What means customer service today?
By Virginia F. Bodmer-Altura
A Roman saying says: Wise people serve customers and they become their master. This is not contradicting the fact that today the customer is King and is patronising the supplier. But services are offered today in a different manner since we are living in a technical world, and e-services need another service culture than at Roman times.
Let us first look at services given by the textile and clothing industries along the value chain and then we review the developments in the textile machinery industry with parallels to the chemical industry. In the past, a good salesman in these industries was evaluating the needs of the customer and then he sent these requirements to the front head office and an offer for adequate goods and services was established, the project formulated and further negotiations went on to make the deal perfect, also in terms of price, costs and additional costs. At such time the markets were not saturated and competition not as keen as nowadays. Everything needs to be tailor made and the times where similar customers were served in a standard manner and by adding some tailor made segments are no longer applicable.
Today’s services have to be customer oriented, taking into account the individual requirements of each customer, its organisation and IT possibilities and in different channels. Today, not only the best products will win, but overall customer service is decisive, not only at the initial sale but for the life cycle of the product. Innovation is not only product relevant but the surrounding services offered have to be also innovative and they serve to facilitate the daily needs of the customer, technically, in the manufacturing process and relevant to the customer’s organisation. Actually also the dividing line between a product and services is no longer clear defined, because the two are forming a package, complementing each other.
As a good example, we take smart phones, they are as such physically present but then they are operating as a platform with various Apps and become a valuable object. This implies that also classical product manufacturers are obliged to become product-service hybrids. In the IT business Apple and IBM serve as an example. IBM is no longer a computer manufacturer but a consulting company offering today Cloud-Computing that is considered a source of brand new services for a multitude of different applications, for individual private customers and companies.
Zappos, an Internet-Start-up company has developed within 10 years to become the largest online shoe merchant in the U.S.A, its CEO Tony Hsieh states: “We are a service company that happens to sell shoes”. The centre piece of the business models are: services, free of charge delivery. During 365 days shoes can be returned and this around the clock, seven days of the week and Zappos can be reached by phone, over the web, Facebook and Twitter. In addition there are motivated collaborators reacting very flexible when customers are making claims and this customer friendly attitude create vow-effects with customers leading to the fact that they recommend Zappos to their friends and to repeating business. But it is clear that these services need to be developed continuously according to technological and technical developments and by making use of the means of communication the customers prefer. The needs of the customers have to be clearly understood and to be incorporated in a company’s service culture and those have to guide motivated collaborators. The development of interaction is leading to a service event and becomes a binding element that entails the services, their collaborators and the customers. Such events are decisive for the company as well as for the customer and slip-ups cannot be tolerated because this would terminate the good and binding relationship of all involved. The excellence of service will determinate over success or failure.
The Cloud offers innovative possibilities
Companies providing Cloud services have a deep insight into the interests and preferences of their clients as well as the relationship among customers. This is practically revealing the services of the future. And of course, this is inviting also critic because a growing number of customers dislike this gathering of data by the providers of Cloud applications and services. These customers miss transparency and demand control of their data. Today Customer Relationship Management is common, but a Vendor Relationship Management is required in order to enable the customers to keep proprietor and administrative rights of their own data and to reveal to providers only that part that is needed to establish offers for their actual needs. This would revolutionise, even radically reverse the relationship between provider and customer.
Keeping in close Touch
I guess you would subscribe to the fact that not all business can be done virtually but the human touch is essential to make a business or a contract viable. This means that decision makers on both sides have to face each other to make it work. Nevertheless also “Touch” is today sometimes virtual, remember only the success of touch screens and touch-interfaces, making interaction a sort of sensual.
Especially in the world of textiles one needs to feel, to touch, to see. Those offering these experiences to the customer will always put service before sale. The motto is, deliver more than you keep on stock. Also, the institution “frequently asked questions” on internet forums is not ideal and a customer much prefers to profit from the experience of another person in order to find the right solution than to spend hours on internet trying to find the urgently needed information.
The state-of-the-art textile machinery manufacturers have developed excellent tools for a machine operator and for the mill management in order to solve problems. But more and more these services are expanded so that the person in charge can dialogue with a technical or management specialist of the textile machinery manufacturer in order to really find the perfect solution in case of arising problems. And of course, today also direct intervention at the customer’s machine can take place from the service centre of the machine manufacturer and his specialist and the operator or plant manager can follow these interventions and directly control the results.
How to develop Touch Points
When Touch Points are developed the following questions have to be raised:
1. How have the services been altered over time and what do customers expect as a service quality in the future?
2. Where are new services created and by which means can service providers differentiate themselves from others in the future?
3. What are the consequences of these new developments and how are they influencing the service at the front? How can service be made touchable, viewable and become a service event?
4. Is the “Genius Bar” from Apple the ultimate Point of Service or only the beginning of a service revolution?
All of these questions will assist the service provider to enhance its service competences and to strengthen its position in the near future. It is certainly a never ending and continuing development process and the service has to follow the customer and not vice-versa. These developments free the customer and only bind the customer by loyalty when he gets the service expected or wanted.
Never Ending Service
Thus expertise, advise, discretion and recognition are elements of a service package and they will be decisive for the customers’ decisions to continue to work with the supplying company. The customer expects services on all possible channels and he decides which channel he wants to use, of course seven days a week, 365 days a year and at full 360° panorama and therefore the formula applicable is 24/7365×360! In other words, the Never Ending Service will continue to enhance and has to be adapted to all channels, because a presence with all possible IT solutions is an ultimate requirement and complex systems for such contact or Touch Points need to be made in a manner that they can be easy handled by the customer and within his channel most frequently chosen.
We don’t want to go into further details, because each service offered in the textile fields or that of textile machinery have to be tailor made on a continuing, never ending development and each company has to know its customer and his requirements before acting and developing a new service culture. If these processes are innovative and do coincide with the expectations and requirements of the customers it will tremendously support the success of these companies, but these processes come close to reinvent business itself, leading to the conclusion that it is not only technological enhancement of the product leading to secure future success but the decisive factor is the service culture surrounding the product to give total customer satisfaction!