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I mentioned I am sharing old blogs that still seem relevant, as I kick-start this new blog. Here I bring together extracts from three posts which looked at three aspects of customer service.

1. Sales teams are disconnected from customer follow-up

I had the same conversation with three different major customers in just one week – all along the lines of “we do very well selling solutions into customers but when the customers don’t have the skill to implement, we are the ones who get the blame”. Occasionally the kit never gets installed, more often it is installed but the use is sub-optimal and the promised savings are never achieved.

Part of the problem is that the issues are hidden until the sales person goes in for the next order. Additionally sales people generally aren’t incentivized to follow up and make sure that the customer is getting all the benefits that were promised.

The key here is to put your sales team at the heart of your business. Don’t let them sell and walk away or hand over – keep them involved in the customer relationship. And incentives should partly be measured on retention of the customer – hard to do, but the very process of holding some reward back for the long term creates a different mind-set.

Have you managed to create a sales incentive scheme that ensures long term customer service as well as the sale?

2. It’s not our fault

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A classic service problem is where one party sells the product and another party installs it.

I can’t remember how it happened, but I once bought a carpet from one supplier, the underlay from another and then got a local fitter. When the carpet started stretching you can imagine the dilemma – whose fault was it?

Carpets are bad enough. Multi-vendor networks a whole different ball game – costs and timescales are in a different league.

Vendor A says “Our kit is working perfectly – the fault must be with Vendor B”. When you ask Vendor B guess who he blames. And neither knows anything about each other’s kit.

Dan Roberts, in his book Unleashing the Power of IT’ highlights that it is not just the issue between sellers, but in major IT programmes you will almost certainly hit internal power struggles that add to the blame and counter-blame culture.

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All this has led to opportunities in the industry – many IT suppliers have moved to the ‘one-stop shop’ but independent consultants have also taken on projects to manage and co-ordinate both purchase and implantation, thus de-risking the potential for blame.

3. Customer service – what do you measure?

Measuring customer service standards always sounds so logical and straightforward. The trouble is that what you measure is what you get.

We have seen this in the UK’s National Health Service waiting times. Patients complained they were waiting hours in hospital corridors or months for appointments. So successive governments introduced sensible sounding targets to measure and reduce waiting times. The problem here is that there are only limited resources and once you focus on waiting times, other areas often start to suffer. And should you be measuring the service that the patient thinks they want – or the service that will ensure quickest recovery? They may not be the same thing.

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 Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

I saw this in one business where we spent some time looking at Service Level Agreements (SLAs). Our challenge was what did customers actually want us to measure?

Standard SLAs are very technical, measure things that engineers like to measure and support guarantees and penalties. One thing that has always struck me over the years is how few customers ever claim the penalties – generally they only realize there has been a problem if the service provider reports one.

It is possible that this is because they are deliriously happy with the service but more likely that what is in the SLA is irrelevant to what the customer is really looking for. The people who really care about the delivery performance of the media are marketing and customer service, rather than the engineers who care about the performance of the underlying network.

Theoretically the ideal would be to involve the customer in setting the SLA. However, like the patient above, they may not know what will really give them the best service. So we came up with involving a cross-section of the business to agree standards – which makes a lot more sense than working with just the engineers.

I always love to hear how others have successfully addressed customer service, particularly in technology companies – please do share your stories.