Using Technology to Foster Stronger Customer Relationships
Partnerships are formed through common goals
The term ‘trusted partner’ is often used to describe an organization that fosters strong relationships with its customers. This can be challenging in the service industry, where customer interactions are often limited to negotiating new service contracts, quoting equipment replacements, and conversations that go something like: “The system isn’t working, when can you get here to fix it?” and “Can you please pay your bill?”
Your performance can be stellar compared to industry averages, but the customer’s viewpoint can be stuck in “I don’t know what I’m paying for, the system still breaks down,” and “You’re only trying to upsell me.”
So, how do you change this?
The obvious starting point is minimizing the impact of faults on your customers. After all, these are the times when your capabilities are in the spotlight. The first step is getting someone there as quickly as possible, which means having a clear picture of who is nearby and available. Location tracking and status update technology is simple; however, the reliability and effectiveness of this information is dependent on the level of engagement you have with your field force. This applies to any technology that interacts with your field force. If the design doesn’t meet their needs, then they won’t use it according to design; therefore, any dependent processes can’t be trusted.
Now that you have someone on-site, you need to make sure the problem is fixed. A first-time fix is a key metric of service achievement; however, the converse of this is ‘times we’ve messed up.’ One way to improve this is to ensure technicians have everything they need to fix the problem. This can relate to manuals and parts based on the equipment at the customer site but also relate to skills and full details of issues. Customer descriptions of issues are vague at best and do little to identify what equipment has failed let alone the root cause. Customer service agents are given better scripts to triage issues, but isn’t there a better way?
Ideally, you would prefer remote monitoring of customer equipment and this is part of the motivation for the Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. One of the key challenges in the past has been getting the data from remote sensors; however, there are several new network technologies being deployed across the globe designed to solve this issue. The other challenge is whether you use the inclusion of sensors to provide a business case for installing new equipment or offer a retrofit of sensors external to the equipment to differentiate your service offering. The latter obviously provides less detail, but wouldn’t there be a value to a few well-placed temperature, vibration, and inductive current sensors? Imagine creating a business case to replace equipment that included actual power usage data for outdated units.
Scheduled maintenance activities also provide opportunities for improvement. Standardized service checklists are often used for scheduled maintenance activities with results only being used for proof of service reports. Learning from large asset maintenance industries, key metrics, and condition monitoring can be used to define failure risks for equipment. This information can define maintenance cycles based on equipment profile or, at the very least, define a risk profile. Again, this is reliant on information collected in the field and, therefore, the level of compliance and engagement of your field force.
Scheduled maintenance costs can be difficult to justify to your customer. Service organizations are often criticized for poor performance due to failure rates on equipment they recommended replacing several years ago. Service visibility has moved beyond a simple service docket indicating you visited the site and completed a standard service. This is now how you are advertising your performance to your customer by providing a clear picture of all activities and recommendations. These reports should provide enough detail that a recommendation to replace any equipment shouldn’t come as a surprise to customers.
Through the processes above, you have a very detailed picture of your customers’ equipment, including the historic failure rate, condition (potentially including historical trends), and possibly even power consumption. These metrics provide a clear cost of ownership for the equipment and can offer an evidence-based case for replacement of poorly performing equipment. Every account representative will tell their customers: “Here’s how buying from me will save you money.” Having detailed information on cost savings and payback periods for capital expenses makes this much more than lip service.
Considerations for service reporting are often limited to after-the-fact remote engagement with customers. Is there a way we can enable service technicians to engage with customers while they are on-site? If we can give them the full details of a business case to replace equipment that has failed, this not only creates a better opportunity for customers to understand why the replacement is being recommended but truly believe the original fault wasn’t caused by poor maintenance, just old equipment. As those servicing the equipment, your service technicians already have credibility when they suggest replacements, which can enhance their credibility.
None of these concepts or processes are particularly new. Customer relationships come from how well you meet their needs and the level of credibility you can foster. Partnerships are formed through common goals. Effective use of technology can help you assist your customers in achieving these goals and allow you to move beyond being just a necessary overhead.
Publication date: 8/28/2017