Product vs. Solution

By: Patrick Bunn

8/1/2016

 

This is a piece I wrote for my company corporate blog, so it will be a bit different than what I normally post here, focusing more on business and our industry. I think when it finally gets posted on the Revere site, it will be cut into three different blog posts and likely have a lot of content removed. This is my full version.

 

Recently my wife asked for a new FitBit fitness tracking device. So I got her the new Alta. She has been so happy with her device that she has indirectly convinced me that I should get one as well. I began doing some research to find which device would be the best fit for me. Finally, based on all the features I wanted, I determined I wanted a FitBit as well, just different model.

review before buying

One of the things my wife has trained me to do with any new purchase is to check out the user reviews on different products, instead of just buying something on impulse, which was my standard practice. One of the greatest aspects of the reviews she emphasized is to not just look at the positive reviews and simply making sure there are more positive than negative, but to actually look at the negative reviews as well to see if there are any common problems that seem to habitually occur with the product.

 

Sure enough, this particular model I was looking at had three major complaints. First of which was the band. This fitness tracking device is one that straps to your wrist, and although many fitness trackers come with various band options and have the ability to easily change the band out as needed, this particular mode did not boast such a feature. In fact, most people were not merely complaining about the lack of ability to change bands to accessorize with their wardrobe, but that the band actually broke and FitBit does not provide a replacement band. Evidently, they do not make replacement bands because the they were not designed to be replaced or swapped out.

 

The second complaint was that the device seemed to simply quit working after a couple months of use. Considering the warranty is only thirty days, the customer is left with a useless fitness tracker. No one wants to pay a hundred and fifty bucks for something that only works for a couple months, no matter how many features it boasts.

 

This leads to the third and likely chief complaint for this device: lack of sufficient customer service. Everyone complained there actually was no customer service at all—these unsatisfied customers protested that they could not find any phone numbers to call in order to reach the company and that the company did not advertise any way to contact them for support.

 

Personally, I find it hard to believe a company would not have any customer support at all, but imagine if that were that case? The customers that did obtain a customer service phone number stated they had to remain on hold for a minimum of ten minutes. Other customers said they were on hold for an hour just to be told there was nothing they could do.

 

Now, there are a lot of great features with this FitBit, and there were a lot more positive reviews than negative reviews. Also, there were thousands of reviews, so it wasn’t just a couple bad apples. I do not want to paint the picture this is a poor device option.

 

With all this in mind, I decided to do some more research and see if there might be better product on the market. Finally, I figured I’d look into a similar product by Garmin. It seemed to have all of the features I was looking for, plus more. I felt I had finally found the perfect entry-level fitness tracker.

 

Then, I started looking at the reviews. It seems this product didn’t rate nearly as well as the FitBit I was looking at to begin with, as far as bad customer servicecustomer reviews go. It also seemed to possess many of the same issues as that FitBit, according to the reviews. The biggest difference is Garmin actually stated if the band broke then the defective device had to be sent in for repair at the cost of $90 and that this replacement was not covered by the warranty. A new device is only $150 so there really isn’t much incentive there.

 

So, why tell you this story? I believe this experience echoes a new trend in the marketplace. The consumer desires more than simply a great product. As I stated to begin with in my initial research, I weighed out all the products and made a decision based on features. The two products I was looking at are great products. Even with the complaints, there are still far more positive reviews than negative ones. Everyone I know who has one of these devices only speaks positively about them.

 

But I did not buy either of those products. Why is that? It is because having a superior product is no longer sufficient in today’s economy. As consumers, we customers feelwant more than simply a product. We also want customer service and support. We want to feel as if we matter to the company. We want to know that if we bring up an issue, it will be acknowledged and addressed. We want to feel as if our opinion matters. Or we take our business elsewhere.

 

What does that mean to us as Product Manufacturers? It seems FitBit and Garmin focus only on producing what they believe to be superior products. At one time, that was sufficient for our economy; focus on great products and you will be successful. But today, it’s not about being able to provide products or services, but rather about providing products and services.

