How Were You Planning to Use Market Research Data as Input into Your 2021 Strategic Plan?

Just after the Labor Day holiday, every year, businesses begin their planning processes for the coming year. This is typically the time when internal planning teams are created, planning deadlines are set, and marketing goals and targets are established. But what types of market research data are you planning to use in your planning process? And how are you going to get it in the first place? Now is the time to plan exactly where your customer research will come from – and how to use it most effectively in supporting your strategic planning process.

In today’s upended business environment, even the most skeptical services managers will agree that “the customer is always right”. Still, there are too many organizations that do not – or will not – go directly to their customers for input and feedback. A reporter once asked the legendary bank robber, Willie Sutton, why he robbed so many banks. Without hesitation, he replied, “Because that’s where all the money is!”. While Willie’s business practices may not have been either legally or politically correct, there was one thing that you had to give him – he knew where to go to get what he needed. In the services industry, the place where we need to go, to get the information we need – is the customer.

Some managers argue that internal call activity data, information and reports are all they need to measure and track their organization’s performance over time, and identify unmet user needs and requirements. They claim that these internal data are more objective, accurate and statistically valid than anything market research may derive from conducting customer needs, requirements and satisfaction surveys.

Objectively speaking, they may be right! However, the customers your organization supports are typically not objective in the way in which they assess and evaluate your performance and, in most cases, the internal data you are able to derive do not adequately reflect their true perceptions of satisfaction – let alone loyalty – with respect to your organization’s performance. It is primarily for these reasons that we believe the only true source of customer-focused research comes from the customers themselves – and that the most effective means to collect this information is to interact with them through a customer survey.

Customer Survey Design Components

Customer surveys, in and of themselves, are not new. They have been used for decades. What is new, however, are the ways in which the data are collected, processed, analyzed and applied, as well as how the information is ultimately integrated into the strategic planning process.

Traditional modes of conducting customer surveys via mail, telephone and personal interface have now been essentially replaced by e-mail or Web-based surveys. Newer data processing tools, coupled with the increased speed of collecting and processing data through electronic means, have also made it much easier – and quicker – to analyze the collected survey data. What used to take months to design, execute, process and analyze now only takes weeks.

Still, one thing remains unchanged over time; in order for any customer survey program to be effective – especially with respect to supporting the strategic planning process – it must address each of the following key survey design areas:

  • Business Objectives, such as “Why is the research being conducted?” and “How is it going to be used?”
  • Information Objectives, such as “What information do we need to support our business objectives?” and “How can we most effectively obtain it?”
  • Organizational Structure, such as “What areas do we want to measure?” and “Which areas require separate, or more detailed, analysis?”
  • Customers and Customer Groups, such as “Which customers should be surveyed?” and “Who within each customer organization represents our most appropriate contact?”
  • Competitive Environment, such as “Who are our direct and indirect competitors?” and “Who should we be benchmarking against?”
  • Operational Information, such as “How do we obtain current lists of customers?” and “How can they best be reached?”
  • Statistical Requirements, such as “What is an acceptable margin of error?” and “How can the data be most effectively reported?”
  • Previously Conducted Research, such as “What have we learned from our past studies?” and “How can we integrate what we’ve learned into the new survey process?”
  • Internal Measures, such as “What mechanisms are currently being used to measure and track performance?” and “How can we reconcile the external findings with our internal data?”
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM), such as “How can the customer survey program support our overall CRM initiatives?” and “How can the results best be communicated internally and externally?”
  • Tracking and Monitoring, such as “How should we track our customer needs, requirements and satisfaction performance over time?” and “How frequently will we need to update our information base?”
  • Timing and Scheduling, such as “When will the baseline results be required?” and “How quickly can the survey be designed, executed, processed and analyzed?”

A Customer Satisfaction Measurement and Tracking program can successfully address all of the areas as described above, as well as provide management with a comprehensive analysis of the baseline, or “benchmark”, customer needs and requirements/satisfaction survey results, and the analysis of trend data that could be used to identify key patterns of change, or movement, in customers’ perceptions of service performance over time. These would include, but not be limited to:

  • Detailed analyses of the overall survey findings that establish baseline needs/satisfaction levels, and track trends and shifts in customer needs and satisfaction from period-to-period;
  • The identification of specific areas requiring improvement and/or enhancement;
  • Generation of executive-level summary reports, detailed survey data and regular (e.g., quarterly) tracking reports;
  • Assessments of the strategic implications for the organization based on the analyses of the overall survey findings; and
  • Development of specific recommendations for improving the existing services portfolio and corresponding levels of satisfaction.

