Best-in-Class, Best Practices, or Benchmarking? Which Way Should You Go?

“Best-in-class” customer service and support is what all services organizations strive to achieve. However, many experts suggest that attaining “best-in-class” status in all aspects of customer service is – well – impossible! Even the very best customer service-focused organizations typically have one – or more – areas where they are not able to provide “best-in-class” customer support. However, whether a “best-in-class” organization really does – or can – exist, one thing remains absolutely clear: your organization must do everything it can to be perceived by its customers as being as close to “best-in-class” as possible.

In order to effectively move toward attaining “best-in-class” status, services organizations need to rely heavily on the formulation, development, and implementation of what is commonly referred to as “best practices” to support their customer service operations. The United States Government, General Accounting Office (GAO), defines “best practices” as “the processes, practices, or systems identified in public and private organizations that perform exceptionally well and are widely recognized as improving an organization’s performance and efficiency in specific areas”. The agency goes on to say that, “successfully identifying and applying best practices can reduce business expenses and improve organizational efficiency.”

However, in order to actually know whether your organization is currently performing at – or near – a “best-in-class” level, it will first need to “benchmark” exactly where it stands with respect to the customer service performance of other organizations – both in and outside of its field. This, of course, is commonly known as “benchmarking”. The American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC) defines “benchmarking” as “the process of improving performance by continuously identifying, understanding, and adapting outstanding practices and processes found inside and outside the organization.”

We like to define “best-in-class” primarily as “customer service performance that successfully addresses the gap between the organization’s performance and the customers’ needs and requirements, and taking the necessary steps to close that performance gap.” While this may not take you all the way to a “best-in-class” level compared against all industries and all other services vendors, it will at least take you to where you are providing the highest levels of customer service and support you possibly can.

The GAO suggests the following guidelines as to what “best-in-class” is all about, based on the results of the benchmarking research it has conducted in the private sector:

1.  Make it easy for your customers to voice their concerns, and your customers will make it easy for you to improve.

Nobody likes to receive constructive criticism or have someone complain about their customer service performance to a supervisor. However, you should accept every customer-voiced concern or complaint as just another one of your “marching orders” to improve – or fine-tune – your organization’s customer service and support skills.

2.  Listen to the voice of the customer.

Customer service leaders demonstrate their commitment to resolving customer concerns by listening directly to the voice of the customer. By investing your time in communications with your customers, the payoff will be an easier path to get the job done – regardless of whether it is a service call, responding to a customer request or inquiry, or anything else that the customer feels is important.

3.  Respond to customer concerns quickly and courteously with common sense, and you will improve customer loyalty.

Customers tend to “reward” vendors who can quickly – and repeatedly – resolve their problems by remaining loyal customers. Quick problem resolution can add greatly to the foundation that you are trying to build in support of customer loyalty – and repeated quick problem resolution will all but certainly “close the deal”.

4.  Resolve problems on the initial contact – build customer confidence, and save money.

A customer callback that requires two or more company personnel to follow-up will typically cost much more than a call that was handled right the first time. Resolving a customer problem on the initial contact can also significantly build the level of confidence your customer has in your organization’s ability to get the job done. And once you earn this level of trust, it will be difficult to lose it.

5.  Technology utilization is critical in problem resolution.

Your company probably already uses a number of technology-based tools to support its field engineers’ ability to quickly resolve customer problems – but they need to use them! These tools should be used – as a matter of course –as support in providing customers with quick and effective solutions.

6.  Continue to train your employees in customer service and support.

Regardless of what customer service training you may have provided to your employees in the past, chances are they already need more training in order to remain effective. There are always new technologies and tools being developed to support their ability to provide “best-in-class” customer support.

7.  Focus on getting the job done; not just dealing with the symptoms.

If routine equipment and/or customer problems are effectively being resolved initially at the front-line, company management can focus more on improving the core processes, policies, and guidelines that drive customer service performance and customer satisfaction throughout the organization. “Best-in-class” companies use formal processes to, first, identify the problems and; then, to empower their employees to resolve them as quickly as possible.

The main lessons to be learned from approaching customer service from a “best-in-class” perspective are as follows:

  • Satisfying the customer must be your top priority.
  • View customer concerns and criticisms as opportunities for improvement – not just as problems.
  • Make it easier for customers to voice their concerns; this will make it easier for your service engineers to resolve their problems.
  • Effective customer service and support relies heavily on two-way communications
  • Well-managed customer service and support processes make everybody’s job easier – and customers more satisfied.

