In an attempt to improve its customer service, internet company Easynet recently surveyed its customers to find out what they actually wanted from their business relationship. The conclusions drawn are very interesting and useful if you run a business to businesses operation. Easynet’s focus was on receiving good service as a customer, but to my mind, the ten ideas they highlighted could just as easily be used to improve service delivery.
You can read the full report at Easynet but below I’ve summarised some ideas for how you could use these tips to improve your own service delivery:
1. Know what your customers want – ensure you know what your customers objectives are before trying to sell a service. You can’t deliver an excellent product if you don’t fully understand why the customer is making the purchase. A good example is when you buy a mobile phone, the retailer always asks you about how you use your phone before trying to sell you a call plan – this way the product choice will better match your needs. The result, you’ll be happier with your purchase.
2. Choose carefully – if you are fortunate enough to be selective over your clients, then make sure you choose carefully. Think about whether you can deliver a quality product, but also factors such as can they actually afford to pay? When delivering your service, do you need to work with partners or contractors? If so how can you ensure they provide the service level you expect for your clients? Choose partners carefully.
3. Ask for and enforce a Service Level Agreement (SLA) – negotiate your SLA carefully with clients and don’t overestimate what you will actually be able to deliver. Always expect your clients to enforce the agreement, even if you think on a personal level they will not. For example, many PR agencies may be measured and paid on a performance by results basis, but the results target has to be fair to both client and agency.
4. Hold regular reviews – ensure you report to your client regularly on progress. If things are going badly, it’s better to identify this early and work out a solution with your customer, rather than burying your head in the sand. If you are performing better than expected, it doesn’t hurt to ensure the client is aware of this.
5. Integrate the supplier into your company - as a service provider I have often found myself kept at arms length from my client and unable to really get under their skin. I can always provide a more valuable service when I have a good feel for the culture and a good understanding of how the company works. With that in mind, I try to imbed myself as much as possible with my clients. Can you do the same? If you offer accountancy advice, would you benefit from visiting your clients premises ad getting to know some of the key staff?
6. Get involved - if you can allow your customers to participate in the service delivery, then they’ll better understand what they’re getting and how it adds value. For example, if you are an architects practice, can you involve your client more in the design process? If the client adds more to the design stage, can you demonstrate how their decisions impact service delivery?
7. Do unto others as you would do unto yourself – a no brainer really.
8. Be realistic – again another no brainer. Don’t over promise and under deliver, after all would you be happy with that? What is in your SLA?
9. Feedback and feedback again – this fits well with the regular reviews in point 4. If you are struggling to provide what your customer has asked for then let them know. But also feedback to your client if their performance is impacting your ability to provide a good service. For example if you’re a PR agency, you will need good information from your client to provide an effective service. How often do you get this?
10. Learn a language - this point is about the benefit of learning a few words of your customers local language. But it could just as easily apply to corporate terminology and industry jargon. The more you know about your customers and their industry, the better you will become at providing an effective service.
Overall an excellent and extremely useful report and I congratulate Easynet on taking such a proactive approach to delivering good customer service. One of the highlights of the report to me is this quote “It was clear that the key to success is to develop an open, honest business relationship” with business partners.” I agree entirely, be open, be honest and most importantly be clear in your communications and relationships.