Situation: A company wants to up its game by focusing on service. They are evaluating different options to provide customized services to gain a sustainable differentiating advantage over their competition. How do you enhance your customer service model?
from the CEOs:
the gaming industry one CEO sees an effective model focusing on higher level customer
service. The top games have allowed user customization using generic
customization tools. This allows the provider of the tool kit to serve a larger
number of users using a single tool kit to provide a wide variety of gaming
example from the gaming industry focuses on middleware developers. These
developers create an interactive knowledge base for customer self-service. The
knowledge base is monitored by the host company, and misleading or potentially
harmful input is excluded. The benefit is that this enlists clients to provide
their input on customer service as well as product development.
CEO sees this as a useful way to drive down customer service costs by providing
more tools and fewer bodies to perform the customer service task. The model’s
objective is for the customer not to need personalized service, but to be able
to develop solutions on their own using a flexible took kit. The host company
gains additional advantage because their user agreement allows them to take the
best models used by clients to spark their own product development.
fourth CEO sees lasting value in developing close relationships with customers.
They have developed tools that allow the customer to solve simple customer
service tasks but require company assistance for the more sophisticated
solutions. The company, in exchange for this added expense, learns from the
A company is losing billings because individual billings are getting lost in
their process flow. Requests for enhancements come from clients to Project
Managers. Project Managers take on development of the enhancements but are
sometimes too busy to keep track and don’t report their work to the billing
department. How do you improve quote to collections flow?
from the CEOs:
appears that two processes are missing:
formal trigger mechanism to assure that a PO is in place BEFORE Project
Managers undertake enhancement work, and
are incentivized to assure that the client is billed and revenue collected for
the work performed.
the process and do not allow Project Mangers to initiate any work until a work
request is logged in the billing system and a PO is received from the customer to
cover the expense.
a process to track customer requests, estimate development and transmission to
billing, forwarding of estimates by billing to the customer with a request for a
PO, and upon receipt of PO authorization by billing to initiate work.
can all be tracked and managed by most accounting software packages.
Facilitate tracking of
actual expense vs. estimate;
Tracking of requests
for which no POs are received, for client follow-up; and
Tracking of enhancement
requests to guide future product development.
Account Managers to track and manage the process.
an Account Manager receives a commission for enhancement work they will have an
incentive to keep track of all ongoing work, both for timely delivery and to
assure that the customer invoiced for the work.
paid to the Account Mangers will be a small percent of the extra revenue collected.
improve process management, schedule regular meetings to review all enhancement
and other work being done for clients. Review and assure that all work has
accompanying POs, that the work is being completed on a timely basis and in
line with original estimates, and that the company is invoicing and being paid
for the work. Empower Account Managers to organize and conduct these meetings. Their
incentive will be the commissions they will collect on payment for the work.
upgrades and a certain number of enhancements into the product price.
enables to company to increase prices and to collect prepayment for
enhancements and upgrades that may or may not be requested.
the process outlined above to track enhancements which are credited against the
prepaid accounts, and to assure that enhancements above the prepaid limit are
Situation: A CEO is evaluating a horizontal market development opportunity to markets related to their current market. There may be branding implications. The new opportunity focused on a different sector and can add business unrelated to current customers. However, the new opportunity will stretch current resources and potentially impact current business and service delivery. How do you expand into new markets?
Advice from the CEOs:
Because the new opportunity utilizes known capabilities the company should be able to segue into the new market relatively easily.
Because the company is already familiar with security and other issues relevant to the new market, compliance should present no challenge.
Consider the impact on company time and resources. Building any new business will challenge current priorities and will require a careful balancing of efforts to assure that both current and new customers’ needs are being met.
Build workload and service schedules for both existing customers and the effort that it will take to develop the new opportunity including the time needed to create and build new customer relationships. Take your best estimate of resource utilization for the new effort and double it, then ask whether your current staff and capacity can handle both markets. If the answer is positive, then you can be more comfortable with the decision to expand into new markets.
As you evaluate the new market opportunity, look at both anticipated and unanticipated but predictable challenges that customers may face over the next five years.
For example, is there misalignment between future challenges likely to be faced and the current expertise and skill sets of managers who will be tasked with addressing these challenges? If so, tailor the sales pitch for new capacities to address these challenges.
Are there existing mismatches between products and services currently offered in the new markets, and do proposed solutions help to address these mismatches? If so, there may be significant opportunities in addressing these mismatches across multiple customers within the affected markets.
Situation: A boutique software company with superior expertise in their market competes against a large corporation that provides similar software for “free.” The competitor sells systems with their software pre-installed; however, these systems are known to work better with the boutique company’s software. How do you compete against free software?
Advice from the CEOs:
Create an alternate message that rings consistently through your advertising, speaking, and media. The core of this message is that if you want a successful experience with the competitor’s installation, the only clear choice is your software. Feature data from your case studies showing improvements in performance, savings of time and resources, etc.
Your best target is customers who are in the proof of concept stage. Here they are learning about the system and dealing with the early challenges with the software installed by the competitor. They not only have to pay for the system, but they must pay for installation services. If you can demonstrate both cost savings and smoother operation they will be open to your pitch.
Keep a list of the competitor’s trial sites and approach them three months after they try the pre-installed software. Have case studies in hand that demonstrate the clear superiority of your software. At this point they will have experienced enough during the trial that they will be open to your sales message.
Focus on the regional rales organizations of your competitor – the people who sell the competitor’s equipment. The RSOs are driven purely by sales performance. Show them that it is easier to sell their systems, and that trials go more smoothly when they recommend your software as part of the sale.
Your message: with our software your trial installations go more smoothly; without our software, the entire system sale is at risk.
Continue to refine your search engine optimization so that you appear in the first five hits when anybody asks about the competitor’s systems or software.
Find an independent Blogger who cares and wants to spread the message that your software is the only way to go with the competitor’s system. Continually feed this blogger with fresh material from your field sales experience.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.