My key finding?
If organisations still think that good customer service is their unique selling proposition (USP) or brand differentiator, they're right out of step with modern competitive trends.
From good to great
One of the teams that I interviewed was the Microsoft Services Management unit. To gain real insight into their operations, I spoke to a range of their clients. One client, in a state owned enterprise (SOE), was so blown away by the service he received from the team that he was almost on a crusade to prove that it wasn't sustainable, and that they weren't as good as they appeared.
To cut a long story short - he's still trying, unsuccessfully, to prove his case. Within his own organisation, that very team recommended using a competitor's product when one of theirs didn't meet the client requirement well enough.
Can you imagine the level of customer commitment that it must take for you to let a competitive product in through the door? But the impact that had on the client was beyond measure!
Insight and understanding
One of the factors that emerges very clearly when working with top teams is that they go all out to understand the customer's business. In some cases, they even embed team members in the client organisation. This way, they become part of the system and really get to grips with how they can truly add value.
In one organisation, for example, a customer commented that the service providers knew their client's business so well that they were adding strategic value. And because the provider had global offices, they were sharing market intelligence and insight that was ahead of the curve - and even ahead of the client's own learning.
This was a brilliant tactic because it strengthens the client and service provider bond in such a way that the provider becomes almost indispensable to the client organisation. Not in a threatening manner, but in a way that adds such value and unique knowledge that the inertia factor of finding a replacement will be very high...Even if things were to go dramatically wrong!
The lesson here?
Rather drill deep into client organisations, and get to really understand them to the point where you can start anticipating needs and suggest innovations - even before they think they need it.
That's the real definition of being a strategic partner. And if you really want a USP - being a strategic business partner in your client's organisation is the way to go. It's also an advantage that your competitors will struggle hard to match.
Six ways to become a key strategic partner:
- Change your mindset from being a service provider to being a strategic partner...
- this is a big mindset shift: it implies that your customer's business is as important as yours!
- Understand your customer's business from the inside out. Go the extra mile - understand the competitive environment as well as your customers' customers.
- Be a step ahead of your customers: understand their learning curves and how you can be in front of their learning curve to provide key insights that will have maximum impact.
- Ensure your business is structured in a totally customer -centric way - challenge every aspect of what you do, and put the customer at the centre of whatever you do
- Focus on creating incredible stories that get spoken about in your client's environment.
- Continuously innovate - challenge the status quo and remain relevant.