All of the tools you need to become a “best-in-class” provider are already in your hands; but, you have to make them available to all of your employees – along with the empowerment to use them!

Service Lifecycle Management: The Catalyst for Integrating All of the Organization’s Services Operations

The concept of Service Lifecycle Management, or SLM, has been around for some time now; however, the tools and technologies used to actually make it work within the organization are still emerging and evolving. Not only that, but as they continue to evolve, they also build upon themselves to provide users with more power and flexibility to manage their services operations than ever before.

The upside of this growth in empowerment is that if your organization has already implemented SLM, then it is already on the fast track toward being able to effectively manage its total base of capital equipment, mission-critical assets, and human capital. The downside, however, is that if you have not already embraced the concept, you may be wasting precious time.

We define SLM as “a solution that supports the complete service lifecycle, from lead generation and project quotation, to service and billing, through asset retirement”. We further define SLM to encompass the integration and optimization of critical business processes including the contact center, field service, depot repair, logistics, professional services, and sales and marketing. We believe a comprehensive SLM suite also extends into portal, business intelligence, data analytics, dynamic scheduling, and mobile solutions; and must be applicable to services providers supporting customers in all vertical segments, and in all geographies.

While we have witnessed a great deal of growth in the acceptance of SLM over the past several years, many services organizations still find comfort in relying on their existing solutions essentially on an à la cartebasis. That is, they may have a Field Service Management (FSM) solution already in place, along with Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Services Parts Management (SPM), Supply Chain Management (SCM), Warranty Management (WM), Asset Management (AM) and others. The problem is, however, if these individual solutions and applications do not interact with one another, the organization will not be benefiting from the full value of their collective – once integrated – impact.

In an age where FSM, CRM, SPM, SCM, WM, AM and all of the other acronym-based solutions simply cannot cut it in and of themselves, only SLM addresses each of the factors that are important to services organizations for whom downtime is not an option, and resource utilization directly impacts financial performance. This is what SLM is designed to do, and an SLM solution is what the most progressive types of services organizations are now using to differentiate themselves from the also-rans.

The servicesmarket is constantly looking for proven solutions, based on practical business operations functionality, and powered by the latest technologies, to maximize their respective bottom lines. As such, the primary drivers behind the growing acceptance of SLM are also fairly universal – and quite compelling – as business managers across-the-board are essentially looking for the same things. Things like the ability to:

  • Streamline and automate their business processes;
  • Compress the contract-to-cash cycle;
  • Identify incremental sales opportunities and improve revenue recovery;
  • Collapse non-value-added workflows;
  • Enhance resource utilization and reduce downtime;
  • Coordinate the efforts of their sales, marketing and service organizations;
  • Improve compliance with Service Level Agreements (SLAs), contracts and warranties; and
  • Synchronize every customer touch point for increased customer satisfaction and retention.

While other disciplines like CRM, SCM, WM AM, et al, may only address one, two or more of these drivers, only SLM addresses them all – and this is critical, as no organizations in today’s business economy either have the time, resources or money that would allow them to build an effective service delivery model, piece- by-piece, on a non-interrelated basis, and hope to have it function as an all-encompassing solution. Only SLM affords them this opportunity.

Service Lifecycle Management is a fluid, or dynamic, discipline. It is also an agile tool that can evolve with the trends in the market, the needs of the user, the integration of new technologies, and the evolving goals and objectives of the customer. Choosing the right SLM solution to get started is critical; but so is the need to choose the right vendor, as well as the appropriate technologies to make it all work. It is not just another acronym – like CRM – to simply be tossed around interchangeably with customer service or satisfaction, asset or supply chain management, or any of the other “acronym” solutions and applications.

SLM is virtually a living, breathing entity that helps poorly run businesses run better, marginal businesses run more profitably, and well-run businesses excel in their markets as acknowledged leaders in customer satisfaction and profitability. The concept itself is sound, the technology is readily available, the need is irrefutable, and all you need to move forward is the recognition that there is an SLM solution out there that meets your organization’s specific – and often, unique – needs. By choosing the right solution, fully supported by the right vendor, and empowered by technology, your organization will certainly have a better chance of thriving in an increasingly complex and customer-focused business environment.

