Selling Services – How to Recognize Customer Buying Signals

Understanding your customers’ needs, and knowing what is available for sale, complete one key equation; however, there is still one other key unanswered question: How can you tell when your customer is ready to buy?

Recognizing a customer’s buying signals is one of the most difficult things there is to teach. In fact, many will argue that this is an innate trait that only “true” salespersons are born with. Whether this is true or not is really only a side issue. The main issue is that every one of your customers and prospects sends out signals that you can rally around with respect to determining when they are ready to buy. Some will be “hard” signals that you can practically take right to the bank; although most will be “soft” signals that will vary from customer-to-customer, person-to-person, and situation-to-situation. Let me explain.

The various types of buying signals “transmitted” by your customers may typically be classified into the following categories:

  • Overt
  • Passive
  • Observed

Overt Buying Signals

An overt buying signal is the closest thing to a gift that you may ever receive from your customers. This is when the customer calls you, or comes right up to you, and says something like, “Our copier is pretty much shot, and it simply won’t handle all of our volume anymore. Don’t you guys have a newer machine that you think can do the job for us?” Or, “You know, our machine will be coming off warranty soon. Don’t you guys offer some kind of extended warranty contract? If you do, we’d really be interested.” While these opportunities may seem just like manna fallen from the heavens, the problem is, if you do not take immediate advantage of them, the opportunities themselves may either fade over time, or go away altogether.

For example, given an opportunity like one of these, it may simply be a matter of speaking briefly with your customer, showing him or her a new brochure or directing them to your company’s web site, and casually discussing the enhanced features of a new system or service offering on a face-to-face basis. However, if your response is more like, “I have a few ideas. Why don’t I get back to you in a week or two when I’m not so busy, and maybe we can work out something.” By the time a couple of weeks go by, the thought of acquiring a new piece of equipment or service offering may have moved from your customer’s top-of-mind to their back-of-mind – and once there, it may involve much more work on your part to get it back up front.

Overt buying signals do not happen all the time; but when they do, you pretty much have to take advantage of them as they occur, rather than run the risk of having the customer push it far back into the recesses of his or her mind – or even worse, allowing them to have the same conversation with a competitive vendor’s sales or services person.

Passive Buying Signals

Passive buying signals may not be as obvious; however, they are still fairly easy to identify, and even easier to take advantage of. The tell-tale clues that your customers may give to you typically manifest themselves in comments or questions such as, “Man, this old machine keeps breaking down, and breaking down, and breaking down. I don’t know what I’m going to do if it shuts down during one of our big production runs”; “Ever since this machine came off of warranty, whenever we call for service, we end up paying you guys on a time and materials basis. There’s got to be a better way”; or “I don’t know. It just seems like our other division on the next floor gets their copy work done a heck of a lot faster than we do. I think they have a new machine up there, and they just keep making us look bad in comparison”.

Any of these comments or questions represent just as valid a selling opportunity as any of the overt buying signals we just talked about earlier. The only real difference is that, in these cases, you will typically need to be the one who initiates the conversation about replacement units, new machines, and/or enhanced service level agreements – and not the customer.

Even so, you may still be surprised as to how receptive your customers will be in having such a conversation. What’s more, since you already understand your customers’ needs and requirements for business imaging systems and equipment, and you know what your company has available for sale, you can probably step right in, provide some specific suggestions or recommendations, and convert a potential customer problem into a potential company sale.

Observed Buying Signals

Sometimes the customer does not even have to say a word. Since you already visit the customer’s site, on average, about once a month or so, you are probably in an excellent position to observe how one or more of their machines are routinely being overused, misused, or otherwise used improperly. You have probably also seen some of your customers reach new levels of frustration in dealing with machines that simply cannot ratchet up to their increased levels of volume or throughput, or effectively deal with emerging areas of business imaging applications.

