you know about your customers, the more responsive you can be to their needs and requirements. In fact, we believe that you can never know too much about your customers. Your customers will tell you when they are satisfied, and when they are not; but you have to ask them directly, as they may not always volunteer to provide this information.

That is why customer survey research is so important – because, if you do not regularly ask your customers about their specific needs and requirements, they may think you are either uninterested or – even worse -– incapable of performing better.

The applications and uses of Customer Satisfaction survey results are multifold, including:

  • To establish a formal input/feedback mechanism to obtain critical data/information directly from customers
  • To use satisfaction trend data to improve, or otherwise modify, existing product, service and support features
  • To use the specific results of the survey as marketing tools (e.g., publish an article in a services trade journal, offer a “white paper” on the Web, integrate results into company marketing collateral, etc.)
  • To use the statistical findings, verbatim quotes or other survey results in promotional materials, handouts or mailings

The following represent just the “tip of the iceberg” with respect to what some of your peers have already been able to accomplish:

  • A Help Desk Software company combined a joint User Needs & Requirements Assessment/Satisfaction Survey with a New “Win”/“Lost” Prospects Survey to identify the differences in the way they support existing customers how they attract “new” ones (and also “lose” some along the way).
  • A High-Tech OEM conducted an in-depth, qualitative survey among its machine operators to identify whether both their key product and technical support issues were being adequately addressed – and coordinated.
  • A CRM Software company established a baseline survey, and then tracked changes in its service delivery performance over a 3-year period until all of its quantitative goals for performance improvement had been met.
  • A Medical Device company conducted concurrent surveys of prospects who chose them their competitors to identify patterns of vendor selection criteria and any potential “kick-out” factors that may have been driving some prospects away.
  • A “Brand Name” Third Party Services company conducted routine competitive intelligence updates used to “spin off” competitive vendor New Service Product Action/Reaction reports to assist its services sales force.
  • A Field Service Management (FSM) solution company conducted vertical market research to identify and prioritize new (to them) verticals to target for future business development.
  • A Print/Publishing OEM surveyed customers of a company they planned to acquire to see whether there was a “match” between the two customer bases in terms of customer needs and requirements for the merged service product offerings.

All told, there are dozens of different customer satisfaction- and retention-related issues that can best be identified, measured and analyzed through a specific market research program. As such, the versatility of market research should never be understated, as it can be as narrowly or broadly defined, as necessary; as formal or informal, as required; as expensive or inexpensive, as the budget permits; and as general or customized, as is required.

Summary

In summary, there is a big difference between merely “keeping your customers satisfied” and “keeping your customers – period!” We believe that only by conducting an appropriate series of market research activities can you keep sufficiently up-to-date with the market’s evolving needs and requirements for service, and their corresponding levels of customer satisfaction with their vendors.

Similarly, only by conducting ongoing competitive intelligence research can you fully understand how your organization is positioned in the overall marketplace, and how it can best compete in an intensifying competitive environment. And, only by conducting periodic customer satisfaction measurement and tracking surveys can you measure your own organization’s performance over time, and make the necessary changes to keep your customers satisfied and loyal.

No services organization ever went bankrupt as a result of investing money in market research that delivered actionable results, and provided a positive return on investment (ROI). It is only those organizations that have wrongly invested a great deal of money in “untested” areas that could have been better served by conducting the appropriate market research first.

Are You Satisfying Your Customers Today? If Not, What Can You Do About it Starting Tomorrow?

Establishing a process for improving and maintaining the ability to satisfy your customers does not have to be a daunting effort. It can actually be quite easy – if you plan accordingly, rally the necessary resources together, execute effectively, and manage the results over time. While conducting a large-scale customer survey may take a few months to develop, implement and analyze, there are still many things you can start tomorrow, to provide you with some actionable customer data in the short-term. Read on to see what you can begin doing tomorrow to improve the way in which you are able to satisfy customers.

