Service Marketing

“Sometimes you have to get their attention first,” said the old farmer, who had just whacked his mule in the forehead with a two-by-four. The mule, a little stunned, nonetheless quit being ornery and started pulling the plow.

Perhaps Dell has some mule blood in it.

Dell is discovering what green marketeers discover in about their forth year of their careers — namely that service is a product. Like all products, quality and suitability to the needs of the customers determines success. Given that technology is complex and that no technology user can last long without support, it becomes a critical differentiator for long-term financial success.

(A snide aside: If you want a glaringly good example of lousy customer service, just talk to anyone that uses web hosting from 1and1.com, a company that routinely explores the depths of customer disregard. The horror stories about 1and1.com technical support would make Steven King flinch.)

Your customers are at their most vulnerable state, and often suffering from some degree of frustration, when they call for support. Support then becomes as important (if not more important) than the core product itself.

Dell discovered this the hard way.

Once lauded for the customer care, Dell slid down the slippery slope of cutting customer service in order to cut cost. All they really cut was their own throat, as the Internet all but exploded with tales of Dell’s horrific support services.

Then Michael Dell came back, allegedly kicked some corporate butts, and things are turning around throughout their services groups.

Most interesting in recent news was Dell’s attempt to be flexible in their services offering. Like most vendors, Dell offered “boxes of services” — predefined and rigid sets of tiered services. Often customers found themselves with too few options, either buying less service than they needed but which they could afford, or paying for services they did not need in order to get the few they did. This is the norm in the industry, but not optimal for customers. It is however simple to conceive, model, price, explain and sell.

In other words, it is the product of lazy marketing staffs.

Dell is breaking that model, and this will likely put them ahead of competitors by engendering more profitable service contracts and much happier customers.

Within their new system (which is for SMBs and Enterprises — not consumers), customers will be able to buy specific support modules instead of the typical gold/silver/bronze medal style of support packages. Since every organization differs in terms of the complexity of their IT infrastructure and the scope of their in-house IT talent, their need for services becomes highly individual as well. Some companies may need to get Linux support while others may have kernel hackers on staff. Others may have exotic storage requirements while others do quote nicely with simple NAS.

Dell is making sure everyone gets what they need, and not buying what they don’t.

Marketing has two stakes in this game. First, creating products that people want is key to getting customers in the door to begin with. Service is part of the whole product definition. Define the right service offering and you make the whole product easier to buy.

Perhaps more importantly is that service is central to customer satisfaction. It is well documented that high customer satisfaction leads to repeat sales (more money), positive word-of-mouth (more sales) which brings in even more customers (more money). Failing to provide the right services, and provide them well, has the opposite effect.

Welcome back Michael. You get it.


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