Organizing for Optimal Service Delivery to
Key Vertical Customer Segments
(Originally published as a Customer Service column in the
October 1999 issue of AFSMI's The Professional Journal.)
By William K. Pollock
Once your services organization fully understands the needs and requirements, expectations, and preferences of the vertical customer segments that it supports, it is only "halfway" to the point where it can effectively deal with decision-makers, and purchasers, within each segment. As such, each provider's organizational requirements become of great importance in terms of their ultimate ability to deliver the required levels of service to their customers in each segment.
There are, however, six rules for ensuring that a services organization is sufficiently prepared to support its customers in each key vertical segment, as follows:
Services users in today's market are generally well aware that they represent attractive business prospects to services providers. Further, they know that there are many vendors from which they may choose. It is essentially a "buyers' market" for services. However, the most successful services providers will be those that can position themselves as the primary source of services in each of their targeted vertical markets, whether they perform all of the required services and support directly, or manage other providers as part of a total services solution package.
- "Design your service portfolio to reflect a full and focused commitment to each key segment, rather than one which is perceived as being too general in scope"
While your services organization may have the talent, infrastructure, and resources required to successfully support systems in all major vertical markets, the user's perception of these capabilities may be significantly lower if they have not been properly "packaged" or promoted. Key organizational characteristics that can promote your commitment to each segment's specific services needs and requirements are (1) an organizational structure that is designed to support individual product lines, or groups, of industry-specific applications (e.g., ATMs, POS, MRI, CAD/CAM, et cetera); (2) a dedicated service force targeted specifically to each major vertical market (e.g., bank/financial, healthcare, retail/distribution, et cetera); and (3) promotional literature that is targeted specifically to each key segment. A portfolio that is positioned and promoted solely in global or generic terms (e.g., "we service PCs" or "we service networks") will not convey a perception that your organization has a full understanding of the specific needs, requirements or applications of a particular vertical segment.
- "Provide a full array of desired services to your customers, and you will become much more important to them"
Past studies have shown the importance of being able to provide customers with a full range of integrated services for the various systems, equipment and applications used at the customer site. Services providers that are perceived to have only narrowly focused services capabilities (e.g., CT scanners, only; ATMs, only) still play an important role, but tend to be positioned as merely "one of many" necessary vendors. The ability to support a broad range of both general and segment-specific systems and equipment (e.g., CPUs and peripherals, telephony, office automation and LANs; as well as specific banking systems such as ATMs, POS, cash settlement systems, et cetera) will serve to make your organization even more important to its customers. Most customers do not care whether all of these areas of service are provided directly by the vendor, or through the use of strategic alliance partners, qualified subcontractors or other authorized vendors.
- "Organize to reflect the fact that you have a full understanding of your customers' applications, and that you can be fully responsive to their needs"
It is not only good enough to understand your customers' specific needs and requirements; you must also understand the principal reasons behind them (e.g., response/repair time for certain types of systems/equipment that may be especially critical due to the "life and death" nature of a medical application, or the high monetary stakes associated with a banking transaction, et cetera). In these cases, the customer will want to be assured that your organization fully appreciates the severity of its services needs in terms of its own perceived speed and time requirements, as well as with the foresight and availability of contingency plans should a crisis evolve. Overall, your customers will be more prepared to believe that you are able to deliver their required levels of responsiveness, under both foreseen and unforeseen circumstances, if you are organized to reflect that you understand the reasons for why they are important.
- "Build up your capabilities to service additional types of related systems and equipment today, to ensure that you will grow along with the segment's needs for tomorrow"
Services providers that already have the capabilities to service additional types of related systems and equipment at the customer site today will be more able to support their customers as they grow, or acquire new types or brands of equipment, over time. The best way to ensure a long-term relationship with your customers is to show them that you can also grow along with their needs as their installed bases of equipment continue to expand and grow more complex. It is also important to be able to continue meeting their needs as they add new sites and facilities through merger and acquisition, or through other forms of partnerships and affiliations.
- "Provide multiple levels of service today so your customers won't have to look elsewhere for a total services provider in the future"
Increasingly, customers are looking for services providers that can provide a full range of related systems, software and applications support in addition to traditional hardware maintenance and repair. Many now also require a full measure of professional services as part of a total support solution. The most successful services providers will be those that can provide their customers with "enhanced" levels of services including systems design and engineering; installation and implementation; systems and network integration; software maintenance and support; education and training; and a wide array of other related services and support. Not all users require a full range of support today; but, over time, many of these additional services options may become more attractive to them. The fact that your organization already has them included in its portfolio will give some of your customers an extra measure of "comfort" in knowing that you will also be prepared to meet their expanding needs in the future.
- "Make sure your services contract offers everything your customers want today, so that it will be easier to hold onto them tomorrow"
Customers in the most highly demanding vertical segments are constantly looking for credible providers that can act as a single point of services contact, either as a direct provider, or as a prime contractor. Most are looking for a single organization that could serve as the catalyst that provides them with the full level of service and support they require. The ability of your organization to offer an integrated services contract that assures your customers that "everything they need is both available, and under control, at all times" represents the ultimate "value-in-use" services and support package.
The successful vendors will also provide a full array of professional services, typically including software, training and applications support, as well as basic hardware maintenance and repair support, wherever possible. Overall, they must provide a full service capability, both today and in the future, with a commitment to the total understanding of, and responsiveness to, the unique services needs and requirements of their customers in each major vertical segment.
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.