Many services organizations have found that by routinely conducting customer satisfaction measurement and tracking surveys, they are continually able to

  • Determine the defining characteristics of service and support that best meet their customers’ total needs;
  • Identify, measure, and track changes in their corresponding levels of customer satisfaction;
  • Determine the relative strengths and weaknesses of their customer support organization;
  • Identify all of the critical areas requiring improvement;
  • Collect data that can be used to set targets or goals for improvement; and
  • Recommend changes to their existing customer support processes and organization.

All of these objectives are admirable, important, easy to implement, and will ultimately lead toward the ability of the organization to “fix the system” (i.e., the business processes, operations, and infrastructure) that will empower it to deliver expected levels of customer service and support. However, while it is working hard to “fix the system”, there is always the risk of losing some of the organization’s most “vulnerable” customers in the interim since systemwide improvements typically take a long time to design, implement, manage, and maintain. For this reason, we believe that the most effective customer survey programs are those that also provide all of the information and guidance needed to “fix the system” – and “fix the customer” – both at the same time!

That is why we have developed a unique survey approach that also generates individual Customer Relationship Case Study Profiles that may be used to supplement the overall survey findings, strategic implications, and general recommendations for moving forward with a systemwide “fix”. In this way, while your organization is spending the time and dollars required to correct its systemwide problems, it can also address the specific problems that are impacting individual customers well before they become “kick-out factors”.

Strategies For GrowthSM‘s (SFGSM) Customer Discovery Survey program is designed to help services organizations identify the root causes of problems and recognize “real” opportunities for customer support improvement that will enhance – or bring back – their desired levels of customer satisfaction and profitability by focusing on the key customer-oriented issues that directly affect the business, including:

  • Customer Needs & Requirements for “Total” Customer Support
  • Customer Perceptions, Preferences and Expectations for Service and Support
  • Product/System Evaluation Factors
  • Service & Support Evaluation Factors
  • Gap Analysis/Unmet Customer Needs
  • Existing/Potential Problem Areas
  • Areas Requiring Improvement
  • Changes in Service Performance Over Time
  • Likelihood of Recommending the Vendor
  • Closing Thoughts/Verbatim Comments

Using a time-tested approach consisting of preliminary client management interviews, questionnaire design, and conventional survey research, each Customer Discovery Survey program is tailored to the organization’s specific needs and situation to achieve the maximum output and return on investment. If your organization is ready, it can typically best be served by implementing a full-scale Customer Satisfaction Measurement, Analysis & Tracking Program that can be used to identify, prioritize, and assess the specific actions required to “fix” systematic problems in its overall customer service and support operations.

However, if you are not quite ready to address systemwide change, you can still benefit by identifying the specific areas that will allow you to “fix” specific customers through a Customer Discovery Survey program. In either case, you will still be able to benefit from a detailed analysis and management report that tells you what needs to be fixed, how vulnerable you are to losing customers in the interim, and what timeframes for resolution will likely be required.

In general, SFGSM‘s Customer Discovery Surveys seem to work best for organizations with either a relatively finite customer base, or where a small number of customers represents an important component of the total customer base. Some clients prefer to survey their most valuable and/or “vulnerable” customers as a way of stopping major problems “dead in their tracks”, or preventing minor problems from growing larger. The general rule of thumb is that in cases where there is a large enough sample of the customer base (e.g., let’s say 25 to 30 or more customers), we can prepare both:

  • A detailed analysis of the total respondent sample, thereby providing the organization with a general customer base overview, as well as
  • A set of individual, case-by-case, customer-respondent profiles – thus, providing the ability to “fix” the customers while you’re “fixing” the system!

Many of our clients like the way these individual profiles present detailed, case-specific information that may be used to “fix” customers on a one-by-one basis, as they move forward with the systematic “fixes” that are otherwise recommended by the strategic findings of the survey. In fact, many clients use this information on a prioritized, case-by-case basis as they move forward – concurrently – with their systemwide improvement initiatives.

Basically, each profile presents the key findings from a single customer interview, including side-by-side comparisons of perceived importance vs. vendor performance for all of the performance attributes tested. As such, these profiles are enormously helpful toward gaining a better understanding of exactly how your services offerings (or your dealers’ offerings) are being perceived by individual customers, and where particular points of vulnerability, disconnect, or other potential problem areas may be occurring.

