Sunday, October 17, 2010

Getting Customers vs. Keeping Customers

When it comes to the initial sale, the issue of intangibles can be difficult to manage. In terms of keeping customers, however, intangibles play a different, and far more important role.

For many industrial products, it is the service provided after the sale that enables customers to use the products efficiently. On-time delivery, technical support, troubleshooting, training, and customer service are simple examples of services that are provided after the sales transaction.

Industrial marketers often struggle with services because either (a) they don’t understand the fundamental difficulties of marketing intangibles, or (b) their organizations are not designed to support a services model. Both problems are different manifestations of the same problem.

Industrial products are mass produced in controlled condition. The products are created by engineers who have relatively little contact with customers. Services, on the other hand, are custom manufactured by people who are in frequent contact with customers. The design/creation of the service is also the manufacturing/delivery process.

Problem #1: If the delivery is poor, the customer assumes that the design of the service is also poor. This can alienate customers, and cause them to question the value of the products as well. Industrial companies tend to view the service components of their business as cost centers, rather than revenue centers. Many industrial marketers take the intangible component of their product/service offerings for granted, and focus the overwhelming share of their attention on products.

Problem #2: With products, customers know what they will get before they buy. With services, it’s the opposite. Customers usually don’t know what they’re getting until they don’t get it. This can lead to customer alienation too, because your industrial customer, like the consumer, become aware of your intangibles when you screw something up. This makes it easier for competitors to sell against you (at least for a short time). Industrial companies emphasize product quality improvements, but often ignore service excellence. Metrics related to services are almost always focused on cost containment, rather than the profit contribution of service excellence

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