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Customer service: Not just a footnote to sales

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The technology sector is defined by speed. Business survival depends on agility and innovation, with companies competing aggressively on product development and launches. Thanks to this competition, both hardware and software products are increasing in sophistication and consumers have an array of quality goods to choose from.

However, when products begin to resemble each other, offering similar features and functions, IT companies can no longer rely on technologies to stand out from the crowd. As the mass commoditisation of technology continues, the provision of a high quality user experience and customer service can help providers stand out in crowded markets.

Too many bosses take a transactional view of customer relationships: they make a sale and move on. If there are any problems with the product during the warranty period they’ll address them, but otherwise the relationship is short-term. This is not enough for the modern-day consumer, who expects a certain amount of attention and care before, during and after the sale.

The logo is different – but that’s it

Once upon a time, there were far fewer brands in the market and many products could be considered “unique”. Now, your average consumer can choose between hundreds of different soft drink, car, and shoe brands, for example – more or less all offering the same product. Commoditisation is inevitable, driving customers to rely quite often on price, rather than the brand, to make their final choice.

Think back to the IT industry in the mid-90s. HP, Dell, IBM, and others started racing to the PC market with one product improvement after another. The excitement wore off eventually, and consumers stopped buying into each new design or feature, relinquishing their loyalty to any particular brand in favour of affordability. The software market is no different. There are plenty of options to choose from that cover all manner of needs, from enterprise resource planning to email automation to business intelligence – and yet there is no clear differentiator from one to the another.

Service with a smile

Any innovation can be copied, or even improved, with time. Getting your products to market first is not enough of a brand differentiator. Why should customers consider your product as better than your competitors’? Quality customer service can build your brand’s reputation, instil greater loyalty, and drive repeat business. American Express reports that 58 per cent of customers are willing to spend more on companies that provide excellent customer care.

Salespeople are naturally focused on getting customers to buy. However, too little time and attention is spent on after-sales care, and many customers often feel ‘dropped’ once they’ve paid for a product or service. As a customer yourself, you’ve no doubt experienced this with some discomfort and, as a result, formed negative opinions of the brand in question.

To stay competitive in the IT industry, you need to offer your customers the best experience possible: an end-to-end service that includes set-up and implementation of your product. Don’t just sell a product, sell an experience.
Keep in touch with your customers. Not with irrelevant email spam, but with personalised check-ins. Make sure your customers are consistently satisfied with their purchase and offer ongoing assistance to ensure that their investment returns real value.

Of course, product innovation, design, and architecture are all important too – but they just aren’t enough to guarantee customer satisfaction and loyalty. The commoditisation of technology shows no signs of slowing down, and only those companies that combine quality product development with quality service delivery will come out on top. Customers don’t want to feel like just another number in your sales targets. They want to feel important. Treat them to an excellent service from sales through to adoption and your brand will truly stand out from the rest.

Nick Holloway is vice president of global service, Bullhorn.

Image: Shutterstock

Social media is more accessible to most people, offering quick, personal responses that require little effort and with more people turning to social media to voice complaints, or ask questions, it is vital that companies start using it as a customer service gateway.

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