In my last blog, we explored the Customer Service Pillar of being Invested, emphasizing the importance of focus and being great in only a few things. I discussed how clients expect greatness on the very first engagement and how leveraging professional partnerships to broaden our ability to serve clients is critical in today’s rapidly changing IT landscape. As a reminder, I am writing from a customer service roadmap called CustomerFIRST where the word FIRST is an acrostic.
This week I am addressing the 3rd pillar of successful customer service – being Responsive.
Only a few years ago, being responsive as an IT Solution Provider was all about getting quotes delivered to a client within a reasonable amount of time. In most cases, getting quotes delivered in 2-3 days was the norm. Major investments in online ordering and configuration systems have upped the ante; and getting quotes is now measured in minutes and hours, not days. In fact, if a customer already knows what he wants to buy, IT solution providers and Value Added Resellers (VARs) likely won’t be in a business very long if they can’t respond with a same-day quote and precise information on the availability of the product. I believe this level of responsiveness is considered “table stakes” by customers today.
More complex solutions involving sizing, engineering, demonstrations, testing, proof-of-concepts, etc., are different; and clients understand that these non-commodity solutions require time and additional layers of expertise. What is fascinating is that these “value solutions” are viewed by clients as being a smaller and smaller percentage of their IT buying experience. To make matters more challenging, larger clients are also interested in their IT partners being able to ship product the same or next day to meet real-time demands and changing business requirements. If a vendor is able to provide this near real-time service, the client is able to respond even faster to the business needs. It is clear that both speed and expectations continue to increase.
Because we are focused in this discussion around building and maintaining the highest levels of customer service, I would argue that operating at hyper-responsiveness is required to have a seat at the table; but it doesn’t necessarily buy loyalty. Instead, I believe that responsiveness is most valuable when a client needs immediate technical support or help. This help may take the form of a system or application being down, a service that is operating too slowly, or a project that must be completed by a certain date. Being able to pull a client out of the fire creates the most lasting and meaningful relationship opportunities. While none of us hope for our clients to have emergencies, most of us have been in the IT game long enough to know that emergencies will happen; it is just a matter of when.
The reality today is that clients demand operational speed and agility from IT vendors who hope to even have seat at the table, but true relationship and loyalty is earned by stepping up when the chips are down. These are the moments that clients remember and hold on to when loyalty is called into question. To do this requires more than an online ordering or configuration system. Indeed, this type of responsiveness is provided through technical experts who are ready and willing to jump into the fire. I would further argue that the organization providing the “jumpers” must also align with this philosophy because there is often insufficient time to put in place another contract or a Statement of Work (SOW). In most cases, the paperwork is done after the emergency has passed. While these words are likely heresy to many CEOs, COOs, and especially CFOs, it is the price (I believe) that is required to earn that coveted position of a true partner in the eyes of our clients.
Assuming this is all true, how do we, as leaders, ensure that our organizations are ready to respond when our clients really need our help? How do we guarantee that we are responsive in the way that our clients need us to be? I suppose those are questions that each of us must answer for ourselves, but the challenge and the opportunity exist to be a difference maker by being responsive.
Next week we will explore the importance of being Strategic with our clients and the priority of seeking first to understand before we attempt to solve.
Until we meet again, I wish you the very best in your efforts to serve customers in the ways they wish to be served.