Giving Customer Services a Seat on the Board
We live in a fast-changing and complex world, one in which the speed of change continues to accelerate forward. In large part, this is thanks to the emergence of Generation Y in the workplace and as consumers.
Generation Y, which typically defines people born in the 80s and 90s, has had a massive impact on the business environment.Their expectations are different to previous generations: they are impatient when service is perceived to fall short; they expect to have information on a product or service ‘at their finger tips’, and they require free and open access to a company’s knowledge base.
Thanks to Generation Y, ideas, news and information travels faster than ever before, with social networking sites delivering feedback direct to thousands of potential customers within minutes. This new media landscape is forcing businesses to engage at a deeper level with customers and respond rapidly to their growing service demands.
In the sector we operate within, the IT and technology sector this has been a key area for investment for manufacturers and distributors. Adding after-sales packages with technical helplines and extended warranties to products like printers and hand-held GPS devices has added value and helped build customer loyalty.
But whichever sector you operate in, from HR to IT, the challenge of delivering good service has been made harder with increasing demands by customers for providers to reduce down-time and offer bespoke service packages. And it’s a tough ask for anyone to remain competitive in a world where things don’t stay still for long and where many global industries have contracted significantly.
The only way to stay ahead is to develop a company-wide focus on customer service, from the top down. But to do that requires customer service to have director-level responsibility. Giving customer service a seat at the Board is a way to ensure all corporate thinking is aligned (or realigned) around customer-centric activities.
It also means that every staff member’s role in providing customer service can be properly evaluated. There needs to be greater awareness, for example, that the guys on the ground – IT service engineers for example - are important brand ambassadors. They can act as the eyes and ears of a company, capable by turns of spotting trouble brewing, and (just as importantly) identifying new business opportunities.
Company policy should be aligned around the fact that that around half of the modern service call is fixing the customer rather than, say, the technology – educating the user on the best use of the systems they are operating.
In other words, product servicing is about people.
Every customer call should be treated as a ‘moment of truth’ which can either add value or seriously damage a product/company in an instant. In terms of pre- or after-sales activity, it is more than just fixing the kit; it is how you go about it.
Where all or part of a service operation is transferred to an outsourced supplier, it’s usually done either to allow the client to concentrate on their core business, and/or to allow them to improve upon the service they can offer customers. It’s not uncommon to have several services outsourced by a company. Indeed, the recession has led to greater interest in the benefits of outsourcing, clearly because it can facilitate business development and expansion, but within a flexible framework.
But these relationships need to be managed, probably beyond the level that they have been traditionally with a client: supplier model. In my view, where possible, companies should be looking for "borderless collaboration" with their outsourcing partner(s)
For example, Qcom’s relationship as an outsourcer goes way beyond being placed in a ‘supplier box’ with clients, or indeed just white labelling our services. We’ve got to the point where we collaborate with clients when they are pitching for new business, helping to formulate strategy around areas such as customer service. To me, sharing strategies, results, and future direction is crucial if any relationship is to be lasting.
So, to sum up, customer expectations are rising and the commercial landscape is becoming more complex. The only sane way to keep up with the pace of change is for companies’ Boards to have direct responsibility for monitoring and meeting their customer needs.
For more information on Qcom’s outsourced technical services, visit www.qcom.co.uk.