Through these Customer Relationship Case Study Profiles, we can also identify and “flag” areas of moderate, significant or severe customer “vulnerability”, as well as the root causes for why these problems may exist in the first place. Potential “kick-out” factors can also be easily identified. Ultimately, these individual case study profiles afford our clients a unique opportunity to utilize a customer-centric database that allows them to focus on the specific concerns of each interviewed customer, as well as from the results of the analysis of an aggregate, or representative, survey base.

Customer Discovery Surveys are a cost-effective way to determine the current levels of satisfaction – and vulnerability – of your most important (or representative) customers without having to engage in a full-scale customer survey effort. This program allows you to put your major concerns to bed quickly, while giving you a better understanding of where you need to focus – immediately – to get your systemwide support organization running more effectively.

SFGSM’s Customer Discovery Survey program is offered at a fixed price and can be completed in usually in less then one-to-two months, so you can get fast results and know exactly where you stand without incurring any major delays or expenditures. Results are presented in terms of executable actions accompanied by a set of case-specific Customer Relationship Management Profiles that can help you to better understand – and “fix” – each targeted customer.

For more information on SFGSM’s Customer Discovery Survey program, or Customer Needs & Requirements/Satisfaction Surveys, please visit our Blogsite at: http://wp.me/P3Q70i-3o

You’re in the Business of Customer Happiness — But Are You Delivering?

[An edited version of this article was originally published in the April 14, 2016 issue of Field Service Digital.]

Customer service has always been important, but never more important than it is in today’s services-oriented environment. More and more companies are measuring customer satisfaction, and the tools for monitoring field service performance are becoming both more sophisticated and more pervasive among the leading businesses in every field.

Undoubtedly, your organization is already measuring, monitoring, and trending customer satisfaction performance on a regular basis. However, it is important to acknowledge that it is actually the field technician that is the principal, if not sole, representative of the company to ever set foot at the customer’s site (after the initial equipment sale) and, as such, each customer’s degree of satisfaction will be largely dependent on its relationship with the field tech – personally. Fair or unfair, this is the case, and the organization’s overall customer satisfaction ratings will ultimately depend on its field technicians’ ability to deliver exactly what will make their customers happy.

Past studies have shown that what really makes customers unhappy is having to deal with someone who does not take ownership of the situation when a problem has occurred. Since, in most cases, the field technician will typically only be called to the customer site after a problem has occurred, the customer will be waiting for him or her to arrive to fix all the problems, make everything work, and leave them much happier than they were when they first arrived on-site.

They will be looking for an informed and well-prepared service technician to arrive on-site – one who can articulate what needs to be done, communicate in a language they can understand, and make the repair as quickly as possible – without disrupting any of the ongoing business operations. Therefore, the more information the field technician has available in advance with respect to the customer profile, the equipment history, and any previous service call activity, the better prepared it will be to deal directly with the key concerns of the customer – and this, in turn, will likely set the stage for able to making the customer happy.

Most companies look for a variety of character traits, skills, and experience when they are hiring for customer service and support-related positions (especially for field technicians). These typically include:

  • Problem solving ability
  • Skill in handling tense, stressful, and multi-task situations
  • Strong sense of responsibility and accountability
  • Good communication skills
  • Business writing skills
  • Knowledge of relevant processes
  • “People skills” with both customers and co-workers
  • Compassionate, customer-oriented attitude
  • Strong desire to help customers
  • Computer skills or aptitude
  • Data entry, processing and other diagnostic skills
  • Vocational training degrees are desirable and oftentimes required
  • Technical and/or Services-related certifications

If the field technicians already have all of these character traits, skills, and experience – plus a strong commitment to providing customers with “total solutions” for their service and support needs – they will find themselves in a good position to deliver exactly what their customers want to make them happy.

