“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises; he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so”. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Indeed, Customers are the lifeblood of any organization. Many organizations include Customer satisfaction as their motto but how many of them live that is a question. Equally important is to realize that a satisfied customer may not be a loyal customer, at best, they are neutral. What we should try to achieve is to create loyal customer and only a delighted customer is loyal customer. Only when you exceed the expectations of the customers they become loyal and customer expectations keeps increasing based on demands on their jobs and support experience from other suppliers including but not limited to your competitors. Typically, what do the customers expect? They expect services that are Excellent, Effortless, less expensive and hassle free besides products that are of good quality, reliability and performance that helps them improve their productivity and performance.

Product differentiation is diminishing with technological advances and price difference is narrowing with operational excellence. What can differentiate your organization with competitors is your customer support. Today’s customers are not only looking for superior product and technology at competitive prices but unforgettable service that makes them successful and confident. Customers will soon forget the price and the initial problems they encountered in getting the product fully functional but they will always remember how you treated them when they had a problem and needed urgent support from you. Any customer that walks away, disrespected and defeated represents thousands of dollars’ worth lost business, in addition to the failure of a promise the brand made in the first place.

There are only three ways to organically grow the business. Increase the number of customers, Increase the average value of a sale per customer and Increase the frequency of purchase. Besides good products, the only way to achieve these objectives are by providing legendary support and creating loyal customers who give repeat business. In today’s declining economy and highly competitive market when business and margins are constantly on the decline the best option for companies to survive is to focus on the service business as well. There are many advantages on this approach.

  • Stable revenue streams that smooths out cyclical system business.
  • Better margins than system business.
  • Excellent service is a competitive differentiation and advantage.
  • Customer loyalty and repeat business.

Excellent Customer support provides a critical competitive advantage in today’s increasingly competitive and commoditized marketplace. Being on par in terms of price and quality only gets you into the game. Superior Support wins the game. However, Customer expectations are constantly on the rise and companies are finding it challenging to meet those expectations. In the analytical industry, if you are selling high value product, your customers expect lifelong free service and instant resolution to any problem by faster response time and minimum downtime. Whereas most companies are trying very hard to increase their service revenues as their margins in system sales is declining constantly. What are the options?

  • Value added services – Analyse the challenges of your customers and you will find many avenues to create a special service to earn revenue. In the Indian context, some examples are
    • Training and development – as attrition rates are extremely high and business growth is generally in double digits, addition of new work force is a continuous process and to be productive they need training.
    • Validation and regulatory support – If your customer base includes pharmaceutical customers, they may need such a support from your organization.
  • Service contracts – you could offer comprehensive service contract with all spare parts covered and a higher version of the same that includes consumable parts as well.
  • Besides installation, OQ/IQ/PQ services, you can also offer disposal services at the end of the life of the system. In between upgradation/modernization, firmware and software upgrades, etc. could be offered at specific cost.
  • Routine maintenance with health check-up of the system could be planned at pre-determined intervals.

Customer service means anything that touches a customer―directly or indirectly and it is so much more than just solving problems or addressing complaints. Every interaction with your company, whether offline or online, is another opportunity for your customers to determine if you are exceptional or not, which ultimately decides your business success and growth.

What steps are to be taken to ensure that your organization is ready to provide legendary support to your customers?

  • Good strategy, excellent execution and focus make any organization successful. If you want superior customer service as the main differentiator, create a strategy and vision to promote and support that process.
  • Create a customer oriented mission statement and brand image and ensure all the employees ‘live the brand’. Employees from top to bottom must walk the talk of the brand promise. Managers are responsible for enforcing this, but more importantly, for leading by example.
  • Train your front line employees, your ‘Brand ambassadors’, who meet your current and potential customers every day. It is said that technical competence contributes only 50% to the customer satisfaction but equally important is customer management skills. Most companies focus on providing technical training but only few focuses on preparing them for customer management skills.
  • Create meaningful service metrics and monitoring mechanism with action plans to make instant corrections when deviations are detected. Obtain regular feedback from customers as well as service delivery team and initiate corrective actions on the most critical and common issues.