Survey Research Applications and Uses

The applications and uses of the findings from a customer satisfaction measurement and tracking program of this type would be multifold:

  1. The organization could acquire new and useful input and feedback directly from its customers regarding their perceptions of the value, need and levels of satisfaction associated with the acquisition and use of the company’s products and services.
  2. The survey results could then be used to monitor trends in both company performance and customer satisfaction over time. This information could contribute directly to the ongoing improvement of the company’s products and services as part of an overall marketing plan, and could ultimately lead to the development of new, or modified, products, services and support features designed to meet the total needs of the customer base.
  3. The results of the survey could also be used as a marketing tool for promoting the company’s various product and service lines through a number of means including:
    • The creation of an executive summary, or “white paper” report, based on the general survey results, for distribution to targeted customers and prospects via mail, e-mail, insertion in corporate literature folders, or at industry trade shows;
    • Development of a series of promotional and public relations-oriented news releases targeted to key business publications and trade papers; and
    • Publication of a “genericized” summary of the survey results in an appropriate industry trade journal or magazine that serves the organization’s general customer/market base.
  1. The results of the survey analysis, as well as a sampling of selected verbatim quotes and comments, could also be incorporated directly into the company’s advertising and promotional programs, corporate brochures, testimonials, newsletters, etc.

Any business that has put off conducting a customer needs and requirements assessment, or customer satisfaction survey, for a year or more allegedly to “save money” or wait for the “right time” may now be experiencing a dramatic decline in customer satisfaction. since they haven’t really tracked it over time, or implemented any corrective actions before things began to deteriorate.

However, by the time an organization typically realizes that there has been a significant downturn in customer satisfaction, it may take another year or more before it can effectively reverse the trend (i.e., through problem recognition, identification, correction, and tracking). That may seem like a long time, unless you consider that if they didn’t forego their customer survey tracking in the previous year, it could have corrected all of the problems by now!

Measuring customer satisfaction is a necessary process for all businesses, and not one to be taken for granted. Simply because your customers appear to be satisfied with you today does not ensure that they will remain satisfied forever. Why not let them tell you exactly what makes them “tick”, and what “ticks” them off?  You can only do that if you take the effort to design, execute, analyze and track your customers needs, requirements and corresponding levels of customer satisfaction, through an orchestrated process, on an ongoing and focused basis. If you haven’t already, now is the time to make customer-focused research a regular part of your ongoing strategic planning process. The time to start is now!

SFG℠ Makes Four eBooks and 15 Analysts Take Papers Available for Licensing and Distribution

Today, July 27, 2020, Strategies For Growth℠ (SFG℠) announced that it has 4 eBooks and 15 newly-written Analysts Take papers now available for licensing and distribution.

These papers range in topics from transitioning your customer base from customer satisfaction to customer retention; the positive impact of “great” communications (i.e., as opposed to only “good” communications), and how to get to that level; how the leading services organizations are planning (and executing) for future growth and sustainability; Warranty Management patterns and trends for 2020 and beyond (i.e., the results from SFG℠‘s 2020 Warranty Chain Management Benchmark Tracking Survey); and many others.

If there is any interest at your organization, please contact Bill Pollock, president & principal consulting analyst, directly at 484.620.2711 to discuss further, or feel free to e-mail Bill at wkp@s4growth.com. Also, be sure to ask about the companion Webcasts available for each of the eBooks and papers.

Simply click on the following link to download a summary description of each available paper, along with their associated licensing fees, etc.: Available SFG eBooks and Analysts Take Papers

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Bill

Transforming Targeted Market Research into Improved Customer Satisfaction & Retention

Market Research Is Not an End unto Itself – It’s Basically a Tool for Identifying Opportunities and Preventing Problems

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.

