Category Archives: Service

How Do You Assure Consist Reliable Service? Six Solutions

Situation:  A company has remote employees who are on a wide variety of schedules. Retaining great employees is a challenge, and with this consistent service due to turn-over. How do they improve the relationships that they have with remote employees? How do you assure consistent reliable service?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Guarantee employee income for a period after they lose a client and as you seek another assignment for them. Limit your exposure by setting hurdles – an employee must have served the company for X time to qualify for this benefit.
  • Create your own “down time” bank. Say you pay an employee $10. Give them $9 and put $1 into a bank so that you can pay them once they lose their current client. The fact that their bank is limited to the amount of these contributions creates an incentive not to draw down the bank.
  • Offer a paid day off per month of service.
  • How do you shift your business from commodity to specialty, as a value add business?
    • What Peace of Mind features could you provide to your clients to create added value and stickiness? For example, can you provide a portal into your system so that clients can access information on the services that you’ve provided, or enhance their ability to communicate with their own clients? What about access to time schedules, account notes, etc.
    • Look for a solution that will shift the industry.
    • Look at menu driven packaging and pricing options. Examples include discount pricing for purchase volume commitments or iPads for a significant level of investment.

How Do You Make The Best Use of Your Board? Eight Thoughts

Situation: A private company has a Board of Directors that functions more as an Advisory Board than a traditional Board. For example, they do not have the power to fire or replace the CEO. The CEO wants feedback on how to interact with the Board, and how to work with them between meetings. How do you make the best use of your Board?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Decide what you want from the Board, and clearly communicate this to the Members.
  • Treat the Board as a single entity – not as individuals. Avoid politicking individual members between meetings. Use the Board to drive decisions.
  • At your next Board meeting have a discussion with the Board:
    • Let the members know that you are concerned about whether you are using them effectively as a resource.
    • Lay out strategic elements to be dealt with over next period, and ask for their advice.
    • For example, if you are moving into a new market you need advice on how to succeed. Are they the right group to provide this advice? If not, what other expertise should be added to the Board?
    • Consider having this conversation in a special session of the Board.
  • Bring in expertise – if your industry has shifted, adjust the make-up of the Board to reflect the new realities. If you need to raise capital, look for expertise in this area.
  • Eliminate less productive members from the Board.
  • If you are looking at a new market, build an Advisory Board that is knowledgeable about this space, but who are not necessarily customers. Consider retired executives from companies in this market.
  • Additional needs that you might want to address either through your Board or an Advisory Board:
    • Financial expertise in new markets.
    • Where should you partner to make a complete offering or to supplement your offering?
  • Another CEO has a similar Board situation. In this case, the CEO makes it clear that Board members are expected to:
    • Make connections.
    • Assist in bringing in business.
    • Members are expected either to produce or they are off the Board.
    • Meetings are driven to a specific agenda with expectations of deliverables.

How Do You Inform a Client about a Problem? Five Solutions

Situation: A company provides staff for a client. Overall the client has been pleased with the staff provided, and only a couple of individuals have had to be replaced. The client was recently presented with an individual that they seem to like; however, the company has since developed reservations about this candidate. How do you inform a client about a potential problem?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Meet with this individual face to face or via video conference. During the interview, tactfully ask questions that will either disqualify the candidate or satisfy your concerns. Only continue to present this candidate to the client if you are thoroughly satisfied that they can meet the client’s needs and will represent you well.
  • Ask the client for their impression of the individual. If they do not express any concerns, then your own concerns may be overblown.
  • The client will require the candidate to be trained by them prior to fully bringing them on-board. This will provide another opportunity for the client to say yea or nay. If the individual completes training to the client’s satisfaction, then once again your concerns may not be justified.
  • In any communications with the client, take care to voice only concerns that you can substantiate. Otherwise, you might expose yourself to suit by the candidate.
  • Independent of this situation, adjust your selection process to require face to face or video conference interviews. This will prevent the recurrence of future situations like this one.