The Importance of Truly Knowing Your Customers

The field technician’s role in supporting its customers may be extremely varied, and no one job description is likely to be able to describe or define everything he or she does – either from the customer’s perspective, or from the organization’s. In some cases, a field technician is called on to be nothing more than the repair person – they arrive on-site, fix the equipment, and leave without causing any undue disruption; however, in other cases, they may serve as anything from a consultant (i.e., being asked to provide advice on how to most efficiently use the equipment), to a trainer (i.e., being asked to teach the customer how to operate some of the equipment’s more advanced features), to a sales person (i.e., being asked to suggest what new types of equipment should be acquired to replace the existing model), etc.

If the question is “Which one of these roles is the field technician supposed to play when interacting with its customers?”, the answer is – simply stated – “All of them!” The customer will, at one time or another, expect their field technicians to serve in all of these roles, as they will typically be the only representative of your company that physically visits or speaks to the customer once the original equipment sale has been made (save for an occasional sales call made as the equipment nears the expiration date of the warranty or service agreement, etc.).

Basically, field technicians need to serve in whatever role their customers expect them to serve as they will be their only “true” connection to the company that provides them with their operating systems and equipment service and support. The irony is that, if all they do is repair the customer’s equipment whenever it fails, they will typically be perceived as “not doing their job”. However, by also becoming their customers’ systems and equipment consultant, advisor, and (pre-)sales person – if only on a casual, or as-needed basis – they will certainly place themselves in a stronger position to become the most important individual to the customer with respect to any and all of its systems and equipment service and support needs.

It doesn’t take customers a very long time to get to know who their field technicians really are. In fact, with just a few on-site service calls under their belt, they probably will get to know them very well in terms of how well they communicate with customers; how quickly they react to what they would define as “emergency” or “urgent” situations; how quickly they tend to arrive on-site; and how much attention they pay to the details once they get there.

Can your organization say the same for each of its customers? If the answer is “no”, you may find yourself in a situation where your customers are “managing” their relationships with you better than you are with respect to managing them. If this is the case, you may ultimately find yourself at a relative disadvantage in dealing with your customers in the future – especially if they believe that you don’t really know who they are (i.e., what makes them “tick”; what “ticks” them off; etc.).

So, what do you really need to know about your customers? It once again comes down to having a basic understanding of their specific and unique needs, requirements, preferences, and expectations for the types of service and support you provide, and the way they react when their equipment goes down. And, how can you best get to know your customers on this basis? By listening, observing, and thinking before you speak!

However, while understanding the customer’s need for basic systems and equipment service and support is relatively simple, understanding their need for “value-added” service and support may be a bit more complicated, as their interpretations of exactly what “value-added” means may be “all over the place”.

From the customer’s perspective, “value-added” may mean anything from performing additional maintenance service on peripherals hanging off of the equipment; to servicing additional equipment while the service technician is already on-site; to installing new software; to installing another piece of equipment they had recently purchased from your company that you were not even aware they had; to walking them through an unrelated problem that they might be facing; to anything else in-between.

While these may all represent realistic “needs” from the customer’s perspective, it will ultimately be up to company policy (and the service technician’s daily schedule) to determine what really represents acceptable “value-added” service and support while the service technician is already at the customer site – and what will require an additional, or separate (and, sometimes, billable), work order.

Some examples of the various types of value-added service and support that both the service technician and its customers may agree on while the tech is already on-site may include:

  • Answering questions or inquiries about other installed equipment that they presently have covered under a service agreement with the company;
  • Double-checking the integrity of the connectivity and/or interfaces that the equipment that was just repaired has with other units in the user’s network;
  • Ensuring that everything that was just worked on is operating properly, doing what it is supposed to do, and interfacing properly with other systems and equipment; and
  • Assessing whether there are any other potential problems or possible “flags” that both the service technician and the customer should be aware of before closing up the equipment and leaving the customer site.

Other types of value-added service and support that may be requested include showing the customer how to operate the equipment more efficiently after they have told you what they were doing that ultimately caused the machine to jam, crash, or otherwise stop working in the first place.

While it is not necessarily the service technician’s role to provide on-site, on-the-job training to its customers, it is still within the realm of his or her responsibility to ensure that they are operating the equipment properly, and performing their own equipment maintenance and management (as permitted) in an appropriate manner (i.e., neither neglecting nor abusing the equipment during the normal course of operation).

The bottom line is that you really do need to know your customers, because they probably already have you (and your service technicians) figured out!