Read SFG℠‘s latest Analysts Take paper on the value of Market Research in terms of its ability to help you transform your Services organization.

Click here to access the paper: Transforming Market Research into Customer Sat & Retention (20-06-11-v01)-compressed

Video Podcast #02: Using the LOTS Approach to Communications to Ensure Maximum Customer Reliance and Retention

Hi All!

[This is our second Blog-posted video Podcast! There will be more coming on a regular basis from this point on!]

Using the LOTS Approach to Communications to Maximize Customer Reliance and Retention! Analyst Bill Pollock of SFG℠ and www.PollockOnService.com talks about what FSOs should be using as communications tools to make sure their field techs are always engaged – and customers are rarely enraged!

To access the video, please click on the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4jE3Js5y3I&t=23s

BTW – Thanks again to all of you who contributed to our first 56,500 Blogsite visits! It is greatly appreciated! Looking forward to the next 56,500+!

 

 

Video Podcast #01: Turbulent Times Require Serious Solutions – Especially in Field Services!

Hi All!

[This is our first Blog-posted video Podcast! There will be more coming on a regular basis from this point on!]

Turbulent Times Require Serious Solutions – Especially in Field Services! Analyst Bill Pollock of SFG℠ and www.PollockOnService.com talks about what FSOs should be thinking about – and doing – in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic – and beyond!

To access the video, please click on the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4jE3Js5y3I&t=23s

BTW – Thanks again to all of you who contributed to our first 56,000 Blogsite visits! It is greatly appreciated! Looking forward to the next 56,000+!

 

 

Supporting the Customer Journey by Providing Seamless Service & Support

Just think about it! 10 to 20 years ago, if a consumer’s refrigerator, oven, dishwasher, washer or dryer stopped working, they called their product seller (e.g., Sears, or a local appliance dealer, etc.), requested service on the unit, and were told they would have to wait a week or more for a service technician to come to the home to assess the problem. Then, once the technician arrived onsite, he would advise the consumer that they would need to order a part, and reschedule the call once the part comes in. This whole episode would typically take a few weeks or more before the unit was back up and running again.

However, the introduction and proliferation of smart products has completely transformed the traditional services industry. What customers used to tolerate in terms of getting their home appliances or consumer electronics repaired just doesn’t cut it anymore. For consumers, it’s now an entirely different “journey”!

“The servicing of smart products is transforming the Customer Journey.”

Fast forward to today and, for these same types of consumer products and appliances – many of which are now smart – the entire services cycle can conceivably be collapsed from as long as a few weeks, to just a few hours. The advent of smart appliances now allows the services provider to diagnose the problem remotely, determine the appropriate fix, and execute that fix – remotely, if possible – sometimes before the consumer even knows there had been a problem.

When parts are needed, this activity can now easily be performed online directly by the services provider or, in some cases, by the consumer itself. If an onsite service call is still required, the overall cycle time from when the problem was first reported, until the service technician arrives onsite, could also be shortened significantly – again, from weeks, to days.

However, in today’s world, the customer (i.e., typically, the consumer) no longer needs to do all the talking (i.e., making the initial service call, explaining what they think the problem is, scheduling an onsite service call, etc.). It is quickly turning into a world where the appliances or devices now make the call themselves – remotely through sensor-based telematics, powered by the Internet of Things (IoT), and communicated over the Web.

Samir Gulati, Chief Marketing and Product Officer at ServicePower, agrees by saying that, “Past generations were more high-touch when it came to customer service. They wanted to pick up the phone and speak to someone. Today, the consumer wants the technology right at their fingertips, and they are taking that into consideration as they start purchasing homes, appliances and consumer electronics.” He goes on to say, “Consumers want to deal with companies that are technology savvy and offer self-service portals and efficient and fast customer service experiences.”

But this scenario only works if the services provider is, itself, empowered through the right mix of Field Service Management (FSM) tools, functionalities, resources and capabilities!

“They may be different verticals – But they still share the same Customer Journey!”

Some industry segments, such as Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC), or Security Systems, have long been in the domain of B2B services organisations; however, the advent of smart systems and devices, powered by the IoT, has created entirely new markets for many services organisations who now find themselves also catering directly to consumers.

