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Is Service the new Sales?

Written by Don Maidment

Is Service the new Sales?

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Is Service the new Sales?

Sell it first, keep the customer happy and hope they buy again. It’s a simple cycle that has existed as long as business itself but traditionally most organisations have spent 80% of their time concentrating on the sales aspect. But as we enter 2021, there is a perfect storm of social and economic factors gathering that are changing the way the world of business-to-business thinks.

The economic pressures of the commercial world are forcing businesses to reassess their spending habits, particularly in the technology space. The regular 3-5 year replacement cycles are beginning to be questioned. In addition, there is increasing environmental pressure with “Circular Economy” rightly becoming more in vogue – and an understandable growing desire – for organisations and their products to be more sustainable. Lastly, but equally importantly, developments in technology and our understanding in the areas of the Internet of Things, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence is helping the service industry to turn from a reactive, cost centre to a proactive and, dare I say it, even a revenue generating department.

Panasonic’s philosophy has always been to bring to market products that have a positive effect on society and a key part of that philosophy has been designing products that are built to last, but also to listen and respond quickly to customer’s voice. I saw it in my very first role as a television factory engineer and when I moved into my first service role managing the support and service for Panasonic’s set-top boxes.  It’s one of the things that I love about the company. So when I was asked to create a customer service function “in-house” for Panasonic Business in 2006, I was passionate about bringing the same philosophies to the department.

When business equipment fails, it costs the customer time and money. We recognised this as a major differentiator from the consumer world and kept it front of mind for our team. We cut repair times from 14 days to just 48 hours, and concentrated on making customer communication with the service team as convenient and pleasant an experience as possible. For example, hiring native language speakers in our service centre in Cardiff Wales, to support our customers across ten different European countries. In addition, we enabled customers to communicate with us in their preferred manner by creating web portals and other mediums where customers could interact with us using the latest technologies – at their convenience.

These decisions may seem like small changes in isolation but they build incrementally. Our objective is to make our customers feel like they never want to leave because dealing with another company would not be as simple, as convenient, as efficient or as beneficial to their business.

The effort and focus has paid off with the European Customer Service team being recognised with numerous awards and named as one of the top 50 companies for customer service by Customer Experience Magazine.

But those efforts were still focused on being efficient when reactive, and the service industry is now at an inflection point. The Internet of Things has given massive opportunities to become more proactive.  Through connecting to the sensors and diagnostic technology within our commercial projectors, for example, we now have the capability to monitor product performance 24/7. They can monitor usage and even predict when service interactions need to be completed, enabling us to  schedule service appointments in advance of any failure or issue occurring, through this we can effect enormous positive momentum to the customer’s operations.

Examples of this service in action can be seen in European airports and train stations. Advertising companies, using our equipment, broadcast adverts for their customers as millions of passengers pass by each day. For them, every second that a projector fails, costs them money. These automated service contracts become a win/win for the customer and the service provider. Keep the projector working 24/7 and they maximise revenues. They will happily pay for that assurance. Our department turns from a complaint handler to a revenue generator by offering this type of proactive service monitoring and support.

Of course, these types of value added support activities can only be introduced once a customer services department is doing the basics correctly and effectively. When other parties, interested in our approach come to visit, I advise them to first listen, understand their customers and their business needs, then build the service fundamentals. Once that solid foundation of service is in place, it can be enhanced by embracing technology and its capabilities to develop value added, and demanded service programs – to further supplement the commercial services arm of the organisation.

So, could Service be the new Sales? Well, I say it with tongue in cheek but the sentiment is sound. It will happen if we ensure that our ethos is focused around making a positive impact in our customer’s working lives, with our customer’s success being fundamentally important to us too. Then the proactive service offerings we are putting in place, supported by the technological advances and driven by a team that sees customer relationships more as a partnership than a transaction, will help Service become a key wingman for Sales in our business future.

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