Stepping Up to a “World Class” Service Delivery Model

Many businesses that have historically striven to provide their customers with merely “satisfactory” levels of customer service and support have now begun to move closer to a “world class” service delivery model in order to provide their customers with “total support” beyond merely product acquisition. Today’s customers are looking well beyond the product, and are focusing just as much on other pre- and post-sales support offerings such as implementation and installation; equipment training, field and technical support, Web-enabled self-help; remote diagnostic and predictive support capabilities; professional services, including consulting and application training; services management outsourcing; and a whole variety of other value-added services. More importantly, many are still wondering when their primary suppliers will truly be able to provide them with the levels of “world class” service delivery they now require!

In fact, we believe that now represents a critical time for virtually every business to update, or refine, its strategic plan for moving closer to a “world class” service delivery model. This plan may encompass many components, including:

  • Reassessing the company’s existing customer service and support mission, goals and objectives, capabilities, resources, and infrastructure;
  • Identifying and prioritizing the existing and emerging customer/market demands, needs, requirements, expectations, and preferences for customer service and technical support, across all classifications of the company’s market base; and
  • Developing specific recommendations for action with respect to the engineering/reengineering of the existing services organization and processes in an effort to arm the company with a more competitive – and effective – “world class” service and support portfolio.

In more specific terms, the overall goals and objectives of such a planning effort, simply stated, should be to:

  • Examine, analyze, and assess the company’s service and support mission with respect to its desired ability to ultimately provide customers with a full range of service and support offerings that will position the company as a “world class” product and services provider;
  • Identify, from management’s perspective, what the most important elements of a “world class” service operation would be expected to comprise, and within what framework it would envision such an operation to be created and managed;
  • Determine, from the customers’ perspectives, where the company should direct its primary attention with respect to creating a more customer-focused service and support organization and service delivery infrastructure;
  • Define how the desired service delivery organization should be structured in terms of human resources, roles, responsibilities, and functions; organizational components and structural hierarchy; internal vs.outside components (i.e., in-house vs. outsource); strategic partnering and channel alliances; management and staff training; and other key related areas;
  • Recommend how the optimal service operation should be structured in terms of defining and establishing the appropriate service operations, processes, and procedures; logistics and resource management controls; operating targets and guidelines; management control and performance monitoring parameters; and other key related areas; and
  • Provide specific recommendations for the establishment of a more “flexible” services organization and operational infrastructure that addresses all key elements consistent with the delivery of “world class” service and support to the company’s present and projected marketplace.

The specific areas where the services and support strategic marketing plan should focus include:

  • Identification of customer needs and requirements for “World Class” service – including recommended goals, targets, and desired service parameters based both on input/feedback gathered from existing and potential customers, as well as from an assessment/evaluation of other state-of-the-art service organizations/operations in the general marketplace.
  • Composition of the recommended customer service and support portfolio – including the development and packaging of a “tiered” customer service and support portfolio matched directly against the specific needs and requirements of both existing and prospective customers.
  • Service operation structure and processes – including recommended service and support operations supporting the overall service portfolio, focusing on customer service, call handling, help desk, technical support, on-site support, order entry, call logging, administrative, and other processes (to be determined).
  • Determination of key performance indicators – including identification and recommendations for the selection of the most appropriate industry metrics, and guidelines for measuring and tracking service performance over time.
  • Definition of service organization, functions, and responsibilities – including recommendations for the general structure, roles, and responsibilities of the service organization and infrastructure; inter- and intra-departmental roles and responsibilities; organization functions and activities; updated job descriptions; in-house vs.outsourcing decisions; channel management; etc.
  • Selection of operational tools – including recommendations for the most effective use of information and communications technology (ICT) tools, services management and CRM software, and other segment-specific support tools, etc.
  • Formalization of the implementation plan – In-house: including system selection, investment plan, organization development, training, etc.; and outsourcing: including strategic partner selection criteria, performance measurement/management requirements; and general timeframe and rollout plan.

Providing customers with “world class” customer service and support is generally not achievable without a well thought out and orchestrated “world class” planning effort. Good products don’t sell themselves anymore than they service and support themselves. All of these functions must first be developed and implemented as part of an overall business plan. However, we believe that the most successful – and profitable – businesses are those that have managed to effectively deal with both sides of the issue – that is, they know how to sell, and they are prepared to service and support the “total” needs and requirements of their constituent market base. And, by doing it on a “world class” basis, they can benefit from one of the most effective competitive differentiators.