As a result, there are both great commonalities – and great differences – between and among each of these individual vertical market segments. In addition, each segment has its own “personality”; key industry players; market size, patterns and growth trends; customer needs and requirements; and competitive landscape.

This is where your services organisation comes in – to serve as the customer’s “tour guide” through the entire Customer Journey – and that means that the FSM solution chosen, must have the tools and functionalities required to make that Journey as seamless as possible – regardless of vertical market segment.

“Services Management has become much more complicated – Is your FSM Solution up to the job?“

As products become inherently smarter, so must the services organisations themselves in order to provide the levels of service and support that their customers demand. However, not only are customers becoming more knowledgeable about what levels of support are potentially available to them, but their expectations for seamless service and support throughout the entire Customer Journey are becoming more demanding as well.

As such, supporting the Customer Journey today involves much more than simply providing maintenance and repair services for the products that consumers buy. It also requires a comprehensive approach to providing them with seamless support throughout every facet of the product lifecycle following the sale – from product registration and warranty support; to onsite, remote and/or self-service support; to preventive maintenance – all the way through product upgrades and add-ons, and end-of-life product replacement and disposal.

According to Gulati, “Choosing the right technology and keeping the customer at the center of it is key. You want it to be not only easy to use, but a tool that helps keep the focus on great outcomes. By implementing a solution that makes the technician’s job smoother, you automatically improve the customer journey because you will have better status tracking, communications directly between the tech and customer, and more first-time fixes. A good FSM tool will not only make an organisation more efficient, but also delight the customer, which is always the end goal.”

Therefore, it is critical to be able to choose the right FSM solution moving forward by making certain that it is powered by the most current technologies, functionalities and technical support capabilities (e.g., the IoT; Artificial Intelligence, or AI; and other emerging high-tech tools and resources).

The historical service and support delivery experience has now transitioned itself into a full-on Customer Journey – one that is predicated on the establishment of a true partnership between the services provider and its customers, evoking feelings that reflect “we’re all in this together – and that we’re equal parties with shared goals”. Delighting the customer is no longer an option.

For the services providers, delivering a seamless Customer Journey is also not an option anymore – it is an imperative. With Business-to-Consumer (B2C) industry giants like Amazon, and Google already attaining close access to their customers, services organisations must also place the customer squarely in the center of their market focus – and be able to use the power and the capabilities of the IoT to deliver exactly what they need, when they need it, and without hesitation.

By leveraging the most effective FSM, Contractor Management and Warranty Management tools into their service delivery model, services organisations can ultimately realize great improvements in key areas including reduced costs, increased revenues, happier customers – as well as an improved bottom line. To be successful at doing this, however, it will be your responsibility to serve as their “tour guide” throughout the entire Customer Journey!

Download Our Complimentary Webcast on “The Case for Remote Expertise”, Hosted by Help Lightning, and Featuring Bill Pollock

[On Thursday, January 30th, from 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm EST, we presented a complimentary Webcast on the topic of “The Case for Remote Expertise“. The Webcast was hosted by Help Lightning, the leading Augmented Reality provider of Virtual Interactive Presence, and featured me, Bill Pollock, as the guest speaker.

If you missed the Webcast, no need to worry! Simply click on the following link to access a complimentary copy of the archived Webcast, along with a copy of our companion Analysts Take white paper: http://tiny.cc/sfg-webcast.]

Webcast Overview:

The findings from Strategies For Growth‘s 2020 Remote Expertise Benchmark Survey clearly identify the following as the primary reasons influencing a services organization’s drive to incorporate Remote Expertise capabilities into their field service operations:

  • 65%  To improve upon current levels of Customer Satisfaction
  • 64%  Ability to meet (or exceed) our customers’ services expectations
  • 62%  To diagnose problems faster, and with greater accuracy

As a result of an ongoing technology explosion, increased competition and reduced margins, meeting the desired goals of customer satisfaction and services profitability remains a major challenge for many organizations. What is your organization doing to run its field service operations more effectively – and cost-effectively?