However, being able to deliver what will make customers happy also requires having the proper frame of mind for doing so. For example, if the field technician is personally not happy when it arrives at the customer site, then chances are it will also be unable to make its customer happy. While no one can be expected to be in a good frame of mind all of the time, it is more a matter of putting on your “game face” whenever there is contact with customers, than trying to hide anything from them.

There have been many studies conducted to measure the degree to which a service technician’s attitude influences the customer’s satisfaction – or dissatisfaction. This is commonly referred to as the “transference of satisfaction”. What this basically means is that an unhappy service technician is more likely to make his or her customers unhappy, whereas a happy service technician will be more likely to garner higher levels of satisfaction from customers.

Of course, making the customer happy is not exclusively dependent on the service technician’s frame of mind; however, this is always likely to have at least some impact on the situation – and usually not in a good way. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the service technician, as the principal on-site “ambassador” for the company, to make sure that its interactions with customers are always cordial, constructive, informative, and resulting in the main task at hand – namely, fixing the equipment, and letting the customer get back to business as usual.

[For more articles on similar topics, and for a wealth of field service-related information, please be sure to visit Field Service Digital.

Converting Satisfied Customers into Loyal Ones

Just because a customer is satisfied with the technical support and customer service they receive from your organization does not necessarily mean that it will be loyal to you in the long run. Moreover, even “great” service does not necessarily result in customer loyalty. Customers have a large number of service options available to them, from a large and diverse variety of sources. They can use the manufacturer’s or dealer’s services to support their business systems and equipment; they can use the services of a third-party maintenance provider; they can support some of the equipment themselves; or any combination thereof. The choice is theirs – not yours. And they know it!

Not only are there many options for each of your customers to consider, they are constantly being “bombarded” with information about alternative sources of products, services and support from many of these sources. They go to industry trade shows; they read industry trade publications; they read Blogs, posts and tweets; they talk to their peers, both within their own organizations, and at other organizations in the area; and they surf the Internet. As a result, customers are more knowledgeable today than just about ever before with respect to the various options that are available to them.

Using the business imaging systems segment as an example, the service technician may find that for many of his or her accounts, the company’s products and services are not the only ones used to provide equipment service and support solutions. For example, when the technician arrives on-site to perform a preventive maintenance call, and they get off the elevator at the customer’s floor, there may be some comfort in knowing that when they get to the copy room, all they will see is their company’s machines – all up and running, all in heavy usage, and all clearly valued by the end users who use them. However, in some cases, if they were to get off of the elevator at any other floor in the building, they may be just as likely to see a similar configuration of equipment – however, all with another company’s brand name and logo on each of the machines.

Even if your company has already sold and installed all of the business imaging systems and equipment on one floor (or one department) at a particular customer’s facility, and has provided satisfactory technical support and customer service since “day one”, there may still be another company doing exactly the same thing for the customer on another floor (or for another department) at the same facility.

You can assume that the various end-users of this equipment probably talk to one another, compare notes, and ask each other for recommendations regarding new equipment, upgrades, or customer support on an ongoing basis – perhaps over lunch, or at interdepartmental meetings, or with regard to companywide budgeting purposes. In situations where companies move to consolidate their many equipment vendors, someone ultimately has to go – regardless of the level of service and support they have historically been providing – and that someone may be your organization!

From these examples, you can see that even high levels of customer service and corresponding high levels of satisfaction do not necessarily lead to a high level of customer loyalty. Many services managers mistakenly use “customer satisfaction” and “customer loyalty” as interchangeable terms; however, they are two entirely separate and distinct things.

Customer satisfaction is, basically, “keeping your customers happy”. However, even satisfied customers may consider switching providers for better prices, greater coverage, or just because “it’s time”, etc. As a result, the best way to define customer loyalty is essentially as “keeping your customers – customers”.

So what does this all mean, and how can you use these examples to ensure that you are best able to convert as many of your “satisfied” customers into “loyal” ones? What it means is that we, as an industry, continually need to provide our services to our customers even better, faster, and more efficiently than before. And we will probably need to embrace – and embed – new technology into all of our customer-facing processes and offerings (e.g., Cloud technology, remote services, the Internet of Things/IoT, etc.).