If your organization still operates primarily as a manufacturing- or product-focused business, if service is managed basically as a cost center, or if it is still using the same service delivery model it has used for as long as you can remember, it may be totally missing the boat! Regardless of what product lines your organization has historically manufactured, sold, or distributed, one thing remains certain – your customers want “world class” service and support, and the only way you will be able to provide them with what they want is to plan for it; implement an effective service delivery strategy; acquire all of the necessary tools,  and get all of its resources and processes in place – and, then, roll it out and reap the benefits!

UK/Europe vs. U.S./Global State of Field Service Management (FSM) Survey Findings Infographic

The attached Infographic presents and compares the key survey findings from Strategies For Growth℠s 2017 Field Service Management (FSM) Benchmark Survey for the UK/Europe vs. the U.S./Global FSM markets.

The U.S./Global survey findings were presented on November 8, 2017 in a Webcast hosted by CSDP, the leading service relationship management software developer that commences every client engagement with consulting. Bill Pollock, President & Principal Consulting Analyst at Strategies For Growth℠, was the featured presenter.

The Infographic provides a synopsis of how the UK/Europe FSM market differs from the U.S./Global FSM by comparing key survey findings in an easy-to-follow graphical format. By viewing the Infographic, learn how the UK/Europe FSM market compares to all others for each of the key survey findings.

[Download the Infographic at: UK-Europe vs US Infographic (November, 2017).]

The State of Field Service Management (FSM) in 2017 – and Beyond!

[This Blog post contains a sampling of the content and information that will be presented in our upcoming Webcast, Wednesday, November 8, 2017 from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm EST. To register for the Webcast and receive a complimentary copy of the full Analysts Take white paper, please go to: http://bit.ly/CSDPWebinarNov8.]

As we near the end of calendar year 2017, many Field Service managers have begun to wrestle with the question, “What lies ahead for us in the next 12 months and beyond? Of course, there is no quick and easy answer – and everything can change in a heartbeat due to unforeseen internal and/or external factors.

As such, it becomes increasingly important for Field Service Organizations (FSOs) to understand the specific impact that the next 12 months (and beyond) will have on the quality and performance of their field service operations. In fact, the future state of Field Service Management (FSM) will depend largely on what strategic actions FSOs plan to take in the next 12 months or so. Since these actions will be directly linked to the multitude of drivers that are most likely to influence decision making within the global services community, this would be a good place to start.

The results of Strategies For GrowthSM‘s (SFGSM) 2017 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey reveal that the top drivers cited as influencing FSOs today may be categorized into three main areas:

  1. Customer demand and/or preferences
  2. Need to improve service workforce utilization, productivity and efficiencies
  3. Internal mandate to drive increased service revenues

When asked to cite the top three drivers currently influencing their ability to effectively manage field services operations, 56% of respondents cite customer demand for quicker response time, and nearly one-third (32%) cite customer demand for improved asset availability.

However, the need to improve workforce utilization and productivity is also cited by a majority (51%) of respondents as a top driver, followed by the need to improve service process efficiencies (39%). An internal mandate to drive increased service revenues is then cited by 31% of respondents as one of their top three drivers.

Once the key market drivers are clearly identified, FSOs need to create – and implement – the most effective strategic planning actions to address them head-on. As revealed in the SFGSM survey, the most commonly implemented strategic actions, currently, are:

  • 48% Develop and/or improve KPIs used to measure field service performance
  • 40% Invest in mobile tools to support field technicians
  • 36% Automate existing manual field service processes and activities
  • 31% Integrate new technologies into existing field service operations
  • 30% Provide additional training to field service technicians and dispatchers
  • 26% Improve planning and forecasting with respect to field operations
  • 25% Increase customer involvement in Web-based service process
  • 24% Provide enterprise-wide access to important field-collected data

These data strongly suggest that there is a pattern of synergy among the top four cited strategic actions that builds a foundation for all of the other actions that will ultimately be taken by the organization; that is, that nearly half of the FSOs comprising the global services community already recognize the need to build and/or improve their KPI measurement program – this is essential! This is the first step!

Based on the SFG survey data, Jerry Edinger, President, CEO and Chairman of CSDP Corporation, a leading Service Relationship Management software developer, explains, “This is why we start every one of our client engagements with consulting. We ensure that your business processes are designed correctly before automating them. Software alone cannot improve KPIs. We design the exact Field Service Management solution based on the needs and requirements of the organization.  We detail how a solution automates the entire service delivery and customer service processes into a fully integrated field service management system and maps it into the overall enterprise workflow. Once the consultative effort is completed, we then have a detailed roadmap of how to build the most effective solution to meet the organization’s field service goals and objectives.”

