Today, customers are looking to receive more value from their partners than ever before.  The two primary reasons are:

  1. Customers are “crazy busy” and need relief because they are drowning in problems, opportunities, issues, and challenges. This relief is one form of value added by the supplier (partner).
  2. Partners see many “similar” situations at their customer’s locations and so should have a good idea about what will work to help the customer and can be implemented with little effort or risk, with a high likelihood of success.

Almost sounds like the customer wants the supplier to solve their problems and expect no more that a “thank you.” The first part of the sentence is correct but not the second part; smart customers are perfectly willing to pay for value added services if they understand the benefits they will gain.

Who is best suited to deliver value-added services?

For two major reasons, the services organization is best situated to deliver value-added services to existing customers.  Here’s why:

  1. Of the two primary customer-facing organizations, the “sales” department generally is charged with selling products.  Their compensation plans are based on closed business; they have marketing breathing down their necks pushing them to turn leads into orders and their nature is to be hunters.
  2. The other group, services, is totally different.  Their role is to make the customers successful; they enjoy helping customers, frequently have little or no revenue objectives, are totally familiar with the products. and, organizationally, have seen all the customers and how they have attempted to solve their problems.

How can Service and Support add value to customers?

1.Tehnical people understand their product’s capabilities and limitations. When they are talking with individual customers they should be asking questions like:

  • What exactly are you trying to do with our product?
  • What do you wish it could do but have not found a way to do it?
  • Where in your process is our product helping you? Slowing you down?  Making it impossible to do everything you need to do?
  • Do you know of any other products that help you do your job?

As they get a better understanding of the customers jobs-to-be-done, they frequently can teach the customer how to use the capabilities they already paid for and did not know existed.

Here is a simple example.  Many of us are intermediate or good Excel users. We can do spreadsheets and charting but struggle with advanced data sets.  Then someone teaches us about Pivot tables (included in Excel) and our ability to do our jobs increases significantly.

2.When we see how our product is integrated into the customers job stream, we frequently can identify unnecessary steps.  By sharing this with the customer, we add value because we help them do their job quicker and easier.

3.Many hardware owners are totally concerned with uptime; they bought our product because they needed to use it when they needed to use it.  However, the person who sold the service contract, or the one who actually purchased it, may not have discussed the critical uptime requirements and so only discussed the standard plan.  When the Service Marketing person works closely with the equipment owner, there are frequently creative ways for the customer to increase uptime (for an additional price) while the service group provides unique services that can be integrated into their workflow.

I was once visiting one of our key customers.  I saw that he had purchased a spare “detector” for each system (at about $20,000 each).  As we discussed his spares, I explained that they require periodic maintenance and testing and that he would probably be disappointed if he ever needs to use one.  He immediately “got it.”  We then sat down in a conference room and in 15 minutes defined a new service where we stored his spares, performed maintenance and tested them every 6 months (and sent him the test reports) and agreed to ship them on the first business day after he notified us.  If he called on Monday, we shipped on Monday.  If he notified us on Saturday or Sunday, we shipped on Monday.  We made additional revenue, he was much happier than before, and we had a new service product we could offer go other owners of this type spare part.

4.Finally, if your service and support people identify a value adding opportunity but do not know how to actually accomplish the customer’s needs, they should get the case into the hands of the product manager.  She can then research the feasibility of adding the feature, assess the market size and implementation cost, and potentially move ahead in a future upgrade.

Your service and support team should be the eyes and ears for your company. And they should be continuously working to add value for your customers.  If they are not doing this routinely then it is time for you to have a conversation with everyone and start changing the culture.