You will also need to follow-up with your customers after the call is completed to make sure that everything has been completed fully, and to their total satisfaction. The marketplace – and your customers – have no tolerance for anything less than superior service and support, anymore; and if your organization does not already provide it, they will find another organization that does!

But, how do we do this? How can we move our customers all the way across the “satisfaction” continuum to “customer loyalty”? There are many ways – but it will take a great deal of work, and it will have to be a company-wide effort.

First, you will need to take a hard look at exactly what your customers require – and expect – from the organization, matched against your current and evolving services capabilities, and addressing such questions as:

  • What are our customers’ specific product, service and support needs and requirements? How do they differ from one type of customer to another? How well are we able to meet these specific needs?
  • Does our organization’s current service and support portfolio match its customers’ needs? All of their needs? Their real needs? How can we make sure we are able to design, promote and deliver the right services to meet their specific needs?
  • Where are there gaps, or disconnects, between what we are presently able to do on behalf of our customers, what they truly expect to receive from us?
  • What vendor options and alternatives do our customers presently have? And, how many? What do some of our competitors do better than we do, and how can we best compete against them in the eyes of our customers?
  • What do our customers believe are our greatest strengths and weaknesses? Are we doing everything necessary to promote our strengths while we attempt to improve our weaknesses? Are we providing our customers with all of the information they need to make a fair assessment of our service capabilities and performance? Are we successfully getting our message across?
  • Why does a customer choose us in the first place? Are they getting from us what they were expecting when they first purchased our products? Or signed their original service level agreement? Where do they think there are gaps? Do we know where they are? And how can we best fill them?
  • At the end of the day, how do we want our customers to think of us, our services, and our capabilities? Are we there yet? If not, what do we need to do in the eyes of our customers to get there?
  • Are we using all of the data, information, tools and technologies available to provide our customers with the levels of service they expect? Are there any additional tools or technologies that we should also be using?
  • Are we focused enough on our customers’ needs? Is our Customer Relationship Management (CRM) training good enough – or do we require more training in this area?
  • Do we have our customer service “act” together? How can we ensure that everything we do in behalf of our customers yields a well-defined, positive and measurable outcome (i.e., one that our customers will both recognize, and appreciate)?

These are critical times in the global economic community, and the services segment has never been more serious about its choices – nor more educated in its ability to distinguish between the customer service leaders and the numerous “wannabes”. More end users are getting more information – faster – about your company, and your competitors’ – than ever before. Your ability to gain “true” customer loyalty will be greatly dependent on the ability to live up to the promises your company makes at the original point of sale. If you do not live up to those promises in the eyes of your customers, you will never be able to gain their loyalty, let alone attain high enough levels of customer satisfaction.

The true test of customer loyalty is the ability to keep your customers as customers for the long haul, even if your prices are not always competitive, or your marketing campaigns are not necessarily the most “glamorous”. What the customer ultimately wants is for its systems and equipment to work uninterrupted, and rarely break down. However, when it does break down, they want to have the confidence that its services provider (i.e., your organization) can get things back up and running as quickly as possible (or prevent them from breaking down in the first place via remote monitoring and predictive diagnostics, etc.) – all while continuing to handle high volumes of throughput with ease, minimal interruptions, and little need for human intervention.

If your organization can provide its customers with these high levels of service and support, you just may have a chance at keeping them both satisfied – and loyal.

PTC’s SLM Market Strategy – Built Solidly on the Intersection of SLM and the IoT (and Its Partnership with ServiceMax Doesn’t Hurt, Either!)

[With permission; excerpted transcript from an internal PTC Podcast, recorded on October 9, 2015, by Bill Pollock, President & Principal Consulting Analyst, Strategies For GrowthSM (SFGSM).]

