Guest Column | April 27, 2018

4 Key Areas For Improving Your Interaction With Customers

By Bill Pollock, president & principal consulting analyst, Strategies For Growth

4 Key Areas For Improving Your Interaction With Customers

There have been a great many changes in the global service community over the last decade or two. Things just simply are not the same today as they were just a couple of years ago — and that’s good! Technology has advanced, customers have become both more knowledgeable and more demanding with respect to what they want from their service providers, and most service organizations have taken additional steps to automate their service processes and bolster their service delivery capabilities.

In an effort to continually improve, one thing will always remain constant – and that is the need to interact with your customers.

In recent years, a majority of service organizations have moved from a traditional cost-center approach to running their service operations to a profit-center approach in an effort to improve the bottom line. As a result, we have seen many organizations transform themselves from a back-office function to a front-office business function, including representation at the executive level in the organization. Different organizations have gone through this evolution at a varying pace, depending on the market segments they serve, the demands of the customer, and the intensifying competitive environment. 

In addition, we have seen most customers transition from primarily buying equipment to buying solutions, which has increased the need for customization and the development of professional services to deliver what the customer wants and needs. This has brought the global services community up to the level where most companies are now positioned to provide a palette of services and choices for the customer that meet their evolving demands and create both a stronger business partnership, as well as new business opportunities. 

This is especially true in a high-technology, connected services environment, as we see a much stronger trend in the development of long-term partnerships with customers, typically beginning with the initial contact by the sales team. However, this requires that the organization has in-depth expertise to develop customized solutions early in the sales cycle, regardless of whether this is at the equipment, software, or acquisition/financing portion of the cycle. As such, the focus remains on the customer, and delivering the solution that meets their needs and requirements.

Regardless of the size, type or geographic coverage of your services organization, the following represent some of the key areas where customer interaction must be planned for – and executed upon:

  • Sales Support and Solutions Development - This area requires varying levels of expertise and skills. During the sales cycle, the team needs to develop a solution for the customer, based on the assessment of the customer’s wants, tempered by an internal assessment of what the customer really needs. This not only requires sales engineering skills, but also analytical skills and technical expertise to minimize the customer’s risk and create the appropriate expectations. Most service organizations have also developed a strong professional services function that can work with both the customer and the sales team on specific solution proposals. 
  • Communications in Support of Developing a Connected Services Solution - The complexity of developing a connected services solution (e.g., especially in an organization that has not historically been “state-of-the-art”) requires a customer-responsive communications pipeline that can deal with almost every situation. Virtual Reality (VR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and Blockchain will not be easily understood by all parties on the customer side, and it will be critical to, first, educate them; and then, win them over (i.e., with respect to their inclusion in the recommended solution). 
  • Transitioning from Customer Service to Delivering a Positive Customer Experience - This area must be fully integrated into the total customer-centric approach. In today’s business environment, customers are less likely to be pleased with merely receiving good (or even great) customer service for one or more individual service events. They would mainly prefer to be supported with a fully positive customer experience that addresses all of their key needs and requirements, preferences and expectations that their service providers promise to deliver. 
  • Customer Relationship Development – Every employee that deals directly with customers must have, at a minimum, excellent customer-relations skills that transcend just what is addressed in their training lessons and guidebooks, etc. This represents a radical shift from the traditional approach, where the emphasis was more on quick responses and strong technical skills. With the CRM tools available today, most system or equipment failures can be dealt with easily – and in many cases, where the customer is not even aware that a service event has occurred. Where CRM-related training and skills come in, is the ability to “fix the customer concurrently while fixing their equipment”

Since every service organization is different and highly dependent on the market in which it serves, some of the above-mentioned issues might not be particularly problematic – but they are food for thought. We have seen these trends taking hold in different segments of the global service community, and they might just be applicable to your organization as well. In any event, it never hurts to look for new ways to strengthen your customer relationships and thereby improve your competitive advantage in an otherwise highly competitive global marketplace.