"Yesterday you were a prospect, today you are a client." It’s an old saying regarding the quality (or lack thereof) of customer service that customers get after the order. Unfortunately, in the B2B communications market, it isn’t a joke — research has indicated that the service provider relationship with B2B customers gets worse in the first 60 days after the initial order.
For providers, that’s a problem. A decline in customer satisfaction in the first 60 days puts the entire organization on the defensive, and puts significant pressure on account teams to repair the relationship through exceptional ongoing service, discounts, etc. Additionally, the first 60 days represent the best opportunity to up-sell a customer with additional services, but they’re not likely to buy if they think your service is poor. But it’s also an opportunity. Deliver smoothly in the first 60 days, and you’ll put yourself in a good position to aggressively expand your B2B service portfolio, and deliver value-added and managed services based on the power of your brand and the quality of your service. To capitalize on the opportunity, you need to ensure that your B2B ordering processes are smooth and predictable, but today, for most B2B order fulfillment is anything but. Today, fulfillment is messy, manual, inconsistent, and unpredictable. The result is missed deadlines, dropped work items, poor installation quality, poor communication, billing surprises, and unhappy customers. As you look to address this, here are five key principles to keep in mind:
- Dependencies are everywhere – as you increase the number of products in your portfolio, the number of valid product combinations increases exponentially. With each of these combinations come new dependencies that must be addressed in the ordering process to ensure correct scheduling and properly setting customer expectations. Whatever technical strategy you take must accommodate capturing dependencies in a rational way.
- Don’t try to automate everything – in the consumer space, “straight through processing (STP)" of orders is the goal because of huge volumes, gains in operational efficiency, and profitability. In B2B ordering STP is an unrealistic and dangerous goal because B2B orders are more complex, lower volume, and usually require manual steps (e.g. site visit). Instead of STP, the goal is an environment where manual and automated steps work in combination, and where management can effectively monitor and measure for continuous improvement.
- Optimize from the “ground up" – B2B orders create an opportunity to use business rules to optimize for efficiency and improving the customer experience. For example, 2 T1/E1 installations for different businesses at the same office building scheduled 3 days apart can be combined, reducing cost and accelerating implementation time. When looking to accomplish this optimization, the most effective administrator of these rules is the field service manager, and he/she should be empowered to adjust their processes accordingly.
- Distributed product information is the future, so be ready – stop chasing the “nirvana" that is a centralized product catalog. As the market for B2B services becomes more competitive, you’ll need to rapidly create third-party partnerships for product delivery, and as you create these partnerships you’ll want to leverage your partners’ existing product catalogs. To do this, your ordering solution must be able to pull information from multiple third-party sources.
- Exceptions are the rule – in B2B ordering strange things happen. For example, your field team goes for a site visit, the site is locked, and no one knows who has the key. Or the blueprints your team used to plan installation are out of date. As these things happen, your processes need the ability to adjust schedules, dependencies, recover gracefully, and keep the installation on track. Your processes must be designed to “expect the unexpected." More than anything else, this capability will give you an opportunity to delight the customer by saying “no problem, we can handle it" when bad things happen.
The market for B2B communications services represents a huge opportunity for service providers that can turn the tide, and more effectively manage the customer experience in the first 60 days. By aligning your ordering process and keeping the five above principles in mind, you can take advantage of the opportunity, and be ready to delight the customer in the days after they say “yes." I have an upcoming Webinar on this topic with Mike Sapien from Ovum on September 21 at 10 a.m. ET. If you are interested in registering or finding out more, please click here.