Foundation of PTC’s SLM/IoT Strategy

The most important component of PTC’s evolving strategy is that it is built on a foundation of powerful technology as well as its existing base of more than 28,000 customers. And upon this foundation, PTC provides a full suite of solutions to an expanding global marketplace. As a result, I believe that PTC has been able to leapfrog the competition in a number of ways:

  • First, through the early recognition that the adoption and use of the Internet of Things, or the IoT, will be pervasive and ubiquitous;
  • Second, that it will need to actually guide and help the industry understand the potential of the IoT. And by that, I mean, using a consultative sales approach to tell customers how to begin their IoT journey, as the customers may not actually know their respective needs themselves; and
  • Third, by continuing to build its portfolio of IoT-supported Service Lifecycle Management, or SLM, solutions to provide total support for its global customer base.

However, the success of PTC’s vision will ultimately lie in the execution. That is, its ability to build such an all-encompassing strategy on a solid footing to ensure homogeneity, consistency and, ultimately, acceptance by the global marketplace.

Early on, PTC recognized that the IoT would have the most significant impact on, and fastest adoption in, Service Lifecycle Management (or SLM). In fact, PTC CEO, James Heppelmann has repeatedly said that the first use case for IoT is SLM. Why would a manufacturer/OEM want to embrace an IoT strategy? The answer is to better serve its products – and, by doing so, its customers.

Accordingly, the company took several ground-breaking initiatives to prepare itself – and its customers –through a well-planned, and highly orchestrated, mix of internal development and external acquisitions.

PTC recognized that the pervasive adoption of the IoT in SLM would lead to a succession of sea changes that would ultimately change the industry forever – quickly, completely, and with little tolerance for laggards, late bloomers or followers. Further, based on the extensive analysis of market research conducted both internally, as well as by us at Strategies For GrowthSM, PTC foresaw the coming disruptive change, and took concrete steps to prepare itself, as well as its partners, and its customers.

For example, one shining moment for PTC in the SLM space was its January, 2013, acquisition of Servigisitics.

Acquisitions of Servigistics, ThingWorx and Axeda Systems

The Servigistics acquisition, in retrospect, was a critical component of PTC’s strategy to help manufacturing companies capture the enormous revenue potential in after-market services. It also set the stage for PTC’s vision in building out a technological infrastructure, based on the IoT, to enable these firms to transition to, and realize the big opportunities coming from, an outcome-based services strategy. This is generally referred to as “Servitization”.

Over the past year or so, the main message that the market is hearing from PTC is that it is “extremely serious about the importance of the IoT” – and that it is driven to strengthen its continuing leadership role by integrating the IoT into all aspects of service.

While PTC may have surprised many industry observers by acquiring ThingWorx back in December of 2013, in retrospect, that was the move that propelled PTC into the forefront of the IoT – and all of its numerous lifecycle management applications. The IoT is extremely important, not only to the company’s SLM solutions, but also to its PLM and ALM solutions. This acquisition, more than any other, served to communicate the following two messages to the services community in a big way:

  • First, it solidly positioned PTC as the global leader in each of its respective sectors within the Enterprise Lifecycle Management world (that is, Product/PLM, Service/SLM and Application/ALM, ).
  • Second, it clearly put the global business community on notice that PTC was placing the future of its entire solution portfolio in the connected hands of the IoT.

The acquisition of Axeda Systems in June of 2014, further bolstered PTC’s IoT hold on the marketplace by filling in one of the few remaining gaps in the company’s ability to support connected products, people and technology – that is, the software solution vehicle by which its IoT offerings can make their way into the marketplace.

Together, the ThingWorx and Axeda acquisitions have paved the way for PTC to execute on its pervasive IoT- based strategy. But there’s more to it that finally cements everything together – namely, the partnership that PTC has just forged with ServiceMax in April of this year. I believe this partnership represents the capstone of what provides PTC with the ability to fully support the global SLM marketplace.

The PTC-ServiceMax Partnership

ServiceMax and PTC share a common vision for changing the relationship that companies have with their customers by shifting service delivery from reactive, to proactive and predictive. The two companies have highly complementary technology offerings, and the combination of ServiceMax’s innovative service execution capabilities with the proven technical information, parts management and revenue optimization solutions from PTC stand to be unparalleled in the industry.

