What do we expect when we buy goods or services from a supplier?
Sales people will justify the price they charge through citing quality as what customers will get for their hard earned cash. What is quality and is their definition of quality the same as their expectations? Have you ever been told by a salesperson that “we will do a bad job?”
Quality is an expectation that is a given. Therefore why do businesses make such a song and dance about it as that’s what the customer is paying for?
What customers want today is certainty. This relates to the whole sales process and in many cases customers have to fit the process of the supplier rather than the supplier fitting their process to the customer.
What is certainty and how might this be delivered. I believe we can make some assumptions around certainty which include:
The product or service will be delivered to the agreed standard
Delivery dates will be met.
Aftercare is in place to solve any issues and problems which might arise.
The issue for suppliers today is do the processes we have fit with the customer’s expectation? What flexibility have they in place to meet customer’s expectations which do not fit with their processes?
Will business be lost as a result if suppliers are unable to be flexible? What impact will failing to meet the expectations of customers and indeed their customers have on the business and indeed our customers business?
The buzz words thrown at customers and potential customers are “partnership” and “solution” but what do those mean and do customers have the same understanding of what those mean? More importantly when we speak about solution do we mean giving the customer what we want them to have or actually giving them a solution that will meet their need?
What do we need to consider when delivering certainty? There are 5 key areas which are as follows:
Customer – What do we know about them and their business drivers? Why do their customers buy from them and what certainty do they provide for their customers? How can we support them in delivering their own certainty?
Sales people need to better understand the customer, their business drivers and the impact of failing to understand or achieve the business drivers. They also should investigate the customer fully and gain an understanding of the customer’s organisation, its history and organisation to better deliver Certainty. It still surprises me when sales people are unable to provide me with any background knowledge to their customer or where they see themselves in the ladder of engagement. Mainly transacting business probably..
Process – Does the Organisation have processes in place which support the delivery of services or products to the customer? How do they attract customers and what customers are they looking to do business with? Do people understand the processes and are they clear on how the Organisation will deliver certainty?
I’m currently working with a number of clients to assess, review the effectiveness of their internal processes, where breakdowns occur, why these happen and how they process can be re-engineered to meet the company’s and their customer’s needs.
Knowledge - What does the Organisation know about their competition, why do they consider them competition and how does their offering compare? Is the competition delivering certainty and how are they achieving this? What product knowledge do we need in terms of our organisation and the customers organisation and how will we make this available? What industry expertise do we have and how can we maximise this?
To be honest, I’m somewhat conflicted here, as I have two trains of thought which are:
1) If you spend too much time looking at your competition you stand a chance of becoming them and losing your way as a business
2) Some successful businesses have paid little or no heed to the competition as they have developed a customer service process which they believe to be “niche” and therefore the competition follows them rather than the other way about
When advising clients I tend to outline both practices but feel that some competition analysis is no bad thing and that the best way forward is somewhere between the two.
However, in my experience I have found that it is not normal practice within some companies to undertake an exercise to compare how their offering compares to their competitors. What relationships do they have with our customers (existing and potential)?
Using a Sales Effectiveness Profile we can understand how sales people create relationships and rapport with clients and how the customer perceives them in the engagement process. We can also understand whether they are speaking to decision makers and where they stand in the customer’s sight against the competition and how they can change or improve this perception.
Skills – What skills do people need to consult with customers and how will we ensure they act in a consistent manner?
The organisation needs to understand the skills and knowledge needed both internally and externally to deliver Certainty to the customer and is not all about sales people. Everyone within the business needs to understand how they support delivery to the customer and how important their contribution to this is.
I have seen some organisations where some employees feel the customer becomes an annoyance rather than the central point that their service should revolve around and unsurprisingly, this leads to a high level of customer complaints. People should be able to state what the customer means to our business. I was held up in traffic beside the Cummins Engines factory in Huddersfield some time ago. Looking in through the factory window I saw a sign which said “customer service begins here.” Never a truer word has been written.
Application – Successful businesses create an environment within their organisations where their people are positive about their roles and understand how this helps the business to be successful.
I read a quote that said, “It is the role of the leader to make the challenges of the business so exciting that people want to get to work and solve them!” I have been fortunate in working for a couple of organisations that encouraged you to be innovative and positive and so the atmosphere was electric when you got to work. I’m sure many organisations and business leaders would want the same, but it takes work and effort to make that happen. Recently, I heard about an organisation who wanted to introduce the happiness advantage in the workplace, which was a great idea. The flaw in the process, was that the MD felt that people just needed to be happy and that nothing needed to change to make that happen. The result as you can guess was not a roaring success.
So, that’s what we need to give certainty to our customers:
- Understand what they want
- Develop processes and procedures to do just that
- Understand what makes us different and why they buy from us
- Give our people the skills to build relationships with them
- Create an environment which allows people to understand their role in delivering customer service
Simples isn’t it……