By viewing the webcast, you can learn:

  • What the leading global Services Organizations are doing with respect to embracing – and incorporating – new technologies into their services operations
  • What the real benefits are associated with moving to a Remote Expertise service delivery model
  • What obstacles and potential pratfalls you might experience along the way
  • How to emulate the strategic and tactical actions presently being taken and/or planned by the leading Services Organizations

In the meantime, for more information on this topic, or on any other aspects of Field Service Management (FSM) or Service Lifecycle Management (SLM), please be sure to visit our Blogsite at www.PollockOnService.com for trending thoughts and commentary on the global services market.

Again, to access both the complimentary Webcast and companion Analysts Take white paper, simply please go to: http://tiny.cc/sfg-webcast.

Lessons Learned from WBR’s 2019 Field Service Amelia Island Conference – Advancing Service Together through Innovation, Cross-Industry Best Practices & Transformation

[WBR’s annual Field Service Amelia Island conference is one of the premier Field Services event of the year – and this year was, once again, no exception! More than 350 field service professionals attended the conference from August 18 – 21, 2019.

The following is a brief excerpt from SFG℠‘s “Lessons Learned …Analysts Take report, written and distributed under the auspices of WBR. Our suggestion? Don’t read the following excerpt – go to the bottom of the page and download a complementary copy of the full report, and read up on what the key players in the field services community had to say with respect to “Advancing Service Together!“]

Since 2003, WBR has been bringing together the world’s leading services organizations to “benchmark, establish best practices, embrace new technologies and build a strong network to enhance its attendees’ services businesses and field operations.” Each successive conference over the past 16 years has provided participants with “future-facing content and a mix of interactive session formats that ensure [they can] learn and network most effectively.” As such, these annual (and mid-year) Field Service events are designed to set up its attendees “for maximum profitability and competitiveness in [their] service business.”

And this year’s Amelia Island event did not disappoint, as the nearly 400 onsite attendees would most likely attest!

“At Field Service Amelia Island I learned that Field Service professionals love to learn new ways to improve service delivery since that is often the first (and only) personal contact a customer has with their brand. They are especially eager to explore what technology can do to optimize their field service fleets to get them to job sites efficiently and safely.”

– Carol Roden, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Lytx

The main theme for WBR’s 2019 Field Service Palm Springs conference was billed as “Advancing Service Together”, similar to the Palm Springs event held earlier in the year – and the succession of speakers, presenters, moderators, panel participants and practitioners all supported that theme throughout the conference by sharing examples (i.e., mostly success stories) about how it takes a strong commitment to teamwork to have any chance of meeting, let alone exceeding, management goals for improving employee and customer satisfaction – while at the same time, driving increased services revenue streams and making a profit by doing so.

“After attending the Field Service Conference on Amelia Island, the importance of disruptive service, and understanding that what got our businesses to their current level of success will not take them to the next level of success is evident. In an XAAS world, those organizations that embrace these transformations with technology and culture will win!”

– Mary Flake, General Manager – Coastal Southeast Service, Comfort Systems USA

The ”Lessons Learned” at the conference were many, and we have attempted to summarize the main sessions (and lessons learned) in the text that follows. Please note that not all of the sessions are highlighted and summarized in this document; however, there are many others that are available through WBR directly. Also, if you missed the chance to have one of your “lesson learned” quotes included in this paper, … well, there’s always next year in Palm Springs or, again, at Amelia Island!

Each of the three Main Days of the conference had a particular focus, beginning with Day One setting its sights on “Technology and Process Innovation for Efficiency”; Day Two focusing on “Disruptive Service & Customer Value; and Day Three focusing on “Leadership & Service Revenue Generation.”

Overall, WBR’s 2019 Field Service Amelia Island conference gave every attendee the opportunity to learn, question, network, buy/sell and interact with vendors, practitioners, editors, writers, industry experts, consultants, research analysts, peers and competitors and every other important person or company in the field services business.

The temperature was not as hot as in Palm Springs, earlier in the year – but the topics covered at the conference were still “red hot”. One of the key learnings from this year’s event is that “the main benefit of this conference is that it represents a middle ground between what we all learned last year, and what we will expect to learn next year.” As such, this year’s conference represented another key milestone in the Journey that we, as an industry, are taking along with our customers.