PTC’s Heppelmann has said that “Empowering the entire portfolio with Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, will revolutionize service. Service organizations will now be able to capture new business, increase revenue and heighten customer loyalty faster, more effectively and with more ease than ever before.” And I believe that its partnership with ServiceMax will make that happen – not only sooner, but better, as well!

What the partnership brings to PTC and its customers is both a powerful and modern cloud-based field service management solution, fully supported throughout the implementation, management and delivery of services. For ServiceMax, the partnership broadens its portfolio with the addition of service information and parts management functionalities, extends its market reach to a global base of more than 28,000 PTC customers, expands its distribution channels multifold and, most importantly, empowers its entire portfolio through PTC’s state-of-the-art ThingWorx IoT platform.

But, why ServiceMax? ServiceMax was the first complete field service software solution to help companies of all sizes manage workforce scheduling, while also providing solutions for social, portals, and analytics – all delivered in the cloud, to any mobile device. And PTC offers the “book ends” to that critically important scheduling function: that is, technical information on one end; and parts management on the other end.

This combined functionality now allows customers to directly leverage product information to ultimately transform service from a reactive product repair function, to a proactive and predictive customer success function – all IOT-enabled, with the prospects of blowing everyone else out of the water. As a result, the company’s customers can expect to fully realize the promise of predictive service – as well as the lofty goals of Servitization.

With its corporate strategy built on the solid foundation of the intersection of SLM and the IoT, we can only expect PTC – and its customers – to continue to evolve as quickly as the IoT itself!

Managing Customers’ Service Expectations in an Uncertain Economic Environment

For many services organizations, 2016 is likely to be every bit the same as 2015 – full of uncertainty in an unpredictable economy, and in an increasingly volatile world. However, despite all of the uncertainty and volatility, it is important to remember what we all do for a living – that is, we serve our customers by making their jobs – and their lives – easier to deal with on a day-to-day basis. This is what services organizations do, and that model has not changed over the past many years.

So what does this mean? It means that we, as an industry, still need to provide our services to our customers – only better, faster and more efficiently than before. The marketplace has no tolerance for anything less than superior service and support, and if your organization does not already provide it, they’ll find another organization that does!

So, how do we do this? There are many ways – but it will take a lot of work, and you may not be able to do it all by yourself. First, you will need to take a hard look externally at precisely what your targeted market base requires from your organization, addressing such questions as:

  • Does our organization’s current service and support portfolio match our customers’ needs? All of their needs? Their real needs?
  • Where are there gaps between our present offerings, and our customers’ future needs?
  • What additional value-add, premium, and/or professional services do our customers require – but cannot get from their current vendors? (Even from us!)
  • How will the evolutionary changes our customers’ organizations will be going through change their needs for service and support in the future?
  • What vendor options and alternatives do users presently have? What newer options and alternatives will they need – or want – tomorrow?
  • Who are the leading vendors that are presently serving our marketplace, and what are their respective strengths and weaknesses?
  • Where do we stand with respect to the competition? What will it take for us to “make the cut” from a prospect’s “long list” to its “short list”?
  • Why does a customer choose us in the first place? Why do the customers we don’t get choose another vendor? Do we have any “kick-out” factors?
  • When the dust settles, where do we want our organization to be positioned? In fact, how “dusty” are we compared to the competition already?

Second, you will also need to take an equally hard look internally to determine whether your organization’s services infrastructure, operations and processes are sufficiently in place to attain your – and your customers’ – total service delivery goals, addressing such questions as:

  • Are we organized effectively to deliver the right products, services, and support – with the right features and components – to the right customer segments?
  • Is our organizational structure effective in managing all facets of the business? What do we need to do to make it stronger?
  • Do we have the right processes in place to deliver everything we promise? How can we best measure whether they are really working?
  • Are our customer support personnel adequately trained – and empowered – to support our customer base? Can they provide “knock your socks off” service?
  • Do we provide our sales, service, and tech support personnel with all of the tools they require to get their jobs done? What more do they need to become optimally effective?
  • Do we have all of the Information, Communication, and Technology (ICT) systems in place that are needed to run our business? Where are there gaps?
  • Are we focused enough on the customer? Is our Customer Relationship Management (CRM) approach good enough – and is it working?
  • Are we tracking and reporting the right KPIs? Do our managers have all of the data and information they need to make effective decisions?
  • Do we have a formal plan for growing our services and support capabilities along with the changing needs of our customers?
  • Do we have our internal act together? How can we ensure that everything we do yields a well-defined, positive, and measurable outcome?