However, along with the development and/or improvement of a KPI program, nearly as many organizations also recognize the need to invest in state-of-the-art mobile tools to support their technicians in the field, while concurrently, automating their existing manual field service processes and activities to provide an enterprise-wide foundation for collecting data and information, and disseminating this process to field technicians (and, in many cases, to their customers) on an as-needed basis. Further, about one-third of FSOs recognize the need to integrate new technologies into existing field service operations to make it all come together.

This synergy is built on, first, ensuring that there is an effective KPI measurement program in place, and using that program to establish a benchmark, or baseline, for measuring the organization’s current field service performance. Second, there needs to be a comprehensive internal effort to bring the technical aspects of services operations into the current (and future) timeframe – this can be done mainly by investing in an effective package of mobile tools to support the field force.

Finally, it will be the integration of these new technologies (e.g., mobility applications, the IoT, wearables, 3D printing, Augmented Reality (AR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), etc.) into the overall mix of resources and tools deployed by FSOs that will empower the field force do their jobs more productively and efficiently. The desired results, of course, would be the improvement of service delivery performance and the resultant improvements in the levels of customer satisfaction (and retention).

The data make it clear that there is no mistake – that is, if your services organization already finds itself behind the curve with respect to:

  1. The automation of its existing field service management processes (or lack thereof);
  2. Its ability to meet (if not exceed) its customers’ demands or requirements;
  3. Its ability to support its field technicians and customers with real-time data and information; or
  4. Dealing with escalating costs associated with running its services operations; this gap will likely only get larger over time – unless it considers implementing a new, more state-of-the-art, field service management solution;

SFG’s 2017 FSM survey results clearly show the impact that doing so will have on the organization – as well as on its customers and its bottom line.

[For more information on this topic; to register for the companion Webcast hosted by CSDP on Wednesday, November 8, 2017; or to download a copy of SFG’s companion Analysts Take report, please visit the registration Webpage at: http://bit.ly/CSDPWebinarNov8.

How to Sell Services to Individual Vertical Industry Segments

You Need to Understand Their Unique Needs and Requirements – and Be Organized to Meet Them!

A.  Introduction

All vertical industry segments continue to undergo significant change, and along with this change comes evolving needs and requirements for field service and customer support. In addition, the competitive landscape of the global services community is in a phase of constant acquisition, merger, partnership, consolidation and realignment, and no two experts can agree on where it will end, and what it will ultimately look like.

Still, Field Service Management (FSM) solution users expect, and demand, consistently high levels of service and support so that they can deal more effectively with their own growing economic costs, shifting customer demographics, advancements in new technologies and changing patterns of growth. There are, however, some easy guidelines for getting started on the path to being better prepared to support these highly demanding and, oftentimes, heavily regulated industry segments.

The best place to start is to first gain a strong working knowledge of the unique needs for each of the individual vertical industry segments you are targeting, typically comprised of manufacturers/OEMs, third-party maintainers and independent service organizations, professional services organizations, in-house services organizations, consumers and others; who in turn, support their respective systems, equipment and devices – either on-premise, in the Cloud – or both!.

B.  Understanding the Unique Needs & Requirements of Individual Industry Segments

Knowing the specific services business of your customers and all of their general terminology, “buzz words”, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and acronyms is not only an admirable goal, but a “given” just to participate in a segment-specific sector (i.e., terms like Manufacturer/OEM, TPM/ISO, MTTR, FTFR, etc.). However, each individual market segment also has its own unique set of terms and acronyms, as well as its own structure and organization, patterns of purchasing and decision-making, and means for evaluating the needs and requirements of service

This is the level of understanding that is ultimately required in order to succeed in building a solution that meets the needs of any individual specific industry segment – keeping firmly in mind that the same acronyms (e.g., ATM) may mean something entirely different in different industry segments  (e.g., the communications and banking segments, etc.). Also, you will need to keep in mind that some segments (e.g., medical devices, aerospace, government, etc.) may be much more demanding than others.

