Finding nuggets of customer gold

Jan 23, 2014 • FeaturesManagementmanagementNick FrankNoventumService Delivery

This is the 3rd article in a series of case studies which examines how companies can improve their understanding of there own Value, create more effective GO-TO Market strategies and drive profitability through efficient Service Delivery models.

‘If you want customer insight to develop new services, go ask the sales force’….uh oh …probably not completely the right idea.  Sorry guys but customer’s talk to sales people in a different kind of way. So while sales input is essential, there are many factors that influence the accuracy of the feedback.

If you really want to understand what your customers value, probably its best to go direct to the customers themselves. That’s why many senior managers insist on visiting customer. But how many times have you heard the CEO call for a change of direction based on a recent visit to an unhappy customer.  A more balanced approach is needed to make informed decisions, if you do not want to fall into the trap of this frequently used quote, ’8% of companies think they deliver superior experience…….only 8% of their customers agree!’

The solution to a balanced & informed analysis is often to involve impartial 3rd parties.

Take Yokogoawa,  an industrial leader in automation solutions for process industries. Back in 2010 they wanted to know what services their customers thought they should offer. They had talked to the sales force who came back with a pure price, price, price argument. To the Benelux service manager Ton van den Ham, this did not add up, and he felt that perhaps they were asking the wrong questions in the wrong way. So he engaged a 3rd party to help structure a set of visits and interviews aimed at getting under underneath the skin of their customers. Why a 3rd party. Well he wanted an impartial perspective that did not carry Yokogawa baggage.

The interviews were done jointly with the 3rd party acting as a coach and sometime lead. To Yokogawa’s amazement they found that their customer’s really appreciated the technical competence of the application engineers. That the customer’s challenge, was not in fact lower prices, but to have more stable and predictable processes for their chemical plants. The customer’s wanted Yogokawa’s technical experts to be even more engaged at a much deeper level in their business to help keep their processes at the optimum performance.

Armed with this feedback Yokogawa, started to develop their services programme which has developed into what they refer to as ‘Vigiplant Services

At a recent conference Ton described his his experience of this programme as:   ‘You don’t know what you don’t know. It’s worthwhile talking to your customers to get a different perspective’

So the moral of the story is that when you are developing your services business, forensically clean customer insight is key to truly understanding the value you offer. Don’t be afraid of getting outside people that you trust involved in this process as the results may be surprising. If you would like to learn more about this case study, you can see a video of Ton’s presentation at:

Nick Frank is a service specialist with Noventum Service Management and can be contacted at

Read part one of this series, Creating value through services: Where to Start? here  

Read Part two of this series, Ouch! getting the profit/cost centre call wrong in your service business here