Friday, 28 January 2011

Service and Value Differentiation

I spoke to a friend recently who has just started a new job at a large digital print company. They’ve been very successful for a number of years but are now finding it increasingly difficult to differentiate themselves from the competition.

It’s not because the quality of their service and products has dropped or because they are too expensive but because the competition has found ways to add value to their offering and move away from a commoditised model.

I’ve spoken to a number of print businesses recently who are facing the same challenges and are therefore looking at ways in which to diversify their operations. They have all realised that competing on price alone cannot be sustained and that they must offer clients a full service approach to marketing communications by moving into data management, email marketing and online communications, often through forming partnerships with experts such as EWA.

Personally I think this is down to a number of factors some of which are not unique to their industry. The changing demands of clients themselves are one of the main reasons. Many are increasingly using procurement professionals as a means to extract every last ounce of value from a new contract, both in terms of price but also in the scope and quality of services provided.

The same can be said of us as consumers, we all want to achieve what we perceive to be a good deal although this doesn’t always necessarily mean the cheapest (and I think perception is the key word here). We’re happy to pay a premium for products or services that offer just that little bit more than the competition, whether it’s in terms of quality of service, speed of delivery or customer support, both pre and post purchase.

And customer service can be a simple and cost effective way of gaining competitive advantage and standing out from the crowd in a saturated marketplace. You may sell the exact same products as your competition for the same price or perhaps even a few pence more. If your customer service is exceptional and you strive to add value to each and every purchase, then your customers’ experience will be a positive one and they will be happy to spend that little bit more, hopefully becoming advocates of your business as a result.

In today’s digital world, news (good or bad) spreads fast. Social media has opened up a whole new world of communication and information sharing between groups of like-minded individuals. Where previously recommendations would have been limited to an individual’s peer group or family network, people (i.e. your customers) are now much more comfortable sharing their opinions and feedback online. Such feedback is given almost in real-time and becomes viral in its own right, propagating across multiple social networking sites and the World Wide Web for consumption by other potential customers.

So in summary, good customer service and adding value to each purchase, whether real or perceived by the customer has the potential to make your business a success, attracting new customers who in turn will help spread the good news.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Choosing a Contact Centre Outsourcer

Choosing an outsourcer for your contact centres requires a considered and conscientious approach. Essentially when you are selecting someone to operate your customer or client contact you are choosing a face for your business, a service that will reflect on your brand. As such this decision needs to be based on fact rather than supposition.

One of the first questions you should ask any potential outsourced contact centres provider is about their previous and existing clients. Fundamentally it is by understanding how the provider treats their existing clients that it will be possible to gain an idea of the effectiveness of their services. It can also be worth asking the contact centre provider whether they can offer references and examples of their work in your specific industry sector, this can highlight how they implement industry specific strategies and demonstrate their success at maintaining working relationships.

It is worth remembering that choosing a contact partner is a big step for any business. The benefits are myriad, but only if your partner has the ability to implement contact solutions that you require. A contact centre should typically offer services along the lines of:

* Customer Services (including after sales support and advice)
* Technical Support (in accordance with your products and services
* Outbound Telemarketing (in both B2B and B2C sectors as lead generation
* Customer retention and relationship management (to develop customer loyalty)

These services are only a small cross section of what can be offered but give an idea of what a contact centre provider should be capable of.

When choosing your partner for outsourcing contact centres it is also a good idea to visit the facilities at their disposal. It is only by seeing them in action that it is possible to ascertain the services on offer, at this stage looking at training programmes, staff management and the technology being utilised will provide valuable insight into how your customer or client contact will be administered. It should also give an idea of how they intend to communicate with your company representatives and how they may instigate any of your campaigns or programmes. More general points to look for in a contact centre outsourcer include financial stability, effective service level agreements and metrics within SLAs that are suitable and appropriate.

Choosing an outsourcer is about finding a partner with whom it is possible to build a solid and effective working relationship. Get this choice wrong and you could be sacrificing your reputation with customers and clients; get this choice right however and your company stands to receive significant operational and financial benefits