Field Service consultant and author Jim Baston continues his new series based upon his excellent industry focussed book Beyond Great Service
If you missed the introduction to this series you can find part one here
The book, Beyond GREAT SERVICE opens on a conversation that Charlie is having with a long-time customer. His company has lost the renewal of a large maintenance contract and the customer has kindly agreed to meet with Charlie to explain why they made the decision that they did. Perhaps you have had a similar conversation with one of your customers.
“I just can’t see any difference,” explains Joe. “I think you guys do good work and our building managers really seem to like you. However, I can’t justify the premium for the maintenance contract that you are asking for over your competitors. Can you?”
“Good question,” thinks Charlie. He expected this and has been practicing his response all morning, but it just doesn’t ring true to him.
“Joe, we do great work, pure and simple. We hire only the best mechanics. Our mobile fleet is in constant contact with our dispatch so we can respond quickly to any emergency, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our field service team is polite and courteous and our quality is excellent—we have very few call-backs.” Charlie leans back in his chair, relieved that he was able to get it all out. Before he can decide if he has done a good job or not, Joe is shaking his head.
“Charlie, I know you guys do good work and that your team is friendly. Most of our building managers really like you—even Gus at 2270 Main Street, and that’s saying something. But Barnett Mechanical and 99% of the rest of your competitors can say just what you said. They hire good people too. Barnett for example, has won the Customer’s Select award three years in a row and can show you a ream of customer satisfaction surveys that substantiate their claims. I know ‘cause I’ve seen them. Peter, our newest property manager is very familiar with them from the time he spent at Acme Developments, and he can’t speak highly enough about them.
“Charlie, I guess what I am saying is that I am going to switch my business to your competitor because I think they will do a comparable job for less money. It’s nothing against you or your company. It’s simply a business decision. What would you do if you were in my shoes?”
The question facing most service providers then is, how can they stand out in this increasingly competitive environment? How can they provide a demonstrable difference from their competitors – a difference worth paying for?
For most service firms, any competitive advantage they have is quickly matched or even exceeded by competitors. Customer service levels and corresponding customer expectations continue to rise. Unless reminded, any added value provided is quickly taken for granted by the customer and they assume that all service providers provide similar value.
The question facing most service providers then is, how can they stand out in this increasingly competitive environment? How can they provide a demonstrable difference from their competitors – a difference worth paying for? For the answer to this, we are given a clue by the closing paragraphs of Chapter 1.
Although Charlie thinks that he would probably make the same decision, he just mumbles something about appreciating Joe’s time and thanks him for his past business. As Joe walks Charlie down to the elevator, Charlie strains to make conversation. He asks clumsily, “Rising energy costs and stiffer competition must be impacting your customers significantly. What are you doing to help them?”
Joe looks Charlie in the eye, shakes his hand and says, “You sure picked a funny time to ask that question.” The elevator pings to announce its arrival and Joe turns and walks away.
Joe’s response to Charlie’s question puzzles Charlie greatly.
He discusses the conversation with his service supervisor Ken. They focus on Joe’s response to Charlie’s question and Ken helps him come to the realisation that Joe’s response might be linked to the fact that he felt that it should have been asked earlier in their relationship. During the contract, questions like that would have given the service provider more insight into the challenges faced by the customer in achieving their goals.
With that insight, Charlie could have added great value to their relationship. By understanding their challenges, they could proactively identify and recommend actions that could be taken by Joe’s firm to overcome those challenges and achieve their goals. This would provide a level of service beyond simply keeping the equipment running well.
Thinking about your business:
- What makes you different from your competitors?
- If you asked your competitors this question, how would your answer be different?
- What do your customers value most?
- How do you know this?
- What is it about “what makes you different” that allows you to deliver on that value?
Next time we will examine more closely the technician’s role in bringing ideas to the customer and why their proactive actions are an important part of the service and not an “add-on” selling activity.