While there are many guidelines that can be used to facilitate an understanding of the specific needs and requirements of individual segments, there are essentially six (6) which provide a sound foundation. They are:

  1. “If you don’t speak their language, they won’t think you understand their business”

All of the FSM solution provider’s sales, services and marketing personnel that have any contact, either direct or indirect, with customers and prospects must be familiar with the terminology, technology and “buzz words” of the targeted segment. They will be required to communicate articulately with company management and personnel at each prospect organization, typically coming from a variety of related fields, sometimes with vendors supporting their segment, and are now serving in the roles of department heads or purchasing managers, equipment operators and/or technicians, etc. They already speak the language, and, as a result, the entire FSM solution provider sales team will need to be trained to understand and speak to key customer issues in their own words, names and examples.

Every industry segment has its own vocabulary and terminology – and, as an example, the medical device segment is no exception! In fact, with as diverse a composition of medical systems, equipment, instrumen-tation and devices that populate this segment, as well as the many departments or groups that get involved in the solution acquisition decision-making process, simply learning the acronyms themselves can be almost overbearing. Medical systems, equipment and instrumentation that can be found in a medical center’s imaging department can include x-ray, ultrasound, MRI, CT scanner (i.e., don’t call them cat-scanners!), nuclear medicine, PETT, and many others. There are also blood gas chemistry analyzers, patient monitoring systems, surgical suite systems and a full range of accompanying consumables and reagents, in addition to parts.

Further, although their Hospital Information System (HIS) may look similar to you as many other types of data centers or repositories – they will also have their own set of “buzz words”, acronyms and terminology, as well. Although most segment-specific medical services organizations may already understand these names, acronyms and terminologies, the more general IT services organizations will need to ramp up to learn them in order to be perceived as credible for supporting a medical systems and equipment installed base.

  1. “If you know who to sell to, you can shorten the overall sales cycle”

Knowing who to sell to within the prospect (and customer) organization is critical to the success of the overall sales effort. The fewer referrals you get within the organization before you reach the right decision-maker, the less likely you will be in getting “brushed off” along the way.

However, in order to be in a position where you can effectively differentiate between the decision-influencers and the decision-makers, you will first need to understand the segment’s (and each prospect’s) organizational structure, hierarchy and roles. This will require an enlightened understanding of the various titles, responsibilities and roles of key segment decision-makers in general, as well as the specific names relating to each within the prospect organization.

Who are these decision makers? What are their pain points? What gets them “excited” about service? What is a typical structure at companies in their industry segment?

Every services organization has its own characteristic structure, organizational hierarchy and roles. That is why it is so critical that the FSM solution sales team understands exactly how each of its targeted prospects  is structured and organized – especially with regard to who the principal FSM solution acquisition decision-makers (and decision-makers) are.

For example, at some organizations, all IT and software solution acquisitions are screened, managed, negotiated and overseen by a senior IT program team and/or committee. It is often the case where this would represent the starting point of entry for the solution vendor sales team; however, in other cases, it might commence at the CFO’s, or CIO’s, office, Finance and/or Purchasing Department. Again, it all depends on each organization’s unique structure and hierarchy of decision-makers.

The mode of acquisition will also likely have an impact on who within the prospect organization will constitute the ultimate decision-making entity. For example, under a perpetual license scenario (i.e., typically involving a large, up-front, capital expenditure), the decision-making team is likely to include Finance and Purchasing, Department Heads, as well as Service Operations.

However, under a subscription pricing model (i.e., where there is no large, up-front, capital outlay required), regular monthly (or quarterly) usage-related payments are typically substantially lower and, accordingly, the ultimate acquisition decision may not need to involve all of these departments. Since Cloud-based FSM solutions are typically sold via subscription model, the purchase decision-making process will likely be less involved.

  1. “If you know who is involved in making the decision, you can ensure that they have everything they need from you”

The decision-making process, and ultimately the entire solution sales cycle, can be both expedited and facilitated if the solution sales and marketing team has a prior understanding of who is involved in the decision-making process, how many individuals get involved, who “calls the shots”, how long the process takes, what they need to know, and when they need it. Any incomplete information provided will simply extend the overall length of the process, and any extraneous information will create “noise“. In some cases, information given to the “wrong” individual may be worse than not providing it at all.

This is an area where a more complete understanding of the specific individual(s) you will be selling to will be helpful to ensure that you fully understand all of the needs, requirements, constraints (i.e., both IT and budgetary), preferences and “pain points” that will come into play. It will generally be this individual (or group of individuals) who will convey to you the business’ main acquisition and usage considerations that may include anything from implementation timeframe and training; to initial cost vs. Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), Return-on-Investment (ROI), and other financial aspects, etc.

