Planning for Customer Services and Support

(Originally published as a Customer Service column in the
September 1998 issue of AFSMI's The Professional Journal.)

By William K. Pollock

Many organizations that have traditionally positioned themselves exclusively as manufacturing and/or product-oriented have recently begun to move closer to a services environment in order to provide their customers with total support beyond merely product purchase. For example, the organizations that have typically focused in the manufacturing of industrial or commercial business products in the past, now find that their customers are looking for both pre- and after-sales support in terms of product design engineering and customization, installation and implementation, telephone help desk or "hotline" support, professional support services, training and a whole variety of other after-sales services.

As such, now may represent a critical time to develop a strategic plan for facilitating your company's move into a more demanding services environment. This plan may encompass many components, including:

  • Examining the company's existing customer service and support mission, goals and objectives, capabilities, resources and infrastructure;
  • Identifying and prioritizing the existing and emerging customer/market demands, needs, requirements, expectations and preferences for customer service and support, across all classifications of the company's customers; and
  • Developing specific recommendations for action with respect to the assessment and engineering/reengineering of the existing internal support organization and operations in an effort to arm the company with a "world class" service and support portfolio.
In more specific terms, the overall goals and objectives of such a planning effort, simply stated, should be to:
  • Examine, analyze and assess the company's service and support mission with respect to its desired ability to ultimately provide customers with the full range of service and support offerings that will position the company as a "world class" product and services provider;
  • Identify, from management's perspective, what the most important elements of a "world class" service operation would be expected to comprise, and within what framework it would envision such an operation to be created and managed;
  • Determine, from the customers' perspectives, where the company should direct its primary attention with respect to the creation of a formal customer service and support organization and operational infrastructure;
  • Define how the desired service delivery organization should be structured in terms of human resources, roles, responsibilities and functions; organizational components and structural hierarchy; internal vs. outside components (i.e., in-house vs. outsource); strategic partnering and alliances; management and staff training; and other key related areas;
  • Recommend how the optimal service operation should be structured in terms of defining and establishing the appropriate service processes and procedures; logistics and resource management controls; operating targets and guidelines; management control and performance monitoring parameters; and other key related areas; and
  • Provide specific recommendations for the establishment of a formal service organization and operational infrastructure that address all of the key elements consistent with the delivery of "world class" service and support to the company's present and projected marketplace.
The specific areas where the plan should focus will include:
  • Identification of Customer Needs and Requirements for "World Class" Service - including recommended goals, targets and desired service parameters based both on input/feedback gathered from existing and potential customers, as well as from an assessment/evaluation of other state-of-the-art service organizations/operations in the general marketplace.
  • Composition of the Recommended Customer Service and Support Portfolio - including the recommended development and "packaging" of an initial customer service and support portfolio matched against the specific needs and requirements of the customers.
  • Service Operations Structure and Processes - including recommended service and support operations, processes and policies that will support the initial service portfolio, focusing on customer call handling, help desk, on-site support, depot repair, order entry and call logging, administrative and other processes (to be determined).
  • Determination of Key Performance Indicators - including identification of, and recommendations for, the selection of the most appropriate industry metrics and guidelines for measuring ongoing service performance.
  • Definition of Service Organization, Functions and Responsibilities - including recommendations for the general structure, roles and responsibilities of the service organization, organizational hierarchy and structure, inter- and intra-departmental roles and responsibilities, organizational functions and activities, basic job descriptions, in-house vs. outsourcing decisions, channel management, etc.
  • Selection of Operational Tools - including recommendations for the most effective use of service delivery/management/performance tools, such as Internet/Intranet/Extranet support tools, call handling system, help desk system, etc.
  • Formalization of the Implementation Plan - In-house, including system selection, investment plan, organization development, training, etc.; outsourcing, including vendor selection criteria, pilot program development measurement/management definition; and general timeframe and rollout plan.
Providing past product purchase customers with "total" customer service and support will generally not be achievable without the execution and implementation of a well thought out and orchestrated "total" planning effort.
William K. Pollock is president of Strategies For GrowthSM (SFGSM), the Westtown, Pennsylvania-based services consulting firm specializing in strategic business planning, services marketing, CRM consulting, market/survey research, and customer satisfaction measurement and tracking programs. Bill may be reached at 610-399-9717 or via e-mail at wkp@s4growth.com.


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