What makes great service? Part 2 - Proactive Service, by Nicole Schlögl
In my previous article, we discussed that – in my view – there are two parts to great service: Customer Relationships and the Service Delivery. It was too much to talk about service in one go - so I focussed on relationship management. In this article, I’d like to look more at service delivery. Or, more to the point proactive service delivery.
In days gone by, businesses would have to wait for some form of customer contact before reacting to their report, request or complaint. Thanks to the tools now available we can skip this step a lot of the time and proactively service our customer. Done well and I think this can take a service proposition to a new level of professionalism.
Data is the key which allows us to deliver a proactive service to our customers. As a society, we have come to expect data. We expect service providers to be analysing data behind the scenes.
Take Toshiba as an example – our devices send my team a constant stream of data. They give us metrics about the performance of components and usage patterns. Then we can predict the device's service requirements and also diagnose potential issues.
With this information, we ensure that our engineers have the right parts before visiting a site – allowing them to fix a device on their first visit. Not only is this viewed as professional and efficient by the end-users, but it also saves time and money for the service team as well as reducing carbon emissions – an all-round win.
It is also worth mentioning that we also use this data to look at the big picture. We identify trends, repeat issues and areas of improvement for both our products and service. This data highlights the level-of-service provided and allows us to analyse and define improvements before ultimately measuring those improvements and reporting back to our customer. By being transparent with our customers, we build trust with them and show that – if we are falling short of expectations – we are addressing these issues and improving.
Providing proactive service ‘well’ needs more than just data – it needs to paired with an intimate knowledge of the customer’s working patterns and business as a whole. With these key pieces, we need to anticipate the customer’s needs, plan how this interacts with the data we’ve received and then overdeliver on the customer’s expectations – where possible.
For example – if customers are traditionally busier at certain times of the year, then you can service their devices ahead of this in a quiet period to minimise disruption and make sure they have enough consumables to avoid any downtime at critical moments. Similarly, if the customer has just had a busy period, knowledge of this allows you to ignore the data trends and avoid overestimating their future usage.
We regularly see this pattern of high and low usage in schools. During the exam season, the demand for a school’s print infrastructure skyrockets. If a device breaks down or runs out of toner at this point in the year it is likely to make the print provider very unpopular with the staff and students alike. So, to mitigate this we act proactively and service the fleet ahead of the exam period and ensure that there are spare consumables on-site and ready to go. This pattern repeats itself across many industries and customers don’t always notice. That is why it is crucial to look at all the data to identify areas of improvement they might not have even considered.
I believe being proactive is the key to good service – no matter what the industry is. We now have the tools to be ahead of the curve and anticipate a customer’s need and that – to me – is far more effective than the world’s quickest response time which is used reactively. But delivering a proactive service that fits the customer is about looking beyond the data and SLAs, it’s about using your knowledge of the customer and the data and marrying the two together into a coherent service plan – which is of course sometimes easier said than done!
Delivering excellent service is a challenging and ever-changing target no matter who the vendor/customer is. But, I think by employing diligent relationship management and combining relevant KPIs and other data, offering great service is something every vendor should strive for and achieve.