Increasing revenue and profit with your service organization requires your people to shift their thinking and behavior in three fundamental ways: be proactive, get to real needs, and reach balanced outcomes.
- Be Proactive: Shift from being mostly reactive in responding to customer requests, issues, and problems, to being proactive by anticipating the needs of others and taking action to address them.
- Get to Real Needs: Rather than purely focusing on technical problems clearly visible to the customer and the supplier, identify and address problems and issues that are not so easily seen, yet often prevent people from fixing problems completely and permanently.
- Reach Balanced Outcomes: Transition from doing things for the customer and occasionally giving in to unreasonable demands, to working collaboratively with the customer to reach solutions that balance the interests of all sides.
Making these shifts is what it takes to become Total Customer Focused, and to successfully make this transition requires the persistent application of new skills and tools when interacting with customers. Below are real-world examples of how companies are transforming their service organizations to focus on the customer:
Customers today expect that suppliers will proactively engage in helping them address their key challenges and achieve their most important business outcomes. This requires a fundamental shift in thinking and behavior on the part of your front-line employees.
Very often, service people tend to think being proactive is complex and involves a lot of creativity, however this is not necessarily the case. There are actually several very simple ways to be proactive. For example, a client in the semiconductor industry was seen as only a reactive problem solver by their customer. The client was complaining that the customer only called when they had a problem, and because of this, the customer associated service people with problems. This led the supplier to ask, “How can we change this?”
The supplier then initiated a very simple set of actions, which consisted of giving the customer a call every morning at 9am just to check if everything was okay. Now, the customer is progressively starting to see the supplier not as a problem solver, but as a source of input and ideas to proactively prepare for the future. This very simple call in the morning has made a drastic difference in perception.
Because the service people now have better relationships with the customer, this supplier experienced a dramatic reduction in firefighting. The customer saw that the supplier was open, so the customer, in turn, was also more open, and told the supplier what their problems were far in advance. This reduction in firefighting means reduced stress, reduced pressure on customer service, and reduced attrition – these are all costs for the supplier. A little proactivity every day, such as a meeting or a phone call, can go a long way towards driving the customer's business success, and that’s exactly what you achieve by moving from reactive to proactive.
Get to Real Needs
Addressing your customer's real issues can be difficult for many technically oriented people, and is partly cultural. Technical people naturally tend to focus on technical problems that they can clearly see, understand, and usually solve. These types of problems are the tip of the iceberg – that is, the part you can see.
However, problems hidden beneath the waterline require a different type of approach and skills to identify and address. Unfortunately, just as the captain of the Titanic tragically learned, not getting to the problems beneath the waterline can result in disaster.
One client who had a very large customer in the electronics field demonstrates this iceberg model. The service manager discovered that the real problem his customer was having with a major installation of new technology was not a technical problem, but instead, was about getting support from his own company. These were cultural issues that were getting in the way – issues below the waterline.
These types of issues would not typically come up unless the service manager was skilled in having those kinds of discussions with the customer by observing how the customer answers certain questions, probing deeper into the issues at hand, and building that relationship of trust. Once the service manager was able to build that relationship, all of the issues below the waterline were uncovered. These took more time to address because they were even more difficult to solve than the technical problems, but once the service manager addressed them, he was able to help his customer successfully adopt the new technology, not only at that one customer site, but also by the entire customer’s worldwide organization. This has made a huge difference and generated millions of dollars worth of value for the service manager’s customer and for his own organization. Addressing the technical problems will fix problems above the surface, but you should always be thinking about the real problems below the surface.
Reach Balanced Outcomes
People on the front lines know that the customer is not always right. In fact, the customer is very often wrong in making some requests. However, if you never say no, even when the request is wrong, you not only undermine the interests of your own company, but can actually damage the customer’s interests as well. According to McKinsey, 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated, and the way you say “no” can have long-term consequences for your business.
One client in the high-tech industry was dealing with so many of these requests from a customer that they had to assign another service person to the account. The service manager, wanting to increase his people’s efficiency, detailed a day’s worth of requests from this customer, analyzing each request using the Reasonable Possible Matrix. The service manager placed each request in 1 of 4 quadrants:
- Unreasonable and Impossible
- Unreasonable and Possible
- Reasonable and Impossible
- Reasonable and Possible
The service manager discovered that 20% of requests made by this customer were both unreasonable and impossible. That’s a full day every week dedicated to dealing with requests that should not be made in the first place! Upon learning this, the service manager took this information and some strategies for improvement to his customer, and when they saw how many of these types of requests they were actually making, they were open to help. The service manager and the customer worked together to minimize the number of unreasonable and impossible requests that were made, and in the end, this resulted in better service for the customer and improved efficiency and billability for the service people; a truly balanced outcome.
Making the Transformation
Successfully making the transition to becoming proactive, getting to real needs, and reaching balanced outcomes requires the persistent application of new skills and tools when interacting with customers. These stories illustrate the power of Total Customer Focus and the potential revenue and profit that any service organization can generate for their company.
To learn how your organization can become Total Customer Focused, you can download our free 60-page ebook that explains how to assess your organization’s current level of Total Customer Focus, how to make a business case for your transformation, and the tools, approaches and examples needed to make these 3 shifts.
About the Author
Paul Hesselschwerdt is president of Global Partners. Paul has been a senior executive in consulting and industry for more than 20 years. He has worked with companies in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. Together with the Global Partners team, he has designed and implemented programs in sales and marketing, Total Customer Focus, leadership, management development, and project management across a range of industries, including health care, pharmaceuticals, biotech, consumer electronics, and high-technology. Paul’s career began in finance and accounting, and half of his professional life has been as a finance director and CFO for industrial, life sciences, and global media companies.
Paul’s clients have included ASML, GE Healthcare, Merck, ST Microelectronics, AREVA, Alstom Power, Schneider Electric, Sherwin Williams, and CRANE Corp.
Paul is a graduate of Boston University (BSBA) and Babson College (MBA), and has unique expertise in applying his knowledge of business and finance with his understanding of adult learning. This enables him to create and deliver programs that are business-focused and achieve sustainable results.
Contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.