The Service Danger to Your Product Sales

By Ronald C.A. Brands August 10, 2007

About 6 years ago we bought a German brand washing machine. Knowing the brand as excellent, confirmed by many consumer tests, we assumed to have trouble free washed (and cleaned) clothes for at least 10 to 12 years.

You guessed it, it broke down... right at the worst moment you can imagine, the hottest week of year. Summer vacation means so less repairmen, yet we consumed double the number of clothes due to construction work in our house.

Ok, even these things happen, so I called in the manufacturer's service organization, since I, as an experienced marketer of professional, product-related services, have amongst others something against small companies which claim they can repair every washing machine.

I will spare you all the details, but let me highlight a few things before I give some tips about how to treat your service customers.

It took a month(!) to repair the washing machine, since certain spares were not available, not even in the central warehouse of the manufacturer. In the meantime I inquired after the situation on a weekly basis, some people still have to call back.

Due to the spare situation there was not much hope that another service organization could help, so we were stuck.

Lucky for us we have neighbors who care about us, so 6-7 times per week we could do our laundry in their washing machine. Thank you again.

It gave a lot of laughs with the neighbors, relatives and friends, not to mention my own professional network (Telecoms).

Finally the washing machine was repaired for half the price of a new machine, but as the repairman said the machine would function for another 5 to 6 years.

I sent a letter to the complaint department, amongst others congratulating them on the fact that they are now one of my many examples about service mismanagement and the consequences.

I did get (!) a refund of 50%, excluding tax, after my letter.

A lot of companies do not realize the importance of their service organization. Yes, a service organization can be a profit center when it is being run professionally. It can also be a pain in the neck for future sales, not only for consumer but also professional products. Therefore a few tips for the few (or many?) who need them.

Market your services in the same way, hopefully professional, as your products. Remember however that the customers, who call in the service, are already, more or less, disappointed the moment you hear from them. This implicates the need for additional human care in the service process.

The use of a call center, in particular an external one, requires back to back arrangements and proper training avoiding misinterpretation, no follow-up or late reaction, etc.

A service organization is not a repair facility; it is a way to keep disappointed customers, and even make them happy again. Compare keeping customers to the effort of attracting new ones?

Customers are willing to pay for service as long as it is evident that everything is being done (perception) to correct the misfortune as soon as possible. In some cases even upselling is possible.

In certain markets the services bring the net-profit, more than the products.

Remember all those people who hear about the service; you will be amazed how large your network is. Keep in mind that unsatisfied customers tend to talk about their frustration. A happy customer tells 4 friends; an unhappy customer tells everybody!

A complaint department does not only accept written complaints. Make sure that the customer can actually call you. The more calls you get, the better you can help both the customers and your own organization, including product development.

To respond to a written complaint, call the customer and send the (in most cases standard) letter immediately after that call. What does it do to you when you get such a call?

Implement and manage all the procedures without loose ends. Exceptions are not meant to be on a pile at your desk. Deal with them, if possible, the same day, even when you have to bring bad news. Bad news is always better than no news. Keeping customers informed will bring more appreciation than silence.

Make sure that appointments are kept. If not, communicate at least. Give the customer time to make adjustment to his schedule.

Do not bother the customer with average customer satisfaction and average service response percentages.  Is the particular customer interested in averages?

Do not give written information to the customer which might discriminate your organization, like slogans as ?we also give service after the warranty period?, in particular when the customer is already disappointed.

In most of the organizations the service department is composed of technical people. A customer however is normally less interested in the technical aspects. To them it is the result that counts, solving the defect, at the right price, and continued happiness with the product due to professional service. Training on human behavior helps, but it must start with and be embraced by the management, who drills down the changes in attitude required.

The major service organizations use postmortem surveys to investigate the quality of the service. What might be an eye-opener to all concerned is a (secret) quick scan, using future service requests for investigation of the customers and the service they receive. This does not interfere with the daily work, but only uses the information from the service process, since it is registered in the computer, in combination with actual and factual information from the customers gathered during direct phone calls to them. You will be amazed how willing customers are, even without presents, to cooperate.

To answer your question, what washing machine will I be buying in 4 to 6 years? A different brand.

Categories: Working with Sales
Ronald C.A. Brands

Ronald C.A. Brands

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