In my last blog, we explored the Customer Service Pillar of being Responsive in the context of what customers are expecting from the IT Solution providers today. 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 4th Pillar of successful customer service – being Strategic.
When I was a young IT sales professional in my 20’s, I learned a very important lesson from a wise Chief Information Officer (CIO) who decided to invest in my development. The story I am about to tell is true, but the names have been omitted to protect the innocent. After 2 years of hard work, we had established our company as a strategic provider of IT Solutions for one of the largest railroads in America. I had developed a strong trust-based relationship with the CIO and she was an outspoken positive reference for our work.
I took my hard fought experiences and reached out to the CIO of another large railroad. After an exhaustive “never give up” cold calling campaign, I wore the poor CIO down and he agreed to meet with me. As my airplane touched down in the city where this railroad was headquartered, I could feel my excitement building. You see, I had so much to share with this CIO. I arrived 30 minutes early wearing a dark suit and my power tie. As I waited outside his office, I reviewed in my mind what I had rehearsed and prepared. Promptly at 11 a.m., I was escorted in to a large office where Mr. CIO sat behind his desk looking very professional and somewhat intimidating.
We exchanged some pleasantries about the weather and a recent football game, and then I began my pitch. My confidence level was at an all-time high, and the words flowed from my mouth like a beautiful river. The CIO seemed to be listening to everything I said; and he would occasionally nod and say, “You don’t say.” I ended my discussion with my closing statement, “As you can see, we have proven technical expertise in all of these important areas; and we could do the same magic for you!”
For the first time in 30 minutes, I was silent. The CIO looked at me and said “Steve, I really appreciate you taking the time to come all the way out here to meet with me and tell me about all the wonderful things you are doing for another railroad. To be candid, we don’t have a need for any of the technologies or solutions you just presented.” With that, he walked me to the door and said, “My assistant will show you out.” I was dumbfounded and in a state of shock. My delivery was perfect and my discussions focused on the railroad industry. What the heck?
Two days later, back in Colorado, I picked up the phone and called Mr. Railroad CIO who graciously agreed to talk with me. I simply wanted to know what happened. Mr. Railroad CIO shared with me that he purposely showed me the door to teach me a lesson that he hoped would benefit me throughout my future life in business. He explained that my focus should always be on first seeking to understand the needs, desires and priorities of the client. He said, “It doesn’t matter what you have done, how you have done it or what you have accomplished, if it isn’t relevant to the needs of the client sitting in front of you.” He followed this with, “Never sell before you understand.” That experience has stuck with me since, and I thank Mr. Railroad CIO for his willingness to teach me an important lesson.
Being strategic means being relevant; and being relevant can only happen if a customer’s needs, requirements, and business are clearly understood. Today, clients expect that their IT Solution Providers are investing in the process of learning their business, their culture, and their operations. Without this investment in knowledge, IT Solution Providers are throwing things against the proverbial wall and hoping something sticks. Too often, IT Solution Providers wait for their clients to request technology – hardware, software, solutions – and then they react and respond to those requests. This is a reactive model of service, and most IT Solution Providers fall into this bucket.
While being responsive is important, as I discussed in my last blog, being proactive can lead to true customer service and loyalty. Imagine a conversation with a client that goes something like this:
“Mrs. Client, based on your key initiatives for the coming year and your focus on getting your IT staff up to speed on technology X, I thought you would benefit from this written case study of an implementation of this solution we recently did for another client. Let me know if you would like to talk about how we could help you in the same way.”
This proactive type of value can create huge separation between yourself and your competition and the sales process advances much more smoothly. All of this sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? Then why in the world are we, as an industry, not doing it more consistently?
Perhaps because it takes time. Being Strategic requires an investment of time and effort to learn about your customer in many areas:
- Current IT infrastructure, operations, and applications
- Key initiatives and priorities
- IT vision & strategy looking forward (future)
- Procurement, budgeting, approval process
- Current IT staff (expertise and experience)
If an IT Solution Provider can share ideas, solutions, and technologies based on the actual needs and operational realities of a client, those ideas and solutions have a much greater chance of adding value to the client.Don’t make the mistake I made by “showing up and throwing up” without first doing your homework and investing in learning what really matters to the client. Your investment will separate you for the competition and create an opportunity to add relevant value to your client.
Next week we will explore the importance of being Trusted by our clients and the process to create the opportunity for a trust-based relationship.
Until we meet again, I wish you the very best in your efforts to serve customers in the ways they wish to be served.