Can Bonus Plans Differ Between Departments? Four Thoughts

Situation: A CEO wants to build a new bonus program for the company’s professional services team. He wants to include a customer satisfaction component, because the group is historically weak in this area. Does it make sense to have a different bonus plan for professional services personnel and managers than for product development personnel and managers? Can bonus plans differ between departments?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Many companies have different bonus structures for different departments. This is natural because different departments have different functions. For example, Sales may evaluated for bonuses based on a combination of revenue and gross margin achievement, while Finance is evaluated on profitability and Product Development is evaluated on hitting product launch schedules and new product sales.
  • Changing bonus structures can be a sensitive matter. If the team impacted is not included in the process of drafting the new plan, changes may be perceived as negative. If this is the case, it’s better to frame the new program so that you limit your commitment to it to just one year, and let the team know that this may change this next year.
  • How do you go about including customer satisfaction surveys as a component of bonus calculation?
    • If you want to use customer satisfaction as part of the plan, benchmark customer service satisfaction before you launch the plan. If you don’t benchmark, how do you know whether performance improves?
    • Survey response rates will be an issue – you won’t get 100% and may get a survey response rate of 10% or worse. Be prepared for this and make sure that data with a low response rate will support your objectives.
    • A survey is a lagging metric. If you can find a measurable leading metric to use as well this is better.
    • Be careful of how the survey is drafted and who conducts it. Both can bias results.
  • As an alternative to making customer satisfaction part of a bonus plan, consider starting a customer satisfaction or loyalty program. The most important question to ask will be: would you recommend us to your peers?  Any low response guarantees a follow-up call from the company.

How Do You Handle Demands for Faster Delivery? Four Options

Situation: A company’s clients are demanding increasingly faster response times, particularly in areas that historically have not been considered mission critical. Clients also want faster answers to technical questions. Is this a common occurrence, and would you adjust pricing in response? How do you handle demands for faster delivery?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • If clients are demanding faster delivery, it’s entirely reasonable to tier your rates for different levels of service and delivery. Create cost / ROI breakdowns for different options, and let your clients make a business decision about the level of responsiveness that they need.
  • When brining on new clients, do a worst case down time analysis for the prospect as part of your evaluation process, then provide price options and let the prospect evaluate what is important to them. This is similar to different price / deductible levels with health or car insurance.
  • You will need to educate your current client base on what you are doing for them, and when they are reaching the upper levels of service provision under their current contract.
    • When you provide remote service, communicate what you have done.
      • Email individualized update reports to client contacts.
      • When you meet clients face to face, have a printout of service provided and toot your own horn about your service and delivery.
  • Be aware of the needs of clients who have distributed locations across time zones. A two-hour response time on the West Coast at 8:00 in the morning, translates to a half day for an East Coast location because they can’t call you until 11:00am Eastern time.

How Do You Eliminate a Them-Us Cultural Divide? Six Thoughts

Situation: A company acquired an office in a new geography at no cost – just a commitment to keep the office going. The immediate challenge is transferring the previous owner’s client base to the new owner’s service. The people in the distant location are OK, but it will take coaching for them to deliver the new owner’s level of service. However, these people are proud and resistant to change. How do you eliminate a them-us cultural divide?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Involve the person who facilitated the acquisition in the integration process. Get his opinion of what is needed.
  • Your prime commitment is to the client base and past practices that built the client base. Maintain or surpass this level of service.  As long as the team meets this level of performance, they are serving your objectives.
    • You and the key manager of the newly acquired office should meet with their most important clients. Help the manager convert those clients for you.
  • Your other implied commitment is to the manager and employees that you inherited through this deal. Educate them on your approach – “we will do all that we can to create success for our clients.” Connect with the manager, understand how this person serves clients, and coach the individual.
  • Be fair – the fairest method of managing is a meritocracy.
  • Manage by results, not process – if the core values between the two sites are similar, allow for cultural differences in local practice.
  • If all this doesn’t work and you want for “them” to become “us” you will have to have someone from the home office move to the distant office and manage it.

