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Customer service is the ultimate showcase for a company. What is more, in today’s market, increasingly it is often not so much the product, but the service that makes the difference. “The quality of the product alone is not enough,” says Nico Debruyne, Service Director at Miele Belux. “That is why we see ourselves not just as a supplier of appliances, but also of peace of mind.” This is the aim of the service the company provides.
“We believe it is important that the customer doesn’t have to worry about anything. One way of achieving this is by preventive maintenance of installations.” Miele is very aware of the role played by the technician in the service story. Nico Debruyne: “Service not only consists of the technical aspect, but also relies on the technician’s soft skills. He has to be able to explain what he is doing to the customer in the right way. Because whichever way you look at it, the technician acts as the brand’s ambassador.”
In the hotel sector, service lies at the very heart of the matter. “Staying at a hotel involves a series of links,” says Jaap Blijleven, MICE & Leisure Manager at Sandton & Pillows Hotels. “The guest has to receive the right service at every link: at reception, in the bar and at breakfast, to name but a few.” That takes a well-aligned team of people who never put a foot wrong but who are also given the space and trust to take the right decisions quickly.
“Exactly, because in our sector, once again service is not enough. Guests are looking for an experience and recognition. That is how you stand out as a hotel.” A hotel responds by getting to know the guests well: their preference for a certain room, their breakfast choices, etc.
“Perception is very important for us, as well,” says Wim Meirlevede, Executive Manager at e-BO Enterprises. “When we build a content platform for a customer, they expect a solution that works perfectly, of course.” But behind the scenes, various elements play a role: the purely operational aspect, with the network and servers, but also the perception of the end users and the way the service desk works. Wim Meirlevede: “And yet customers want one service, separate from all these different components. So as a company, you have to teach all your staff, at every level, to adopt a service-oriented attitude.”
Viessmann is seeing changes in the importance of service, too. In principle, the heating solutions manufacturer works via an indirect model. “First and foremost, the end customer has contact with the fitter,” says Patrick O, General Manager at Viessmann Belgium. “If there is a problem that the fitter can’t solve himself, then our own team steps in.” Heating technology is evolving very quickly. So demand for support from Viessmann among fitters is increasing. Patrick O: “It is forcing us to invest and further expand our own service range.”
In this sector, the arrival of the Internet of Things among other things is a major catalyst for improving service levels. “Our sector has gone from prehistory to the digital age in a very short space of time,” says Patrick O. “Sensors measure the performance of heating installations. And that produces information – for instance about the need for preventive maintenance – that the fitter can use to improve the level of the service he offers. That enables us to stand out on the market.”
It is soon clear from the practical examples given: service is not something that you can just switch on or off as a company. Service relies on a mindset that needs to pervade the whole company. “It’s a question of attitude,” says Jaap Blijleven.
“You have to have the hotel bug in you, really enjoy your job.” That is the impression hotel staff have to give their guests, both at reception and during chance encounters in the corridor. “Involving all your partners in the process is just as important,” Wim Meirlevede stresses. “The quality of the service provided often depends largely on the way the partners early on in the chain do their job. That is why it is important for the whole chain to work together.”
It’s no concern of the end customer that poor service can really be attributed to a supplier. It is still the service provided by your company or brand. Wim Meirlevede: “We sometimes struggle with that. But it’s what you have to do: involve all parties in the chain so that you can provide the promised service for the end customer.” It is certainly not always easy. Patrick O: “Quality control is important here. With a lot of our suppliers – some of whom are in China – we carry out the quality checks ourselves.”
Finding out how a company scores in terms of service takes constant monitoring. “Direct contact with the customer is important,” says Patrick O. “So in Belgium, we not only take part in Batibouw, but also in over 130 other, smaller trade fairs. We use surveys to measure our brand awareness and customer satisfaction, for instance.”
In the hotel sector – via booking.com among other things – guest reviews are the cornerstone of the business model for online bookings. “These reviews teach us a great deal about what the customer expects,” says Jaap Blijleven. “In addition, we collect feedback via an online survey among guests who are checking out and we regularly bring in mystery guests and mystery callers. The input we receive from all these exercises enables us to respond to our guests’ needs as well as possible.”
A lot of companies collect and analyze the reviews of their brand on social media. “But that needs qualifying a little,” according to Patrick O. “In social media, the emphasis is often on bad news. You have to relativize that type of message a little.” Or at least interpret it correctly. “A bad review like this is often related to an incident,” says Wim Meirlevede, “whereas a satisfaction survey asks more about the experience of specific functions or services. You can’t just lump them both together.”
Miele believes that it is important for every contact with the customer – positive or negative – to be followed up properly. Nico Debruyne: “Every consumer visited by a technician, who called a contact center or made a complaint, receives an questionnaire by e-mail. The questions are simple: did the technician explain what he was doing? Is your bill clear?” That led to a lot of practical measures enabling Miele to further improve its service provision.
“So now we have three general telephone numbers,” explains Nico Debruyne, “one for consumers, one for professional customers and one for dealers. As a result everyone can reach us by telephone more quickly.” This sort of small measure sometimes make the world of difference…
A customer-oriented organization gives priority to the customer’s perception. So the company has to pay attention to the entire customer journey. Across the chain, all the partners are involved parties. Only when all the links offer an excellent service does this produce the best possible experience for the customer.
Would you like to find out how new technologies help you to provide your customer with even better service? Go to www.proximus.be/nieuwperspectief.
Jaap Blijleven, MICE & Leisure Manager at Sandton & Pillows Hotels. Sandton runs hotels in the Netherlands, France and Belgium, including Sandton Brussels Centre, Sandton Pillows Brussels and Sandton Grand Hotel Reylof in Ghent.
Wim Meirlevede, Executive Manager at e-BO Enterprises. The company builds secure platforms for the distribution of content and provides related services for network management, cloud computing and infrastructure management. Among other things, E-BO Enterprises developed PrisonCloud, a service platform for detainees.
Nico Debruyne, Service Director at Miele Belux. Miele offers both high-quality household appliances and professional total solutions for hotels and hospitals, among others. The service department organizes the technicians (eighty in Belgium), manages parts, schedules interventions and runs the contact center.
Patrick O, General Manager at Viessmann Belgium. The company offers heating solutions such as boilers, heat pumps, solar systems and cogeneration. Service is essential for a company going through a disruptive transition period. Heating-as-a-Service is expected to replace traditional central heating – currently the company’s core business – by 2050.
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