We have all heard the expression that “a picture is worth a thousand words”. In both the overt and passive buying signal situations, it will primarily be the words that are either conveyed to you, or conveyed by you to the customer, that will ultimately lead to the potential sale. However, in an observed buying signal situation, it is the “picture” you observe at the customer site that will ultimately tell you the “story” that you will need to focus on in order to ultimately make the sale.

At the end of the day, it really does not matter whether the buying signal you get is overt, passive, or simply observed – what does matter though, is that you get the signal, you know what to do with it, you take advantage of it, and you serve effectively in your role as an intermediary between what your customer needs, and what your company offers.

Converting Satisfied Customers into Loyal Ones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foundation of PTC’s SLM/IoT Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acquisitions of Servigistics, ThingWorx and Axeda Systems

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

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

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

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

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

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

The PTC-ServiceMax Partnership

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

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

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

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

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

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

Managing Customers’ Service Expectations in an Uncertain Economic Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Evolution of Enterprise Field Service Operations

Enterprises Embracing On-Demand Workforce to Drive Growth in a Hyper-Responsive Service World

[Excerpted from the SFG℠ White Paper of the same name, sponsored by Work Market.]

Historically, Field Service Organizations (FSOs) within enterprises had a relatively easy time dealing with the staffing and management of their own field service workforce – basically, they recruited, hired, trained and placed their service technicians in strategic locations situated within a city, throughout the region, and across the country.

However, in the last several years, the field services market has grown ultra-competitive. Increasing customer expectations, pricing pressures and growing talent shortages mean enterprises are facing a perfect storm. They must find new ways to adapt in a rapidly evolving market or succumb to being left behind. And this is especially true for enterprises that are supporting a large installed base of equipment, comprised of a large variety of products, distributed in multiple geographic locations.

Historically, almost every major platform, device or piece of equipment had its own set of metrics, or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). It was by these KPIs that services organizations – and their field technicians – could track their performance over time to ensure that the customer’s equipment was always running as smoothly and efficiently as possible – and with as little downtime as possible.

Equipment performance was optimized, for the most part, by strict adherence to a periodic schedule of both routine and preventive maintenance. KPIs such as MTBF (i.e., Mean Time Between Failures) and MTTR (i.e., Mean Time To Repair) were the two most commonly used metrics in an age when equipment typically failed up to several times a year.

Fast forward to today. The field services landscape has changed quite dramatically – largely as a result of the introduction of new and improved technologies, an intensely demanding and volatile market economy, and an increased emphasis on technician skills, training and certifications. For these reasons, many enterprises and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) now find themselves either overwhelmed by the demands typically associated with the recruiting, training, on-boarding, managing – and paying for – their respective field service technicians. Others have decided to get out of the direct business of performing services themselves – even on their own equipment.

[Click here to read the entire white paper, compliments of Work Market, the company that provides an end-to-end Workforce Solution to help organizations manage their freelance workstream.]

[Click here to register for our July 29, 2015 Webcast on the same topic, also compliments of Work Market.]

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Differences Between “Best-in-Class” and “Mere Mortal” Customer Service Organizations

The main differences between “best-in-class” and “mere mortal” customer service and support organizations may best be summarized as follows. “Best-in-class” customer service and support organizations actively:

  • Encourage customer feedback
  • Seek to delight their customers
  • Understand their customers
  • Manage customer expectations
  • Know how to say “No”
  • Maintain the human touch

Encourage Customer Feedback

In many of the “mere mortal” customer service and support organizations, customers typically have no idea who they need to talk to if they have a problem that is anywhere out of the ordinary. In fact, most customers will think that it is simply not worth the effort to complain, “create waves”, or “rock the boat” – because it is unlikely that anything constructive will ever come out of it! Some may also be skeptical as to whether the organization will actually do anything at all, or they may even fear retribution from certain impacted individuals.