We often equate giving good service with creating customer satisfaction. However, excellence in customer service is about creating customer loyalty. Knowing the difference between satisfaction and loyalty is the first step in developing customer focused excellence in your organization. If you have acquired customers by offering lower price, the relationship is only transactional and they will leave when someone else offers a better price. If customers have joined you because of superior support and value addition, these will remain loyal, and buy more from you in future.

Indian analytical industry is passing through another difficult phase currently and most companies are struggling to meet their budget and expectations of the stakeholders. How do you ensure that the impact of business slowdown is minimum for your company?

In their book ‘The Discipline of Market Leaders‘ M. Treacy and F. Wiersema argue that no company can succeed today by trying to be all things to all people. It must instead find the unique value that it alone can deliver to a chosen market. These three value disciplines are Operational Excellence, Product Leadership and Customer Intimacy. Different customers buy different kinds of value. Some customer segments appreciate low prices, while others want the most superior and innovative products. Some customers expect the best of the best customer service, while others want to be able to get quickly a reliable product and support without much hassle. It is therefore important to clearly choose your customer and narrow the value you want to focus on. Market leaders choose to excel in delivering extraordinary levels of one particular value while maintaining a threshold standard on other dimensions of value.

While companies pursuing operational excellence concentrate on making their operations lean and efficient, those pursuing a strategy of customer intimacy continuously tailor their products and services to meet every possible expectations of the customer. Companies that pursue product leadership strive to produce a continuous stream of state-of-the-art products and services. Expected outcome of these individual strategies is lower price, superior service and technological leadership respectively. While every company should strive to excel in any one discipline keeping the other two at or above industry standard, no company can or try to excel in all the three discipline, as they are not always complimentary. What should the analytical companies in India should focus on?

Ninety percent of the top end analytical instruments are imported into India, as we have not developed the technological expertise or infrastructure to achieve self-sufficiency in one of the critical element of our scientific backbone and economy. Nine out of the top ten suppliers are subsidiaries of multinational companies who must follow their global corporate guidelines for sales and support. What must these and other companies must focus on to be successful?

Among the three disciplines we discussed earlier, Indian subsidiaries of the multinational companies have no direct role in product design and development. They may give suggestions but must always focus on selling what is available at the company’s platform. Neither they have much influence over achieving operational excellence except for fine-tuning the local field operations and improve efficiency. However, the one discipline they have control and must excel is Customer intimacy, even if that may not be the global corporate focus. Why is it critical?

What are the expectations of an Indian customer? Essentially, she is looking for superior Product with adequate Performance, excellent Reliability, reliable Quality and good Productivity. Support should be Excellent, Effortless, less expensive and hassle free. Systems should be priced as low as possible so that they can compete in the world markets with their products. Customer Expectations keeps rising with demands on their jobs and based on services they receive from competitors or other vendors with whom they are interacting at a professional or personal level. Another important reason why Indian companies should focus on providing superior support is that there is lack of reliable, experienced and trustworthy third party service providers unlike in many other industries such as consumer durables, home appliances or computers. No engineering college teaches high-end analytical instruments such as Chromatography, Mass spectrometry, NMR, etc. Therefore, supplier companies usually hire fresh engineers and train them for a long time on their products and technologies to make them competent and productive. Only those companies who can meet these expectations can sustain their operations and grow their business year after year. While it may not be always possible to meet the expectations in terms of price that would be more than overcome but even compelling for your customers to always come back to you for the quality and reliability of the support. Price is critical only at the time of purchase but quality and reliable of your support remains visible and important to the users throughout the lifetime of the equipment. If you can provide that kind of total support and get your customers’ total trust, you ensure your success today and tomorrow.

Another important factor that companies must focus on is the long-term value of retaining customers. A loyal customer is the biggest asset of any company and only a delighted customer is loyal customer. While most companies focus on achieving customer satisfaction by meeting their expectations, to make a customer delighted you must exceed their expectations and set new benchmark for support every day. Therefore let customer success be your mantra for success.