  1. “If you understand their cost constraints, you can package your solution more attractively”

All prospects are likely to inform you of their various cost constraints right from the outset. However, all solution sales personnel should be trained to distinguish “real” from “perceived” costs as a result of the initial prospect meeting and needs assessment. They should be able to establish prospect thresholds for cost vs. value and build into the equation the best timing for spreading out the total program costs.

Sometimes total cost is the principal determinant; sometimes regularly scheduled cash expenditures are more important. In either case, the most appropriately “packaged” and priced solution must be developed for each prospect and customer, and your solution sales personnel must be equipped to do this.

Some potential examples of cost constraints may include departmental limits imposed on monthly expenditures (e.g., where the Department or Services Manager may only be able to approve up to a certain amount of expenses per month, etc.). Under a subscription pricing model, this constraint may disappear entirely; however, in a perpetual licensing scenario, the approval for the solution acquisition may need to be escalated to the attention of the CIO and CFO, etc. Of course, sales of Cloud-based FSM solutions will likely avoid this level of complexity.

  1. “If you know how your customers support their users, you can better understand their solution needs”

This requires a full understanding of how the users’ systems and equipment are being supported, in addition to what specific types, and how many units, of equipment comprise the overall base (again, either on-premise, Cloud-based, or both). For example, a laptop, tablet or mobile device used in a hospital setting, or on the factory floor, etc. may have substantially different service requirements than one used in a retail or hospitality environment.

Equipment used in three-shift cycles in life-critical medical applications requires very different service than the same equipment used in a nine-to-five office shift. The impact of downtime, both scheduled and unscheduled, on process throughput (and revenue stream) is also an important consideration, and should be evaluated primarily on the basis of each type of equipment’s application. These are important considerations that you will need to learn from each prospect.

A full understanding of the ways in which the prospect organization, in turn, supports its customers will also place you at an advantage with respect to showing them that you “get” their business model – and can build a solution that directly meets their – and their customers’ – needs, requirements, preferences  and expectations for service.

  1. “If you understand how your customers are growing, your solution should grow along with them in meeting their evolving needs”

If you are aware of your customer’s plans for growth (i.e., organic, via merger and/or acquisition, etc.), you will be better able to “tailor” your solution specifically to that customer’s needs. By understanding your customers’ plans for growth, along with their anticipated timetables for change, you will be better prepared to gauge the expected impact of those changes on their services model, and suggest an appropriately scalable solution that takes the anticipated growth (or downsizing) into consideration. If you can anticipate these changing needs (and convey your understanding to your prospect), you will find yourself in a much better position to propose a solution that meets their expectations.

As many individual industry services segment are typically characterized by high levels of market growth; technology adoption; and prospects for merger, acquisition and consolidation, you must let your prospects know that you understand their evolving needs for functionality, features and scale, and are able to convey that the solution will scale along with their evolving needs.

As a result, a strong part of the overall sales message should always focus on the scalability aspects of the solution that is, that it can keep up with the expanding needs of the organization – and its customers – over time.

C.  Summary and Conclusions

In summary, the most successful solution providers in 2017 and beyond will be those that:

  • Understand the unique language, terminology and “buzz words” that characterize the segment;
  • Understand both the current and evolving needs of the segment, in general; and for each of their individual customers and prospects, in particular;
  • Are organized and structured to address the unique needs of the segment (i.e., through a segment-specific sales approach, supported by segment-specific sales, marketing and promotional collateral;
  • Are prepared to grow along with, or ahead of, the overall growth of the prospect;
  • Are prepared to “partner” with their customers in order to ensure that all of their services goals and objectives are being met.

The most successful FSM solution providers will be those that can work as partners with their customers – and that partnership must be developed from the initial dealings with the prospect, and carried out through all successive interactions during the course of the entire sales cycle.

The main key to success, however, will be the ability to show your prospects that you truly understand their needs and requirements (i.e., you “get” it), and that you can offer an FSM solution that supports all of their goals, objectives, customer satisfaction and retention, and financial targets.

[To download a complimentary printed version of the full Analysts Take paper (i.e., including the six (6) guidelines for organizing to meet customers’ services needs, requirements, preferences and expectations), please click on the following link: @@@ How to Sell Services to Individual Industry Segments (Draft-17-06-23-01.]

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.

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