However, “best-in-class” organizations actively encourage customer feedback – even complaints. Some companies refer to what they do to encourage complaints as “marketing” their complaint system. Many companies (perhaps yours) hand (or mail) out customer service/satisfaction cards immediately following service calls. Most solicit feedback wherever they can, and make it easy for the customer to fill out a form and mail or e-mail it back to the appropriate department for review and response. Without customer feedback, services organizations operate in a vacuum; however, only with the ability to “hear” the voice of the customer will they (and you) ever hope to be able to identify the key areas that require improvement.

Seek to Delight Your Customers

“Best-in-class” organizations often use the phrase “delight the customer” to signify the extent to which they “go out of their way” to “exceed customer expectations”. Sometimes, all this necessitates is the ability to “lend a compassionate ear”; other times, it requires a much more proactive, and interactive, approach.

If all you ever do is just what the customer expects from you, then it is a fair bet that you will only be able to satisfy them – but that won’t delight them, and it certainly won’t make them loyal. Only by going “over and above the call of duty” will you ultimately be able to delight them with your ability to meet – and exceed – their needs.

Understand Your Customers

“Best-in-class” organizations also tend to demonstrate a much greater commitment to understanding the customer – but, from the customer’s perspective. Many companies conduct customer surveys on a regular, periodic basis to see exactly where they stand with respect to customer service and support, and how their performance may have changed over the course of a year or so. Some also conduct surveys among customers who have recently experienced “poor” service, or who may have otherwise complained with respect to a recent service call.

The best way to look at it is that every time a customer communicates with you, it is providing you with “free information” about their service and support needs, requirements, and expectations. And this is information that you can use to improve the way you are able to support their needs in the future – through this increased understanding.

Manage Customer Expectations

“Best-in-class” organizations do not typically wait for customers to come to them – they go directly to their customers on a regular basis. Since you are already in direct contact with your customers on a frequent basis, you are in an excellent position to be able to anticipate their needs and problems – before they hit the radar screen – and to set realistic expectations for them through company and/or self-taught customer service and support education and communication strategies.

Past studies have shown that up to one-half of complaints typically come from customers who have received inadequate, or incomplete, information about a product or a service. Using your own customer input/feedback communication channels to collect information that allows you to understand your customers’ expectations and needs better will allow you to “tune in” better to their innermost concerns and, thereby, put you in a much better position to manage their expectations more realistically.

Know How to Say “No”

Sometimes the answer will be “yes”; but, sometimes, it may have to be “no”. In every case, it will be helpful to know when – and where – you have to draw limits. In those circumstances where it is not possible to give the customer what it wants, it is still possible for a customer to feel that he or she has been “heard”, and has been treated fairly. However, this will be almost entirely up to you, as you are typically the one that has most of the interaction with your customers.

While you should always strive to provide your customers with full and “total” solutions, sometimes, it simply cannot be done. However, much of the negative fallout from having to say “no” may be avoided simply by your ability to conduct yourself in a professional and caring manner at all times until the situation is finally brought to a close. In some cases, it may be necessary to close a call even though it is felt on the customer’s part that the company has not done everything that could be done. Recognizing that it is not always possible to satisfy every customer, it is important to feel confident that you are supported by the proper processes, policies, and procedures – and training – to handle these cases to the best of your ability.

Maintain the Human Touch

Technology does not do the job – people do the job! Technology merely supports the people. Customers cannot make eye contact with technology – they make eye contact with you. Therefore, you must always make sure that you allow this eye contact to take place – and that you maintain the human touch as much as possible. Don’t use technology as a crutch; use your own people skills to deal directly with the people whose equipment you support.

Stifling customer feedback, providing “average” customer service, treating all customers the same, being “surprised” by customer wants, saying “yes” all the time (even when it cannot be done), and hiding behind technology is what makes “mere mortal” service organizations “mere mortal”. However, encouraging customer input and feedback, seeking to delight them with your customer service skills and expertise, understanding their service needs and requirements, managing their expectations, knowing how to say “no”, and maintaining a human touch at all times is what will make you a “best-in-class” service technician – even if your company has not yet become a “best-in-class” customer service organization.