Service still matters
It used to be that many people strove to provide great service as a matter of pride in the job, knowing that this investment would see a long term return – which it usually did. Yes, there are situations where price is king, however, we’ve all returned to a company as a direct result of receiving great service. Service that made things easy, made us feel special, anticipated our needs before we even knew we had them.
Nowadays ‘you get what you pay for’ seems to be the way of the world of service. You can get great service in a bar or restaurant, as long as you tip well. Are we saying that someone who tips based on the quality of service they experience is less valuable than someone who pays up front? Rather than providing great service and being rewarded for it in most cases, this behavior encourages ‘usual’ service to be average or poor.
That may be ok in a restaurant that is turning people away – focus on the big spenders. But in many B2B organizations there are only so many customers. And if you annoy one person at your customer then they tell others. Equally, if you can delight them they will likely talk to others about their experience, creating a point of difference for you.
Account teams often think they are providing great service, but are they really? And compared to what? Just because you are better than your direct competitor the customer may still be saying “all my suppliers are the same”. (And by the way, just because you are buying you don’t escape – if you need something when you are in a bind you want to be the customer that the supplier wants to go the extra mile for).
Delivering truly great customer service makes a difference. More and more. As price becomes more transparent service is more of a discriminator: when two prices are similar we are going to make decisions based on other factors. So how do we define great customer service?
“Surprise and Delight” is a definition I personally like. When someone does something I didn’t expect, sometimes even didn’t know I wanted, it stands out; it creates that ‘delight’ in me. It can be a quick thing like holding a door for me, or it can be someone bringing a long term vision of how I can look after my clients better. In either case the key is to understand me, be in my mind, anticipate my needs. And if you can do it before I’ve even done it then I’m loving your work.
Now in B2B relationships we often have customers or suppliers that we have to deal with. And over time we work hard to understand our contacts. However, many truly surprising and delightful occurrences are where we think not only about their customer, but their customer’s customer. How can we help our customer serve their customer better?
This mindset needs to be understood, prioritized, bought into and then celebrated when it is demonstrated. To do this we need to build our organization to achieve this. Do it with the customer’s customer in mind. Now, in many cases organizations try to do this… but often we see it overcomplicated or cut across departments that don’t communicate effectively. For example, the marketing department studies the consumer and the sales team works on the customer… and we have all been in organizations where these two groups could communicate better!
To be the supplier or customer of choice we must be clear of our purpose for working with our business partners: truly understanding what is, and will be, important to them. Then we need to embrace this. It is easy to dismiss their demands as extreme or ‘plays’ when they could be signaling what is critical for their business. And as with all critical business goals, everyone in our organization must understand its importance, what the plan is to address it and how they can contribute. With this alignment understanding, and as a result ideas, will become commonplace.
If we listen, really listen, and then explore the other side’s motives we will be much better placed to surprise and delight our business partners. We become their number one choice.