At the risk of repeating myself from the “Lessons Learned …” Analyst Take paper distributed following this year’s Palm Springs conference, I believe the following quote still stands true:

“As Bob Dylan once wrote and sang, ‘The times, they are a’changin’.    He must have been singing about the field services industry!”

– Bill Pollock, President & Principal Consulting Analyst
Strategies For Growth℠

Here’s looking forward to seeing you all at Palm Springs and Amelia Island again next year!

[To download a complementary copy of the full “Lessons Learned …” report, simply click here: @@@ 2019 Field Service Amelia Island Analysts Take Report (Final Draft – 19-09-17).]

Matching Your Services to the Customer’s Total Service and Support Needs

The customer’s need for basic product service and support is quite simple; essentially, when their equipment is down, and they need it back up and running as soon as possible. You may typically consider this as being the customer’s “core” need for basic systems and equipment service and support.

In most cases this will involve a simple, rather than complex, repair process; typically the kind of repair that the service technician has made countless times, over and over again. For repeat customers, the service technician will already be familiar with the equipment, along with its respective service history, as well as having some insight with respect to how the customer actually uses the equipment on a day-to-day basis. He or she will probably also have all the documentation and tools they need to make the repair and, probably, all of the necessary parts as well.

For most customers, this will be all they need – plain and simple. However, there will always be the chance for exceptions, and you should be prepared to address them as quickly as possible. Some examples include cases where the customer believes that what they are asking for is “basic” equipment service and support, but it is really value-added, or “over and above the call of duty” support.

For example, once the field technician arrives on-site, some customers may ask it to perform the next scheduled preventive maintenance at the same time since it was already scheduled for later in the week. While this may seem like a reasonable request from the customer’s perspective, it could possibly wreak havoc with the day’s service call schedule and, if no additional time is available, cannot easily be done. At times like this, the service technician will typically check in with its dispatcher to see whether performing an impromptu PM call is even feasible.

However, in most cases, all that is typically required in cases such as these is to inform the customer that the exclusive goal for this particular visit is to get the equipment up and running as quickly as possible, and that their scheduled preventive maintenance can best be accomplished at its pre-designated time.

While the service technician may have a clear understanding of the difference between “basic” and “value-added” equipment service and support, it cannot always assume that the customer will share the same understanding. It all comes down, ultimately, to the basic understanding of the difference between customers’ wants and needs, and the service technician’s ability to manage them appropriately.

By understanding the difference between the customers’ various needs and wants, and handling them accordingly, the service technician will already be far along the road toward matching the company’s services to the customer’s total needs. There is generally a big difference between customers’ “basic” and “value-added” product service and support needs; however, we may define their “total” needs as essentially encompassing everything they want, need, and expect to receive from their services provider, in general – and their field technician, in particular.

For example, the customer’s total needs may be nothing more than the coupling of their basic and value-added needs, all delivered to them in a timely, skilled, courteous, and professional manner. As such, the service technician’s performance at each of these levels of customer service becomes very critical. For example, if the customer perceives that the technician is unable to satisfactorily deliver even their most “basic” equipment service and support needs, they will be even less likely to believe that it can meet their “value-added” needs. Compounding the issue would be their perception that the field technician can’t even comport itself in a professional or courteous manner.

Ultimately, customers will be depending on their field technicians to not only provide the physical repair of their installed equipment, but to also serve as a technical adviser, trainer, applications specialist, service call scheduler, customer service representative, and primary go-to person for general inquiries, new product information, parts ordering, and anything else they can think of. Again, while it is not necessarily the technician’s responsibility to serve in all of these roles, they should at least be prepared to serve as a “channel” between the customer and everyone else within the organization who actually has these individual responsibilities.

In this way, the service technician can also position itself in the minds of its customers as someone who is “personally” responsible for supporting their “total” service and support needs, even if all they are doing is supporting their equipment on-site, and acting as an intermediary between and among the other various departments within the company’s service and sales organizations.

It is important to remember that even if the service technician is doing everything it is supposed to be doing within their specific service responsibility, the customer’s needs will generally always be greater than services alone, and they will continually be counted on to point them in the right direction, make the appropriate recommendations, lead them to the right people within the sales or other services organizations, and generally support them in all of their “total” service and support needs.

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!