These are certainly turbulent times, and the market has never been more serious about its choices – nor more educated in its ability to distinguish between the leaders and the “wannabes”. More users are getting more information – faster – about your organization – and your competitors’ – than ever before. And, they’re acting quickly upon the information they receive!

If your message is not adequately articulated – and communicated – to the appropriate market targets, you could be “dead in the water” before you know it – even if your products and services are actually better than the competition’s! The market is looking for your message, and the worst thing that can happen is your competition communicating it to them first – ahead of, and instead of you!

Look around, and you will no longer see any underachievers or “dead wood” competing in the marketplace. They’re all out of business, or about to disappear – one way or the other. What’s left – or what will be left, once the dust settles – are solely the true performers – the services organizations that both “get it” – and “do it”. Be one of the organizations that “gets it” – and goes after it! Don’t follow your competitors – follow the needs and requirements of your customers! And make sure that you utilize all of the external and internal resources that are available to you!

The Internet of Things (IoT) Is Here to Bring Smarter Technologies to Your Organization!

 

The Internet of Things (IoT) is not a new “thing” in and of itself, but rather a pervasive resource that may be used to help run your company’s business. What it does is empower you to leverage all of the tools and resources that had previously been available to you; combine them with newer Web-enabled tools, technologies and resources; and help you manage your services organization in real time.

The explosion of practical – and affordable – Cloud technology has made the IoT even more important with respect to its ability to support all things service, mainly due to its ability to offer the same levels of support to any and all services organizations, regardless of type, size, vertical or geographic coverage.

In fact, the results from Strategies For Growth’s (SFG) 2014 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey clearly show that the global business community is experiencing a “sea change” in the way services are being packaged, delivered, utilized, monitored and managed, and that services organizations prefer Cloud-based delivery by a margin of nearly three-to-one – and growing!

When you think about it, your company is in business for three main reasons: first, to Mobilize your products, services and acquired knowledge to, in turn, enable your customers to discover, select, use and share your products and services by providing relevant information, at just the right time.

Second, and possibly even more important in today’s world, is the ability to Transform the customer experience, i.e., to make it better by simplifying customer interactions and delivering better value and utility throughout the entire customer experience lifecycle.

And, third, relating directly to the bottom line, Monetizing the opportunities for growing revenue and profitability through meaningful metrics, like realizing higher revenue per customer by reducing churn, increasing repeat purchases, and growing incremental sales of related products and services.

However there are many other aspects to also consider within each of the components of Mobilize, Transform and Monetize; namely,

  • Offering customers an enhanced ability to effectively connect, engage and help them on a personalized basis, wherever they are, whatever they’re doing, and with the end result of delivering a personalized and optimized customer experience.
  • Personalizing and socializing every customer touch-point to delight customers by saving them time, money and effort; making customer engagement fun and rewarding, using proven gamification models such as points, leader boards, and badges; and increasing customer conversion, loyalty, referenceability and retention ratings through a customer-centric approach.
  • Up-selling, cross-selling and re-selling products and services utilizing the knowledge gained from capturing these customer insights; and realizing greater Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) for your existing customer base, while lowering the cost of customer acquisition via better customer ratings, reviews and advocacy.

This is where the IoT comes in – as the facilitator to the ability of the organization to connect, engage and help customers, resulting ultimately in a more effective way to acquire, delight and retain customers.

[Click here to read the entire article, compliments of m-ize, the company that directly connects customers and extended enterprise with brands, enabling easier access to products, knowledge, and services.]