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Customer Transformation Is the New Customer Support
Vendors need to help ensure their clients are poised to succeed, both before and after a deployment.
Posted Jan 13, 2016
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Customer support has gone stale. Nowadays, it seems like everyone's out to make a quick buck—sell more licenses, sell more memberships, sell more of whatever it is they're selling. Of course, I'm not saying healthy sales are a bad thing. But the customer-vendor relationship is all too often a one-way street that's predominantly centered on this direct exchange of product and payment. The vendor sells and the customer consumes. We can do better than that.

In fact, there is a way to breathe life back into the vendor-customer relationship. You build a team that is centrally focused on helping your customers (1) tackle the questions that keep them up at night about how to evolve and grow their business, and (2) realize their company's full potential. Call it the customer transformation team. It's not about simply selling licenses or replacing what they already have—that's what the sales team is for. It's about helping any customer ensure that their organization is teed up for future success, long before or indeed after a product is installed. For my team, that means helping them transform their field service departments from cost centers to profit centers.

At the root of customer transformation lies in this question: "How can we help our customers grow and expand as businesses beyond the features and functionality our product offers today?" I happen to work in field service, an industry that's remained relatively unchanged, which means that there's a lot of uncertainty around how to move your business forward efficiently and progressively in the digital age. What's the best way to manage your field service technicians? How should you organize client histories and product warranty information? How can you use product performance data to implement changes that'll transform your business? How is outcome-based service or the IoT going to impact your service business? With an effective customer transformation team, companies are able to work alongside their customers as a partner and a guide when it comes to answering those tough questions.

You're probably asking yourself how this is any different from customer service or customer success. Well, it is very different, and far more substantive at that. Customer service is the baseline—your customers will reach out when they run into a problem, and in response, you'll help them troubleshoot. It's not proactive. It's just something customers expect of you. Customer success is a step above customer service, but it doesn't quite reach the "transformation" point just yet. Customer success is when your customer has high adoption and is able to use your product successfully. Given it's the fulfillment of the original promise you made to your customer at the point of sale, customer success should be a given. Of course, both customer service and customer success are very closely tied to customer transformation, but customer transformation transcends both and offers a tighter link between parties.

A key ingredient in the recipe for a successful customer transformation team is hiring folks with in-depth, real-life subject matter expertise who have lived and worked within your company's field. After all, you wouldn't want to go see a doctor who doesn't know anything about medicine, or a pilot who has never flown a plane. I have worked in field service for over 30 years, and members of my teams over the years have all had strong backgrounds in IT, professional services, strategic vision, product development, and digital strategy. We've (almost literally) walked in our customer's shoes. And, collectively, we've been able to approach field service challenges from their perspective and anticipate solutions for their success—sometimes even before they do.

This exceedingly knowledgeable and seasoned expert team is of no use, however, unless you cultivate an active, mutually invested partnership with your customers. The healthiest customer-vendor partnerships should be thought of as ongoing dialogues where both teams feel empowered to bring both ideas and concerns to the table. That means that in addition to you guiding the customer, the customer also provides you with valuable feedback on your product, ways it can be enhanced—and (ideally) they may even help you take that feedback and transform it into a reality. Being able to speak with customers about their business and industry topics beyond the product—such as their vision, industry trends, product road maps, customer success, and ways they can grow and transform their business—opens many doors and sparks organic growth.

Developing a customer transformation team isn't limited to any one industry. It has implications for businesses of all industries and geographies. On a deeper level, the customer transformation team is about a fundamental shift in what it means to have a healthy, symbiotic customer-vendor relationship. Customer success in isolation isn’t cutting it anymore—customer transformation is the new customer success.

Dave Hart is vice president of Global Customer Transformation at ServiceMax, where he focuses on working with prospects and existing customers to understand and unlock the true value of their field service organizations. Having started his career as a field service engineer, Hart has decades of field service management and customer transformation experience, most recently leading Pitney Bowes’s entire European Service organization. During his more than a decade at Pitney Bowes, Hart also managed the international DMT (Document Messaging Technologies) service group, UK GMS (Global Mailing Solutions) group, and national operations of Pitney Bowes Management Services.

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