Moving from "Poor", to "Good", to "Awesome" Service
(Originally published in the July/August 2005 issue of AFSMI's Sbusiness.)
By William K. Pollock
The real distinction between "poor" service and "good" service is often only "in the eyes of the beholder" - that is, the customer. However, for some, all it takes to be considered as a "good" service provider is to show up when you promised you would; carry the right parts with you; fix the equipment quickly, and without disruption; and leave them with equipment that works. This is probably what your field engineers are already doing in most cases - however, it may not be "good" enough for all of your customers. There will still be any number of additional areas where you will need to focus in order to make - and keep - your customers happy.
Services organizations that are only capable of providing "poor" service (by the way, don't worry too much about them - they won't be around very much longer) have forgotten about how important it is to treat their customers well. Many of them may have grown complacent over the years, forgetting that they continually need to "raise the bar" on their services offerings as their customers "raise the bar" on their service expectations. The main reasons for why their levels of service may be so "poor" is because they DON'T:
However, those organizations that provide "good" levels of service and support have already figured out that they have to:
- Pay attention to either the stated, or the observed, needs of their customers;
- Observe how their customers use their equipment, and what impact it has when a system goes down;
- Organize themselves in the most effective way to manage different types of customers with different types of needs; and
- Respect each of their customers for who they are, what they want, and what it will take to make them happy.
However, there is still a long way to go before a services organization is able to bridge the gap from merely providing "good" service, to providing "great" service. The means for doing so, however, are actually quite simple - all you have to do is follow a standard set of guidelines:
- Get a good understanding of who their customers are, what makes them "tick", what "ticks" them off, and what they can do to make their customer service experience better;
- Observe how they operate, what they need, and what makes them happy;
- Own the entire customer service and support process by practicing good Customer Relationship Management (CRM); and
- Do everything it takes to keep the customer satisfied with their level of attention and customer support performance.
Every day your people deal with a multitude of customers that may vary by type, size, installed base, usage, personality and everything else that ultimately differentiates one customer from another. However, one thing always remains constant - your service and support is critical to their day-to-day business operations. By following these guidelines, your organization will not only be prepared to provide its customers with "great" service - it will almost certainly also be perceived as "awesome".
- Assess the situation from the customer's perspective (i.e., through his or her eyes). Understand how they use the equipment in their day-to-day operations, and exactly what happens when the equipment fails. Know who within the customer organization is impacted the most, and what it will take to make - and keep - them happy.
- Welcome the customer's input and feedback relating to the way in which they want to be supported. They may not always want reasonable things from their services provider, but it is still important to know what they are. Listen - and respond accordingly - in order to ensure that you are setting the proper expectations for the levels of service and support you will be providing.
- Educate them as to what they are likely to experience with respect to your ongoing customer service and support. Address all of their questions, and provide them with honest answers to the best of your ability. Also, be prepared to discuss what other options they may have with respect to upgrading either their equipment, their service level agreement, or both.
- Start thinking from the customer's perspective - not the company's - as you track your customer service and support performance over time. While you will always need to follow company guidelines and policies when delivering support, it is always helpful to gauge the situation from the customer's side so that you will be less likely to be surprised by any unforeseen reaction on their part.
- Own the customer - as well as the service process. By taking ownership of the entire customer relationship, you will always be in the optimal position of strength whether you are dealing with a one-of-a-kind, systemic or recurring problem. The customer is paying your company a great deal of money to support its equipment, and they want you - not themselves - to have to take ownership of any problem until it is resolved.
- Meet their expectations fully, continuously and consistently. Nothing satisfies customers better than knowing that all of their problems will be resolved completely, quickly and seamlessly. They know your people have the training and expertise, and they want them to reflect it at all times. They are looking for consistency, and if anything is perceived to be different this time (as compared to the last time), they will notice it - and it will be of concern to them.
- Entertain their every request and demand. That does not mean to say that you will have to honor every one of them - that may neither be feasible nor possible in every case. However, you must at the very least be able to show them that you are willing to listen, and able to respond to their every request in an honest and attentive manner. Providing them with anything less will show them that you really don't care what makes them happy.
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 email@example.com.