Like most attendees of CEDIA Expo in San Diego, I have spent a good deal of my time since the show reflecting on my big takeaways. Having engaged in a ton of great conversations at the booth and during/after the three service workshops I presented, it is clear to me that many integrators are starving for ways to bring clarity and consistency to their service departments.
For many integrators, service is a chaotic exercise that looks something like this: some portion of their client base has the programmer’s direct contact info; another portion contacts their salesperson directly; some other portion always reaches out to the company’s lead project manager; yet another portion engages the company owner when they need assistance.
Not only does this make it virtually impossible to track what is going on in the service department with any degree of accuracy, but it also makes it exceedingly difficult for anyone in the company to focus on their primary jobs during the day and truly “unplug” when they’re done.
Training clients to use dedicated service channels (e.g. phone and email) can cure some of these headaches.
However, doing so doesn’t begin to touch the bigger challenge faced by most integrators—determining exactly what level of service a client will receive in their moment of need. This determination becomes especially difficult after-hours when team members are trying to enjoy downtime or activities with their families.
Service as a Judgment Call
The result is that integrators are constantly having to make judgment calls about how far to extend service in-the-moment. For example, when an integrator's phone rings or inbox dings, the decision to engage and help the client usually comes down to one or more of the following factors:
- Physical availability: Is the team member physically able to respond, whether by phone, email or in person? Or are they, for example, out of town or out at dinner with their family?
- Emotional availability: Is the team member up to the task emotionally or are they likely to defer further help until Monday because they simply do not want to deal with it.
- Personal feelings about the client: Does the team member have a good relationship with the client? Or do they happen to think this given client is a jerk?
- Client anger levels: Is the client showing high levels of frustration?
Using these factors as the basis for determining what level of service a client receives is far from ideal. Doing so results in an unpredictable and inconsistent experience for clients.
Additionally, it creates a ton of uncertainty amongst team members who, lacking a clear and repeatable decision-making process, are forced to make judgment calls about what level of service to provide in the heat of the moment.
For example, they might choose to pick up the phone or roll a truck begrudgingly. Or they may defer further service and end up spending the rest of their evening worrying if they made the right choice or battling with feelings of “A/V guilt”.
This is service as an emotional exercise. It is unsustainable, unprofitable, and it slowly sucks the life out of key employees and company owners alike.
The Client’s Choice. Not Yours.
If the above sounds familiar to you, the good news is that there is a proven way to remove the emotion and guilt from your service process.
The key is to establish a clear framework around how and when you provide service to your clients. The foundation of this framework should be a tiered service membership structure which provides your clients with the option to select the level of service they want to receive.
For example, you can offer a complimentary membership which provides queued access to support during business hours only, while expanded hours of availability and faster, guaranteed response times are reserved for premium (i.e. paying) members.
The details of your memberships should be spelled out in a terms of service agreement that 100 percent of your clients must sign. Even those clients who want to opt out of a premium membership. While it may seem simple, the act of requiring all your clients to make this selection will have a profound impact on your service department.
Suddenly, the level of service that will be provided to a given client, especially after-hours, is no longer a judgment call. Either the client has selected a plan that provides access to after-hours support or they have not. No more gray areas. No more uncertainty and guilt. Just a simple decision.
Whatever choice your client makes, you win. Those who opt into a premium membership create additional revenue that you can use to bolster your service resources.
Those who opt out should still receive a great service experience. However, this experience can be provided on clear terms that both parties have agreed to and that are sustainable for your company. And if these clients choose to upgrade to a premium plan when they need after-hours support, all the better.
There is a Better Way
Putting a comprehensive framework like this together can be a time-consuming exercise. Developing your memberships, creating a terms of service agreement, and establishing the infrastructure needed to live up to your promises is no small feat, but the results are well worth the effort.
The key is to treat your service like you do everything else you sell—as a well-defined product. Present your clients with options and allow them to make the choice.
Doing so removes all ambiguity from the service process by aligning both you and your client on exactly the level of service you will provide. So, next time the phone rings, you no longer have to second-guess yourself.
Jason Griffing is the Director of Partner Development at OneVision Resources. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org