Would one of your customers recommend your company to a friend or colleague? In the telecommunications industry, client satisfaction is historically very poor. Ken Williams, vice president of client services at Simplify Inc., says the key to breaking that trend is to fill the gap and bring a high level of service to the customer.
“Client retention comes down to serving your clients well — putting your clients’ success first,” he says.
Smart Business spoke with Williams about how to improve customer service and satisfaction.
What are the keys to improving client loyalty?
I think of them in two broad categories: job performance and behavioral competency. Job performance is the service you provide, the quantifiable, measurable actions a company is looking for in its telecom partner — the ‘hard’ skills. Behavioral competency represents the more qualitative, but equally important ‘soft’ skills: emotional intelligence, communication skills and interpersonal ability. Behavioral competency is driven more by the culture and values of the organization.
Every company needs both. They need quality, dependable service on all fronts and a truly professional partner they can trust.
What ‘hard’ skills need to be honed to improve customer satisfaction?
First is cost. All companies are looking to reduce costs in this extremely competitive, ever-changing business environment. Telecom costs can be a somewhat hidden goldmine of potential cost reductions. As the telecom industry faces constant consolidation and price reductions, a savvy consulting partner will find lower cost providers for its clients. But the partner must be vendor neutral. Consider the insurance industry. When an agent works with only one insurance company, you have no idea if you are getting the best pricing because the agent is only bringing one provider to the table. Companies looking to reduce telecom costs should look for a trusted adviser who is vendor neutral and sees their relationship as being with the customer, not a particular carrier. Look for an adviser whose fees are primarily paid by the carriers to avoid another layer of expense in your cost structure.
Second is speed. Enterprises who are starting new locations or moving locations cannot afford to delay openings. Consider a retail company that is opening 50 or 100 new stores a year. They sign a lease, put people on payroll, connect their utilities, start paying insurance on the location — so the quicker they get the store open, the quicker revenue starts coming in to recoup these expenses and generate a profit.
We see enterprise companies who consistently have openings delayed by 10, 20, 50 days — that’s a lot of lost revenue. Multiply that by 100 new stores per year, and it becomes a very substantial amount to the bottom line. So it is paramount to find a partner that understands carrier processes, has good installation processes, provides specialized software tools to manage the telecomplexity, and can be a productive part of a team with real estate, construction and project management to ensure facilities open on time.
The third area is responsiveness. If you are a multi-location service provider, or if your business depends on your data circuits, data network or voice lines, responsiveness is crucial. Say you are a multi-location auto parts store chain and you have a lot of repair shops calling in orders. If your phone lines go down, every minute that goes by is lost revenue. Mean time to repair for telecom services becomes incredibly important. If you want to minimize business downtime due to telecom outages, it’s important to find a partner who understands the carrier processes, has the volume to demand the best repair escalation paths with telecom carriers, and has its own team of people who work with the carrier to get issues fixed as quickly as possible. Businesses who attempt to simply go straight to the carrier for repair issues typically get lost in the morass of processes and departments and do not have insider contacts to expedite repairs. Businesses need a trusted partner to navigate that for them.
The fourth client satisfaction driver is accuracy. There are tons of horror stories of lines and data circuits being delivered to the wrong address, creating weeks or months of delays. Businesses need a partner who knows the potential mistakes that can be made, and has the processes and software in place to help identify the errors before they become critical and can catch them on the front end instead of on the back end.
What ‘soft’ skills can improve client loyalty?
First, trust is essential. Revisiting the insurance agent comparison, if you know the person works for one insurance agency, and only one, it’s hard to trust him. Is he here to help me get the best insurance I can at the best rate, or is he here to make a sale? You have to find someone independent, carrier-neutral, vendor-neutral, there to serve you and make sacrifices. When a company trusts its partner, client satisfaction goes up significantly.
Next is servant focus, which is the mindset that the biggest reward for a trusted adviser comes when its clients are doing well. Everyone claims to provide good service; not many will make sacrifices to ensure their client’s success. Of course, serving your clients will pay off in the end with solid client loyalty, but you need to start with a giving mindset and let the benefits flow back to you naturally.
Third is a sense of urgency. A business owner never wants to call a partner or carrier and tell them his store is down, the business is losing revenue every minute, and get a lackadaisical, ‘we’ll see what we can do,’ and ‘are you sure it’s our issue?’ finger-pointing. They want to hear that the carrier knows the business and has the connections to get this fixed as soon as possible.
Last is honesty. When it comes to telecom, like most technologies, most people don’t understand it. It’s easy to mask facts or place blame elsewhere. You want a partner that owns its mistakes. If they do something wrong, they will admit it and do everything they can to make it right for you.
Ken Williams is vice president of client services for Simplify Inc. Reach him at Ken.Williams@simplifycorp.com.