There's plenty of blame to go around for the current financial crisis. Beyond the outright fraud that's been uncovered, we're suffering from a number of common business marketing and operation practices that affected and infected many publicly traded companies. The practices were aimed at delivering quarterly results and often ignore long-term sustainability.
True, most systems integrators are not publicly traded. Yet, many private companies, in their effort to compete and through their enchantment with the amazing stock market performance of the past, mimicked the business practices of larger companies. They favored short-term business results over sustainable, long-term strategies. One common effect was to downplay the positive influence that strong customer satisfaction has in the sales process.
Most resellers start out small, and being small makes it easy, even necessary, to put customer service at the center of every sale. Since most reseller entrepreneurs' initial job description includes both sales and service, you always have to think about how you'll actually fulfill the sale and keep the customer happy without driving yourself crazy. You're always asking yourself, "How can I deliver the best customer service cost effectively and profitably?"
Successful organizations build their reputations and add staff. That's when sales and service can become disconnected. If your corporate culture and employee communications do not regularly reinforce the things that caused you to grow in the first place, your staff will often take the easy road, which often pushes customer responsiveness down the totem pole. This is a recipe for stress for everyone involved, if not disaster for your company.
These disconnects are often complicated by the common business practice of rewarding departments differently. Normally, the sales incentive is about selling to the biggest customers and broadest markets – close the sale, make the budget. Service staff are rewarded for the most billable hours. The tendency in these tough times is to take these practices even further in order to pump sales.
There's nothing inherently wrong with this as long as capabilities and timeframes are not misrepresented and responses to smaller customers are not pushed off. If your staff falls into any of these practices, you're positioning your company to do the same thing as larger, publicly traded companies – inflate short-term results while risking your future viability.
One of the lowest cost (and best) ways to build sales and profits is through word-of-mouth. Only satisfied customers will recommend you. Most customers who get stellar service and support above what they paid for will go out of their way to help you. Satisfaction also has the side benefit of keeping customers loyal for years to come (even through minor obstacles), since a move from your organization will likely mean poorer service, and re-learning the best way to work with the new organization. Personal recommendations are a top influencer on purchasing decisions since they are more trusted than other forms of business marketing. It also reduces the potential that customers will look at your competition when purchasing. All in all, having happy customers will positively impact your long-term business profits and future.
You can take steps to make happy customers and avoid a long-term catastrophe by injecting service into every part of your organization and corporate culture. Communicate those things that made your company a success as a startup to your staff on a daily basis. Reinforce the culture change by rewarding staff members who go above and beyond to help customers of any size (before or after the sale). Remember that your staff loves money, but studies have found that recognition often motivates employees more, costs nothing, and further reinforces what you are trying to communicate with the other staff members.
The objective is to strike a balance between sales and service that results in cost-effective customer satisfaction that sustains the business today and pays dividends in the future.
Mike Strand is founder and CEO of StrandVision LLC, an Internet-based subscription digital signage service that is distributed through resellers. Previously, Mike founded StrandWare, a leading bar code software and AIDC company. Prospective resellers may contact Mike at mjstrand@StrandVision.com.