Service: The Next Battleground

Customer Service

In an age of instant responses and immediate access to information, the demands of the customer are ever shifting. With an ocean of information at our fingertips, we all expect an instant response to our tweets, our queries and our complaints.

Axes are being grinded in very public forums and companies have had to adapt quickly to this change in the way people are communicating and interacting in order to address their customer’s needs.

With consumers’ insatiable demand for immediacy in response and information, traditional models of service have been diluted amid a backdrop of 140 character responses and automated replies. Today, consumers and clients today are savvier than ever – they have a wealth of information at their fingertips and it can take just a few clicks of the mouse to compare the service or product of competitors. The upshot is that firms are having to work harder than ever before to satisfy demand and keep their customers sticky.

Software vendors – like any other business – are jostling for position in this crowded digital space, with lethargy instantly punished. Add to this that with the advent of cloud computing software has become more commoditised and available through subscription.

The cloud has become a utility. It has moved to a service-oriented model that reflects technology’s evolution from luxury to an expectation. Costs are based on what’s actually being used – much like gas, electricity and water. Just as you wouldn’t be expected to keep large gas reserves in case of unpredictable weather, why should you keep extra server resources in case of unpredictable usage?

Cloud has impacted not only how software is deployed, but how it is paid for and evaluated as part of the business cost sheet. The reality is that in the online world there are more opportunities for customers to leave you. Firms that lose sight of service to their customer do so at their peril.

The battle lines are being drawn, the gloves are off, and whoever wins this war of service will come out on top in 2014 when having a strong service ethic will be more crucial than ever before. Having the most cutting-edge product is no good if you do not have the service levels to match.

I’m stating the obvious when I reiterate that software and services are mission critical for the day-to-day running of business. If you lose the ability to pay your staff, or run your accounts, firms run into a lot of trouble very quickly.

Businesses want the confidence that if they are experiencing issues they can pick up the phone, send an email, tweet, or instant message and get help straight away. A quality software vendor will be right-hand man for the businesses that it serves, one that this is there to help them navigate a challenging business environment and speak their language.

This personal touch to dealing with clients and customers should never be lost – with customer loyalty the pinnacle that businesses should be striving towards. The distinguishing factor above all else, will be quality of service. Those that use service as the new differentiator will be the ones that prosper. It is one thing to supply technology to a business, but it is another thing to guide and support them through times of change.

Ultimately vendors, and their partners, need to move away from the ‘tech sell’. Instead, customers need to be spoken to in a language that they understand, as well as getting themselves aligned with the needs and objectives of the firms they are serving. As the old adage goes, a one-sized fits all approach will not wash. We should be there to help solve business challenges – not just sell a piece of technology.

While the means in which we are communicating is shifting in the sands, the value in quality human contact between a business and its clients stands resolute. In a digital age where technology is more commoditised than ever, it is service that will stand strong as a differentiator.

Steve Attwell

Steve Attwell has been at Sage for 24 years and during this time has worked across the business in support, R&D, sales, marketing and general management. His roles have included Head of Sales, Head of Marketing, Head of product management and General Manager of Sage's lower mid-market business. He is a valuable commentator on topics which affect growing businesses, in particular Steve focuses on the cloud and is passionate about how using technology can help facilitate business transformation – from BYOD mobile devices, to an effective financial software system. Steve is a champion of Sage 200 Online as a cloud-based business management solution, which allows you to manage your business from anywhere, via your mobile.