 

unhappy business

As Product Manufacturers, we can choose to ignore this trend of consumer-based feedback and let the opinions of dissatisfied customers poison the opinions of would-be clients, or we can harness this new marketing opportunity and capitalize on it by focusing on customer service. There isn’t a strong enough marketing campaign to combat a thousand negative reviews, yet no marketing director can develop a plan with a greater effect on sales than hundreds of satisfied customers singing our company’s praises.

 

ROI

So how do we stay competitive in this new, customer service-driven marketplace? First, we must focus on creating a great product. This may tell about itseem like the obvious part. No one releases something they know to be sub-par; their reputation is on the line. I’m not at all trying to take away from this aspect of our business focus. Poor ideas and poor quality wouldn’t even get your product on the potential list of consumers.

 

There are more than a hundred fitness trackers on the market, but I only really looked at about a dozen or so because I felt the rest were sub-par. We must produce products that captivate our audience.  As a Systems Integrator, this would be the actual control panel the customer receives from us.

 

The second aspect of being competitive in today’s marketplace is constantly striving for improvement. A fine example of this is Apple. Therehappy are many products Apple has produced over the years where they could have stopped and retired, thinking they had “made it.” But year after year, they push the boundaries of technology and innovation to see what new creative product they can develop and produce next. Their objective isn’t simply a sale but rather another feat in engineering creativity.

 

The way we strive for improvement is through customer feedback. We should not be so arrogant as to think what we’ve developed and produced could never be improved upon. If we realize there is always room for improvement, our eyes will be more apt to perceiving opportunities for improvement when they present themselves. Some of these opportunities appear in the form of customer feedback and online reviews. Granted, there are some people who just like to complain. However, when multiple customers seem to have the same issue, there may be something worth investigating. The sign of a company striving for improvement can be measured by the action taken from the feedback they’ve received.

 

online feedback

 

Third, we must focus on customer service. The old saying says that customer service is king. I think somehow we’ve gotten away from that quit because of badmindset. As you can tell from my story at the beginning, a lot of the reviews for the products I was considering stated the customers were dissatisfied with the product, and ultimately with the company, because of the lack of customer service. I read some of the comments in reply to a lot of the negative reviews and there were quite a few people who stated they would never buy anything from that company simply because someone else stated they had a poor experience with that company’s customer service. It is important to remember that poor customer service does not only affect those who have purchased our products.

 

complain

There is no product great enough to overcome a tainted brand. Customers want to feel as if they matter. They want to feel they have a say. pos vs negThey want a company that listens to their concerns. Customers who feel their voice is heard by a company tend to be more likely to be repeat customers, regardless of the product.

 

What exactly is customer service? I believe customer service comes in many different forms. The first of which is meeting customer needs and addressing customer issues and concerns. Where I used to work I had a coworker who told me that there were no problems, only issues. He told me problems sounded like a negative roadblock, but issues are simply items to be addressed that are completely correctable. The biggest difference there is our disposition.

 

We can’t exactly meet customer needs if we have no idea what they are. The greatest focus here is communication. Have you ever heard bits negativeand pieces of a story and your mind kind of automatically fills in the blanks? How many times has that been 100% accurate? I know for myself I’m not nearly as good at assuming as I think I am. It is the same with our customers. Maybe we heard a bit of what they want and we create in our own mind what we think they are asking for. Or maybe we begin to tell them what we believe they need, and start internally designing what we’ve assumed they desire.

 

I believe the best way to combat that way of thinking is by seeking clarification. We must ask questions. I believe we almost need to ask questions until the customer is sick of answering them. I’m fairly certain they would appreciate our thoroughness rather than be bothered by our inquisitiveness.

 

More specifically, we must ask the right questions. When collaborating with a customer, we combined their expertise of their process with for betterour expertise in system integration. Asking the right questions upfront not only helps provide a solid foundation in the initial design phase, it also sets the tone for the level of customer service we provide to the customer.

 

We must also make recommendations. We should not assume we know and understand what the customer’s objective is and how they intend to achieve it. If we think we have a better way than what is proposed, we should say it up front. If we have a way we intend to proceed, we should be transparent enough to reveal our general ideas ahead of time. This lets the customer know we are competent in our product design offerings and willing to discuss the particulars with them.