How Do You Respond to a New Competitor? Six Options

Situation: A company performs service that is primarily locally-based.  A competitor is establishing a new site less than two miles from the company’s location, offers a broader array of services and is larger than the company. How can the company protect its business by responding to this new competition?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Your most important asset is understanding what you are doing right, and what is most important to your customers.  Remember that business is more than just a product or service. It’s a relationship. Your customers depend upon your for more than just what you offer for sale. Reach out to your customers for these answers. Make sure that you respond to their needs. As a benefit you may also find new growth opportunities.
  • Ask current customers whether you need to expand your service offering, or whether your current offering and lead time is acceptable to them. Ask how their needs are changing and how you can better serve them.
  • Reestablish the connection to your customer and listen. Preempt new competition by contacting your customer base before the competitor gains a stronghold.
  • Study your options and avoid knee-jerk reactions.  You may be in better shape that you think.
  • Major retailers and service companies have moved into many locations. Local businesses who survive their presence do so because they are focused on their customers’ needs and are better at serving the customers that the big companies are.
  • Invest in key components of your business relationships:  services, payment terms, responsiveness, your facilities, and so forth.

When is “Good Enough” Enough? Five Factors

Situation: A company is about to launch a Beta version of their web-based software. The CEO strives for perfection. What is sufficient for launch, and can the company tolerate imperfections in Beta version? When is “good enough” enough?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Many successful software companies – think Microsoft – have realized that finishing the last 10-20% of a new release can be as expensive and time consuming as the first 80-90%. The challenges are often greater and it’s difficult to prioritize the final pieces. So they release when the software is 80-90% complete, prioritize the final pieces based on user feedback, and focus on quick response to user feedback.
  • You really have no idea how users will experience a new web-based program until you hear it from them. They will tell you what does and does not need to be fixed. They may even be able to help you fix it! Craig’s list stinks from a pure GUI perspective, but is highly popular and successful.
  • Get the Beta program out ASAP. What you perceive as imperfections may not appear as problems to young Beta users, and may in a way add a quirky appeal to the user experience.
  • Find a customer or group of customers who will pay for the program. Only this proves its actual worth. There can be conditions for a Beta release and discounts, but if nobody is willing to pay, where is the value?
  • Consider releasing your Beta version in a college campus environment and invite both participation and feedback. College students are very web-savvy, more tolerant of Beta programs, and crave the opportunity to contribute.
    • As an additional bonus, when you are ready to launch, college students are great at helping you generate buzz and early adoption because they talk to so many of their friends from both college and high school.

How Do You Tell a Client That They’re Wrong? Five Factors

Situation: A company’s client is furious at the service they received from the company, It turns out upon investigation that the source of the client’s difficulty arose from their own actions, not from anything done by the company or its employees. How do you tell a client that their assumptions are wrong?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Ask open-ended questions in an attempt to “clarify your understanding” of what happened. You want the client to answer these questions so that they explain the situation to themselves. Always allow them to save face in this process. Some people are better at this technique than others.
  • Try to understand the client’s experience of the problem as opposed to focusing on the problem itself. This may reveal more deep-seated challenges facing the client that are just being expressed through the current situation.
  • Email communications often complicate these conversations. Call or visit to let the client know that you are responding personally to their concern. The best communication is person-to-person through conversation. Let them vent. Peel back the onion through questioning to reveal the core problem.
  • Be honest. Not negative but simply honest. Listen to gain understanding and repeat the facts, as stated by the client, to assure that you properly understand their perspective. If you need to present your own perspective, and it differs from the client’s, do this in a neutral, unemotional tone.
  • Sometimes you will find a win-win in these discussions, and sometimes you won’t.

Would You Dedicate Staff to a Single Client? Five Considerations

Situation: A company has received an inquiry from a large client requesting that they dedicate a significant portion of their staff to that client. The company hasn’t done this in the past, and the CEO seeks advice on the advisability of this choice. Would you dedicate significant staff to a single client?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Provided that the terms offered by the client are favorable, the proposition may make sense. However, there are certain terms that you may want to assure are included in the contract:
    • In return for your dedicating choice staff to this project, ask for a substantial upfront payment – perhaps 50% of the total contract – to reimburse you for the opportunity costs that you incur committing your resources to the project.
    • Insist that the contract allows interchangeability of personnel if circumstances prevent initial personnel from continuing with the project.
  • Internally, work to assure that this project does not adversely impact your culture.
  • Talk to other companies that you know who have had similar arrangements with large clients. This will give you an understanding of the benefits and pitfalls of the arrangements.
  • Do everything that you can to assure that this project does not distract from your broader business strategy. Cash from the project may be nice, but if it inhibits your overall business strategy it may not be worth it.
  • If the employees assigned to this project are not happy with their assignment, the project may lead to unwanted turnover.