Service Is a "Global" Concept

(Originally published as a Customer Service column in the
December 1999 issue of AFSMI's The Professional Journal.)

By William K. Pollock

Customer requirements for service and support will never be the same from one country to another, any more than they will be the same from one customer to another. However, one thing remains very clear - the requirements for service are becoming increasingly standardized, even on a global basis.

This is particularly true as more and more local companies are going regional, regional companies are going national, and national companies are going international in terms of sales, marketing and services capabilities. Just a few years ago, only the largest services organizations had credible worldwide service and support portfolios; however, today, mainly through the use of new Internet-based tools and the growing movement toward strategic partnering, even the small and medium-sized services organizations are finding themselves "empowered" to support their customers on a global basis.

Still, the perceptions of what it might take to be a "world class" services provider remain inconsistent among even the most sophisticated vendors today. For every services provider that believes that its mission-critical customers in Europe require the same level of support as its mission-critical customers in the United States, there are even more vendors that believe that the only differences between required levels of service in the U.S. and the UK are the substitution of an "s" for a "z", and an occasional "u" stuck inbetween an "o" and an "r". Regardless of each individual organization's approach or perceptions, it can safely be said that services requirements are both every bit the same, and very much different, in each corner of the globe.

For example, many services providers in the United States have discovered over the past several years that there is more than one language spoken in "service". This was a lesson learned years earlier by most European and Asian providers, as well as by Canadian services organizations that have been dealing with bilingual support for decades. However, the globalization of service and support refers to much more than simply language differences - it must also focus on the cultural, economic and business differences that are manifested in different forms all over the world.

As most individual businesses continue to grow larger, and other businesses acquire, merge and consolidate, there will be increasing pressure on services providers to grow along with their customers' needs for a broader and more sophisticated range of services - both in terms of breadth and scope (e.g., full array of services offerings, professional services as well as traditional break/fix and help desk support, etc.), and geographic coverage (e.g., cross-border capabilities). The conventional wisdom is that some of the services providers that presently offer very high levels of service and support, but only among the basic, or "core", types of services, or only in a limited geographic area, may actually end up losing out to other, less high performing providers that offer a wider array of services over a larger geographic area.

The general rule of thumb is often, "why settle for varying or erratic levels of service and support over the whole of our enterprise due to the use of multiple vendors, when we can ensure a more standardized mode of delivery - still at satisfactory levels - across our entire system?" While the former mode of service delivery may range from "excellent" to "average" depending on the type of service provided, or the location of the user, the latter mode generally ensures that there will be consistent levels of service provided enterprisewide - and with no "surprises".

From personal experience, I have learned that there is little difference between the way in which a systems integrator operates in the United States or in the Middle East. We have also conducted identical surveys for some of our clients among their respective customer bases in North America, the United Kingdom and France. Just 20 years ago, conducting similar work across national borders was rarely done - or needed. Whereas at that time, the main focus of any international study was primarily to understand the differences between and among the client's worldwide customer bases, today the main focus is almost always on what the commonalities are.

In today's services environment, the true measure of a provider's ability to adapt to its marketplace is no longer answered strictly in terms of how well it can deliver different types of support to different types of customers, but in how well it can provide desired levels of service and support to each of its customers. This still requires a full understanding of both the customer base and the marketplace, and can only be successfully accomplished through a painstaking effort to learn to know both better - better than the knowledge that was previously available, and better than the competition.

The word "global" should no longer simply conjure up images of services technicians trudging through the wilds of the great Australian outback, or across the grand Sahara Desert (although this may also be the case from time to time), nor should it be interpreted solely as fostering a company mentality of trying to be "all things to all parties. Rather, "global" should be defined as "offering the full complement of desired services and support, either directly or through strategic services partnerships, to support the enterprisewide needs of the customer."

It has taken the services industry the last century to get to the point where it is today. However, it will be around this definition of "global" service and support that the new millennium will begin. Where it will ultimately take us will, as always, be most heavily dependent on how the services marketplace believes its providers are responding to its "global" needs.


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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