Improving Customer Interaction
(Originally published as a Hardware Services column in the August 2001 issue of AFSMI's The Professional Journal.)
By Leo A.P. Moerkens
We've seen a lot of changes in our services environment over the last decade. Most companies have moved from a cost-center approach to a profit-center approach in an effort to improve the bottom line, and as a result, we have seen the organization transform from a back-office function to a front-office business function, including representation at the executive level in the organization. Different companies have gone through this evolution at a different pace, depending on the market segment, the customer, and the competitive environment.
In discussions with our customers, we see a trend again developing toward integration of all customer interaction and a broadening of functions that deal with all customer aspects. Depending on the market segment and the products you bring to the market, there are significant differences in approach, but I think we can gain a lot by looking outside our own market segment and learning from other approaches and services. The software industry has been developing products to support this trend, and the CRM functionality is really maturing today.
A Little History
This required a change in our internal organization and attitude, and as a result, we have seen a transition from the pure technical environment to a business environment and a marketing function to develop the services, increase the sales, and improve the perceived value from the customer.
At the same time, the mix between hardware and software, along with the increased complexity of operating the high-tech equipment, created new challenges in the delivery of services. Based on the symptoms the customer is describing, it sometimes is hard to determine whether the real problem is a hardware, software, or operational issue. This required a multifunctional approach to providing services in a responsive, professional, and cost-efficient way. Remote diagnostics and knowledge-based systems to determine quickly the root cause of the problem did help with this issue, and most companies have implemented these tools.
In addition, we have seen most customers go from buying equipment to buying solutions, which increased the need for customization and the development of professional services to deliver what the customer wants and needs.
This has brought us to the level where most companies are positioned at this moment-a palette of services and choices for the customer that meet the demand and create a good business opportunity.
The Next Wave
Pricing models reflecting life-cycle pricing have been developed along with financing structures. As a result of this, the classic boundaries between marketing, sales, and service are disappearing, and the overlap between the business functions is obvious. Meeting your customer expectations will require a team approach.
This dynamic model continues during the rest of the life cycle and is a great opportunity to retain the customers. Critical, however, is your company's ability to react and deliver on the customers' needs. We foresee that this trend will continue in most segments of the market and will be crucial in your competitive situation. The company that is the most responsive and flexible will beat the competition, as long as promises are met and delivered on time at an acceptable cost.
Impact on Your Organization
Depending on where your company currently is positioned and what your exact customer environment is, you might be in this transition stage at this moment. However, when you see an increased need for sales support and increased interaction with other business functions, you might want to take a step back and rethink the business model in which you are operating. We advise the following steps:
Leo A.P. Moerkens is president of Hands-on Management Consultants, Inc., an international management consultancy with offices in the U.S. (Oxford, Connecticut) and Middle East (Cairo, Egypt). It focuses on mid-size, high-tech companies and assists them in developing and implementing business improvement programs. Leo can be reached at 203-888-1671 or LMoerkens@aol.com.
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