 

landscape is changing

Customer Service is also about availability. Simply being available makes a world of difference to the customer. This comes in many forms; customer service hotlines, email availability, chat options, forums, knowledge-bases, etc. However, simply having these options available is not enough—there must be competent, courteous, knowledgeable people available to interact with the customer. The customer doesn’t want to hear that someone will be back with them shortly, or that the person they’ve waited for an hour on the phone to talk to has no idea how to address their issue.

 

top two

We need to reevaluate our mindset when dealing with our customers. Taking calls, whether sales or support, is not a necessary evil; it part of the solutiongenerates and sustains our business and potentially grants us the ability to obtain more. We should treat each call as if they are the ones determining our next paycheck.

 

With all this in mind, I’m about to make a statement that likely contradicts everything I’ve said thus far; I believe the best form of customer service is the kind that is never needed. What do I mean by that? I mean when you have such a well-oiled crew and a top-notch product with a highly-sought after brand, the number of complaints shrinks to almost nothing and the need for customers to be supported begins to vanish.

resolve

I’m not saying our goal should be to work customer service out of a job, but rather that our objective should be to have a refining process so well established and developed that it produces products with no call backs, warranty issues, or defective parts. When a customer never needs to find your customer service hotline on your website, that’s when you know you’ve got a great product, brand and company. The less time customers have to spend on troubleshooting and maintenance, the more time they can spend on innovation, process improvement, and other aspects of their business conducive to profitability.

 

When a consumer finds a product they like and they research the company that manufactures the product, do you think they typically see if that company has a customer service department? Perhaps if the customer has been burned too many times in the past they would, but likely not. Consumers typically assume the products they are buying are top-notch and thoroughly tested. People would normally only seek customer service if there is an issue.

 

customers teach

I believe our objective should be that our customers never need to find out how to get a hold of our customer service department. I believe customer service after the product is shipped and commissioned should be nothing more than an insurance policy. Not that we internally treat it as such, but it should be our goal.

 

Is that ambitious goal even possible? I’m not certain, but I believe it is what we strive for. Granted, nothing lasts forever; things break and customers will need help. Trying to work Customer Service out of a job would never work because as long as we have products to sell, we will have customers who need support. However, doing what we can in the design and manufacturing stage to help prevent the need for customer service can do nothing but increase our value to our customers.

 

I entitled this “Product vs. Solution”, yet I’ve talked mainly about customer service. I believe what separates a Product Manufacturer from a Solutions Provider is customer service. As a Systems Integrator, we produce products in the form of control panels. But even if our completely engineered control systems were viewed as a product, what makes us a Solution Provider and not merely a Product Manufacturer is our dedication to Customer Service. Many people can produce a product, but it is more advantageous to provide a solution.

 

From a consumer standpoint, who do you think is more likely to generate the sale; a product or a solution? Do you want a fitness tracker that has all the features but no customer service, or do you want a fitness tracker with all the features you want and great customer service? Do you go to a Systems Integrator to simply buy a control panel, or do you want a turnkey solution including design, schematics, programming, panels, commissioning and support?  A solution trumps a product every time and the difference is customer service.

 

superior

Manufacturing a product focuses on the manufacturer and/or the product. Providing a solution focuses on the customer. When we can take the focus off of the brand or company or product and focus on the customer we can provide more than just a product; we can provide a solution. Not just a solution, but one tailored specifically to the customer.

 

How do we provide a solution? We must listen to the customer. This includes before, during, and after the manufacturing process. We must wish they wereask relevant questions to help understand the customer’s needs. We should verify the design before production and implementation. Mix these elements with the insight and expertise we bring to the table and we can provide something much greater than merely a product; we can provide a complete solution. I believe we should adopt the philosophy that the solution is not provided when the product ships, or is installed, or even after commissioning, but when the customer is satisfied.

 

In closing, I believe that by shifting the focus from our product or ourselves as a manufacturer to our customer, we transition from being a Product Manufacturer to being a Solutions Provider. This is accomplished through great customer service. And that is what Revere Control Systems is all about. Our solutions are engineered to serve.

 

 

 

Source for JPEG images: https://www.helpscout.net/75-customer-service-facts-quotes-statistics/

 

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