For those of us in service delivery, we’ll often be used to supporting our sales colleagues when they are working on RFIs & RFPs. Creating costing models, service descriptions, defining KPIs & SLAs and even showcasing our service teams to impress a prospective client. But sometimes the boot is on the other foot. Whether it’s working with your product colleagues to select new providers of products & services for customers, or whether it’s looking at new providers to assist you in service delivery; brand, market reputation, contractual terms and pricing will invariably figure highly on the list of stuff to focus on. For any customer experience practitioner, we need to make sure that the needs of the customer are properly considered, too. Based on some recent work I’ve been involved in, here’s my top 5 areas to consider when selecting a new supplier or provider.
Post-sales experience – Any half-decent provider has a slick sign-up process, designed to get as many customers onboard as quickly as possible. The evolution of sales and purchasing happened a long time ago. A real consideration that you need to ensure a future provider of products or services has demonstrated is of course, what happens after the sale. On-boarding, issue handling, complaint handling, getting help and making changes all figure very highly when customers form an opinion on how much they trust your company and how likely they are to recommend. The after-sales experience for a customer needs to be as easy as the pre-sales experience, otherwise your reputation will take a hit.
Online experience – Even when purchasing a physical product, there will always be an online element. Company websites, product information, service details, cross-sell / up-sell opportunities will often happen online. How well does the supplier do in their online experience? How closely does it fit with your own online experience? Does it feel connected and seamless, or disjointed and clunky? Some industries do this very well (mobile phone manufacturers and mobile networks), whilst others still have a long way to go (banking and insurance businesses.) If you think as the online experience as an extension of your marketing department, how easy is it for customers to act as advocates and promote your business this way?
Seamless integration – I’ve seen some business that do a poor job of joining up their customer experience with that of their product suppliers. If I buy a product from a company, who then promote a deal or offer, why would I then have to contact another company to take up the offer? The days of sign-up promotional codes and quoting reference numbers are fading fast! Customers expect a more sophisticated approach that makes their life easy. How a supplier’s product fits with what you have and how your customers consume your other products or services is really important. An example that springs to mind is the holiday companies who sell on a raft of extras, such as travel insurance, hotel transfers and excursions, but then won’t help you out when you have an issue with those services you paid the holiday company for.
Operational alignment – As well as the product fit, the supplier’s processes and procedures need to dovetail with your existing model. If you answer emails in 2 hours, but your supplier takes 5 days, this will drive unhappy customers back to you to complain. This is particularly true for hours of operation when customers can contact you. It’s worth taking the time to go through the details of how your supplier operates to make sure there are no glaring gaps. You need a commonly agreed escalation flow, and a common set of metrics that let’s you track that the experience you expect is indeed being delivered. SLA penalties will do little to restore the faith of an unhappy or churned customer, and you will invariably have more to loose than your supplier.
Customer USPs – In a crowded market, what will make you stand out with customers? Does your service need to be top notch? Is it the product that does all the shining? Make sure that you new supplier helps you to outshine the competition. You should be able to explain to colleagues and customers why this product or service is a perfect fit for your customer (not by putting down the competition, but by talking about how great your product or service is.) For example, I LOVE my supermarket delivery firm. The actual supermarket, Morrisons, partnered with a well-established supermarket delivery company, Ocado to catch up with the competition quickly. This gives them a really robust service (no missing or out of stock items), a resilient and efficient delivery network (drivers are never late), great value products and promotions (regular discounts and flash sales) and they occasionally surprise me with unexpected gifts with my shopping delivery.
So make sure that you work with colleagues to be involved in selecting new suppliers that affect your customers. It will help you manage your customer experience, set the right standards and ensure that your customers stay happy fans who regularly recommend you!