In Customer Service, we fixate on retaining our key employees. These are usually our customer facing folks with years of history with our customers and tons of irreplaceable product knowledge. And we think our relationship with our customers makes us all part of a mutually dependent team. In other words, we function well when we have stable internal and external relationships.
However, sometimes we find ourselves part of a temporary project team, or even a semi-permanent team operating along with other service organizations. Then we are breaking new ground. And, as the pace of digitization and globalization picks up, we are likely to find our self in this type situation more often than ever before.
Before diving into this topic, I would like to give you three examples of professions where temporary teams are routine
Commercial construction – Every building project consists of a General Contractor (GC) and about 20 sub-contractors. Each is a low bidder. So, even if the GC has a close working relationship with the building owner, it is very likely that the sub-contractors will be different for every project. Yet somehow they work to a common schedule, phase their work to coordinate with each other, and do a quality job while making money.
Movie making – Each picture has a new writer(s) cast, director, producer and crew. Somehow, they all quickly learn how to work together to create and deliver a new project that can generate hundreds of million dollars in revenue. And they appear as a team when it is time to collect their Academy Awards.
Military – No matter which country and branch (with the exception of Special Forces like SEALS), there is a steady stream of new members replacing someone on the team. These changes can occur at any time, except for the Navy when crew changes usually occur at the end of a cruise. Yet, the replacements step into their roles without missing a step and they, and the remaining original team, work smoothly together in life and death situations.
How can your traditional services organization become part of a temporary team?
A number of years ago, when I was the V.P. Service for a small, global telecommunications company, I decided to offer our customers a start-up service. We would expand our traditional installation and training service by providing and installing data cables. This seemed straightforward because we knew how to contract with cable manufacturing and cable installation and we had a strong team in the area where the installation would take place.
Our first customer for this enhanced service had so much faith in us, based on experience with existing systems, that they wanted us to manage the installation of our products plus products and services from IBM and Pacific Bell (an AT&T spinoff). In the first meeting my Regional Manager (and Project Manager) had with the customer and the two other major partners, it took him less than 10 minutes to establish his authority. He did it by being himself, describing his background, and asking for full cooperation.
Of course, I would not share this story unless the results were great, which they were. Word of mouth quickly led to two other “local” projects and then one on the other side of the country. Also, we were able duplicate our results in the UK.
Naturally, none of the same external players ever participated with us again because that type of business is local!
Another example, in a different industry, occurred when a customer decided to outsource all her equipment maintenance to the multi-vendor service business of a very large capital equipment company. We found ourselves now working as a subcontractor to the industry 800-pound gorilla. We had two choices; either be obnoxious and constantly show our displeasure or go along to keep our customer happy. We chose the latter option and got more business for our company when the multi-vendor service group was hired to build and equip other facilities, and they needed our type equipment. They always chose us because they knew we could be trusted to work with them.
I am sure that as the Internet of Things is more fully deployed, more service organizations will find themselves in one of the two situations I described above. My advice is to focus all your efforts on taking care of your customer, doing what is best for them, and earning the trust of your partners. And do it all with a smile!