What makes great service? Part 1 - Customer Relationships, by Nicole Schlögl
I’m still a relative “newbie” in the print industry and I have been struck by the fantastic group of people I work with in Toshiba’s service team. It is so important in a competitive industry such as this to deliver the best service. Offering an established technical solution means that many of the major providers in our sector have similar portfolios. There are of course some differences and different levels of quality – but there is not a chasm between one company’s offering and the next best thing in the way that there was when the iPhone was first launched, for example.
In this sort of industry, how do you outmanoeuvre your competitors? Why do businesses choose to spend their valuable time and money working with you over other businesses? How do you convince competitor’s customers that the grass is greener without competing solely on price? The answer in my mind is simple, the human factor – the best service delivered by fantastic people who care about their customers.
I’ve decided to split this topic in to two slightly more manageable articles – otherwise you’ll be here all day. Whilst service must be coherent and run smoothly, I see two key broad elements to great service which are applicable to either direct end-user support or to supporting a reseller channel. These are Customer Relationship and Service Delivery. For the rest of this article, I want to focus on the customer relationship and I’ll write another piece soon with more of a focus on service delivery.
I am staggered by the number of businesses who do not do this effectively. Businesses sometimes try to compete with a standardised set of SLAs (Service-Level Agreements) which they are positioning as the ‘best’ or ‘industry-leading’. But the mistake here is that SLAs are not technical specifications. Having the fastest response time is a good thing – yes – but it is not the full story. Truly the best service is one that is tailored to each and every business and then delivered consistently.
At the very beginning of a relationship, vendors must take time to understand what their customer wants to achieve and what they want to avoid. Without these conversations, vendors risk stumbling upon little errors of mismatched expectations along the way. The problem with this is that what might be a minor mishap to the vendor could be an unmitigated disaster for the customer which will be remembered when the customer is considering renewing their contract.
Every business has procedures and for good reasons. Competent customer service is about aligning customer expectation with what is delivered. It is important to manage these expectations and – where possible – justify them. If customers understand your process, I have found that they are far more likely to be understanding of any wait times, delays or problems that these may cause. Also encourage customers to provide feedback on processes and adjust accordingly, if required. If you do this, customers feel like they are on your side and can turn into powerful advocates for your business.
I firmly believe that feedback of any kind is always a good thing. Positive feedback is fantastic to receive. It can be a morale booster for your teams or even used as a marketing and sales tool to demonstrate your service record to potential customers.
Negative feedback can be more difficult to handle but it is absolutely vital to maintaining good customer relationships. Use this feedback to create improvement plans which address the issues posed. The key is to demonstrate action on the feedback you’ve received and make a difference to the end-user. If you show yourself to be adaptable to your customer that helps to build trust in a relationship, and it shows that you care about their opinion and business.
Above all else, remember that everyone is human. Treating customers with respect, speaking truthfully and plainly, as well as always trying your best to help customers is going to go a long way to developing productive relationships – irrespective of any bumps along the way. Building up an open working relationship with trust is key. If your customers (be that end-users or resellers) trust you, and you behave in a way that demonstrates that you trust them, all parties are far more likely to go above and beyond just sticking to their contractual terms.