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Service Trumps Price for Technology Customers

Technology product managers may think that the battle for business is won on price, but the reality is that the service experience plays a key role in spending. Customers have become very selective based on their perceptions of how difficult it is to access support, accomplish what they need, and be delighted with their overall experience. And this isn’t just for consumer products, but includes business buyers as well. Research by Temkin Group found that perceptions of service directly correlated to the intention of an IT business buyer to spend more with a technology company, along with consumers.

Price still plays a role for low-income customers and older customers, but service appears to have more influence than price for today’s customers who are not buying on impulse—including younger buyers and those with at least some level of higher education.

Consider your last technology purchase. It’s likely that you searched the internet for information about your options, read customer reviews online and asked your friends, family or peers and colleagues, depending on the nature of the purchase. You probably remember the negative ratings and comments more than the positive ones.

If you spend any time at all on social media, it’s rare for a day to go by where you won’t see a critical comment about a product or praise for an excellent experience drift by in your social stream. Customers are no longer mute about expressing their frustration or joy about their experiences with your company and products. Whether they do so privately in conversations with those they know, or post their sentiments online for the world to see, their opinions hold sway.

A Few Reasons Technical Support Call Centers Must Provide Stellar Service:· Innovations are short-lived competitive advantages· Service can become a competitive differentiator

· Customer voice carries increasing influence

· You can’t afford not to

The traditional justification for okay service, or even poor service, was based on low margins and an inability to afford to provide the level of service customers expect while still maintaining profitability. That’s no longer a valid rationale. Another argument was that the return on investment (ROI) for increasing service levels didn’t justify the cost in comparison to basic service provision for customer retention. But, given the changes in the power of customers today, you may want to consider asking yourself what the ROI is on failure, if you don’t meet your customers’ service needs and preferences more effectively.

Creating Lasting Differentiation with Service

Creating lasting differentiation across the entire customer experience takes more than ambition and superficial changes. One-to-one support is still the primary means of customer service, the majority of it conducted by phone. From frustrating IVR experiences to scripted and inflexible agent responses, we’ve all had customer experiences that left a lot to be desired.

The secret to delivering a customer experience that differentiates is to create a recipe for success that’s uniquely related to your brand. Let’s consider Apple. Simple, stylish products and a closely managed environment (you can’t load non-Apple approved software/content), coupled with excellent support has differentiated them. Customers rave about the experience they receive at the Apple Stores and line up in droves to buy additional products on release days. Their service technicians are highly skilled at being helpful. They truly make their customers feel valued from start to finish, even though they’ve exercised control over the environment that limits what some customers may wish they could do.

But, for the most part, personal computer companies rank less than “okay” for both accessible and emotional service while barely crossing into the “okay” territory for functional service. In other words, their technical assistance is competent, but they’re hard to reach and the experience is not viewed as delightful.

Three Components for creating a differentiating experience recipe:

1. Consistency: Only with a clear set of values enforced across the organization can a company establish the consistency that ensures a customer will have a great experience every time they interact with your company. From a call center perspective, this means working with your vendor to ensure that brand values are embedded in the processes, workflows and conversations that produce the customer service experience.

2. Promise: The expectations the brand sets with customers must be delivered during the service experience. All of your advertising, website content, PR, and communications must set the same tone. That includes the conversational and support experiences offered in response to problem resolution and inquiries provided by the call center.

3. Responsiveness: Your customers are speaking openly about their experiences with your products, brand, and services. A key component of your recipe must be reflected in their experiences with support and service—as well as product development. There’s a lot said about the need to “listen” to what customers are saying online and over the phone. The opportunity for true differentiation lies in how companies choose to respond to it.

Working with a technical support provider that understands the importance of differentiating your company based on quality of service will provide a valuable hedge against the pressure to compete based on serial innovations. Getting the balance right between product and service will help to provide advantages for retention, loyalty, and satisfaction that your competitors will have a difficult time matching.

This is different than throwing more money at change. It’s about the approach you choose to apply to achieving sustainable market share. Forming a partnership with a call center vendor that has the expertise and cultural fit to deliver a service experience that hits the mark for all three evaluation criteria—functional, accessible, and emotional—will deliver advantages that money alone can’t buy. With service holding more sway than price, can you afford not to create a recipe uniquely your own?