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!

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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!

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.]

Leveraging Customer Survey Data Directly into Practical, Tactical Applications

Most business talks about conducting Customer Surveys, but not every one actually conducts them. What is even worse is that too many companies do not really know how to fully leverage their customer survey results into practical, tactical applications. In the first case, it’s mainly an opportunity loss; however, in the second case, it’s a waste of both time and money! However, it’s not that difficult to develop practical, tactical applications from the results of your customer survey initiatives.

Every business, regardless of its type, size or market focus, can benefit from the results of a survey-based research program designed to identify, assess and evaluate its performance in meeting customer needs, requirements, preferences and expectations for the products or services that it sells. These surveys can usually provide valuable data and insight reflecting:

  • Overall market demand, or need, for the company’s products and services;
  • The specific product and service components, both “basic” and “value-added“, that are desired, or preferred, by potential customers;
  • The identification of areas where existing products, services and/or customer service can be improved; and
  • The need for implementing required changes and/or improvements to the organization’s existing service delivery model.

However, in conducting any survey research program, an organization must first ensure that it has established and identified both the appropriate research objectives as well as the proper methodology for carrying out the program. Common research objectives include collecting customer/market data that can be used in the:

  • Identification and assessment of customer needs, requirements, preferences and expectations with respect to the company’s products and services;
  • Identification of the specific features, characteristics and attributes that define the desired products, services and customer support that will meet the market’s overall needs;
  • Identification of customer/market perceptions and opinions with respect to the quality and availability of the products and services they are receiving from their present suppliers (including your organization); and
  • Development of suggested, or recommended, improvements to the existing products and services in order to maximize both new sales and existing customer satisfaction.

The analysis of the findings from this type of market research program can be extremely useful in providing an organization with both a strategic and tactical “roadmap” to:

  1. Modify and enhance its existing product or service lines to address the highest levels of market needs and requirements;
  2. Develop new products and/or services to reflect the most important “value-added” requirements of the market;
  3. Identify and cultivate new target markets based on identified patterns of market decision-making and purchase behavior, product preferences, user characteristics and customer/market perceptions; and
  4. Strengthen the company’s overall product awareness and image, sales and marketing, advertising and promotion, and PR activities through recommended refinements and enhancements based on the study findings.

In this way, the use of customer surveys can be much more valuable than simply for measuring “how well are we doing?”. They can – and should – also be used to identify new business development opportunities in new or emerging markets as well as cross-selling, or up-selling, opportunities within the organization’s existing customer base.

A general method of approach for carrying out a survey-based research program of this nature can generally be accomplished in terms of the following seven tasks:

Task 1 – Initial Liaison and Coordination

  • The first task typically involves the creation of a designated internal project management team to establish team members and key points of contact, identify any existing data resources and work with any outside consultants. Under this task, the project team would coordinate and develop the overall research plan and schedule, checkpoints and milestones, and means for monitoring the ongoing progress of the program.

Task 2 – Internal Management Interviews

  • Task 2 would involve more detailed interviews with designated company customer-facing management and staff with respect to gaining an internal overview of the organization’s goals and objectives; its strengths and weaknesses; perceived service delivery performance, reputation and image; desired market and planning targets; existing problem areas; and opportunities for gaining a more competitive market position through the refinement, improvement and/or expansion of its existing business lines. From these discussions, the project team would gain a full understanding of the internal company perceptions and expectations which could serve as a benchmark from which external (i.e., customers, market prospects) perceptions and expectations can ultimately be identified, compared and evaluated.

Task 3 – Qualitative Interviews with Customers/Prospects

  • As part of this task, a limited number of qualitative, in-depth interviews would be conducted within the existing and/or prospective organization’s customer base. The principal purpose of these interviews would be to determine the potential range of needs and requirements, preferences, perceptions and opinions that the market may have with regard to the company’s existing product and service lines, and to identify the primary issues to be quantified in the large-scale survey of customers/prospects to be conducted as part of Task 4.

Task 4 – Customer/Market Survey

  • Based on the results of the first three tasks, the project team would then develop an overall survey design for a customer/market survey to extend the original qualitative interview phase (Task 3) to a statistically valid quantitative customer/market base. The survey could be conducted electronically and would target the universe of present and prospective customers representing a desired, or targeted, market base. Sufficient responses would be collected from all targeted respondent segments to ensure a statistically valid survey sample. The subsequent analysis of the survey data would then be used to develop specific study findings and strategic implications that would be of direct value in refining, modifying, augmenting and/or expanding the organization’s existing product/service lines.

Task 5 – Strategic Analysis and Findings

  • The fifth task would involve a comprehensive analysis of the full survey results on both an aggregate, and individual vertical and/or horizontal market segmentation basis. This would also take into account the results of the first four tasks and would involve the development of specific study findings and strategic recommendations for action with respect to defining the optimal product/service line features, characteristics and attributes to offer to the marketplace.

Task 6 – Executive Report and Presentation

  • The sixth task would involve the preparation and presentation of the overall study conclusions to company management in terms of a comprehensive report and executive briefing. The report and briefing would focus on the key findings of the overall survey analysis, the strategic market implications resulting from the analysis, and specific recommendations for improving existing levels of customer satisfaction and market penetration.

Task 7- Development of Practical Tactical Applications

  • The final task would take the specific findings from the survey analysis, and translate them directly into practical, tactical applications for improving and expanding existing customer relationships; identifying and cultivating new market opportunities; and rolling out targeted sales and marketing activities using a tactical “roadmap” based in part on the survey results.

The only effective market research programs are those that are well-planned, well thought out, and well executed. By following these steps, your organization will be much better prepared to take full advantage of the practical, tactical applications made available through the execution of a targeted market research program.