Your shiny new meeting management system is now in place. You did all your research, and picked the software that seemed to have the features you needed most. You went through all of your organization’s purchasing processes: the RFI, the RFP, and maybe also an RFQ. The contract has been signed, the bill has been paid, and the system has been installed.
There were some stumbling blocks along the way, however. You had to reiterate some of your requirements multiple times to your vendor’s sales representative before he seemed to fully grasp them, and it sometimes took him a few days to respond to your calls and emails. You weren’t in a big hurry anyways, so you accepted that, and you were far enough down the path that you didn’t want to start over. Then the initial installation wasn’t configured the way you’d specified, and it took repeated attempts before the vendor sorted it out.
Now, right before a live meeting, you’re having show-stopping problems with the system — and you can’t get anybody at the vendor to respond to your urgent pleas in time. The earlier clues about the vendor’s responsiveness, culture and service have manifested into a tangible, disruptive support problem that you’re stuck with for the foreseeable future.
Customer Service vs. Customer Experience
The above scenario focuses on poor customer service — in particular, after-sales technical support — and exemplifies the need to evaluate customer service before you become a customer. Once you’ve bought a product, it’s too late to discover that the vendor offers poor service. That said, customer experience is far more than just post-sale service.
Customer service is generally thought of as one or more reactive interactions, with the vendor answering questions and providing assistance. After-sales support is the most commonly-thought-of aspect of customer service, although pre-sales advice is also part of the package. But such service is only one facet — albeit a crucial one — of the overall experience that customers and prospects have with a vendor.
While “customer service” may be considered a series of individual interactions, “customer experience” is about the total impact of all of those encounters plus other touchpoints that the user or prospect has with the vendor. As an analogy, if “customer service” is a point product, then “customer experience” is a comprehensive end-to-end solution, taking a holistic view that spans from before the customer buys the product all the way through the entire relationship lifecycle.
Beyond the mechanics and results of each interaction, customer experience also encompasses the psychological aspects of the relationship, including overall satisfaction, brand perception of the vendor, and long-term loyalty. While customer service is often evaluated based on how quickly, accurately and thoroughly a problem was solved, customer experience is equally concerned about how the customer felt about the process and how the vendor handled it.
Early Clues and Peer Perceptions
Pay close attention to the characteristics of even your first interactions with a potential vendor. What you encounter during the early stages of the customer experience will often be a good indicator of what you can expect afterwards if you purchase their solution. Look for clues as to their responsiveness and the degree to which they truly value their customers, and give serious consideration to any warning flags before you sign on the dotted line.
Ask yourself how happy (or unhappy) you are with the sales process to date. Is the vendor responsive? Are they supportive? Are they innovative? And significantly, are they truly listening to you? Remember, it’s the period before the sale when the vendor has the most motivation to make a good impression. If you’re already having concerns, there’s a very good chance that the experience will only go downhill from there.
Beyond your own direct interactions with the vendor, you should also talk to your peers in similar organizations to find out their experience with — and overall impressions of — the solution provider. Is the vendor regarded as a thought leader, sharing their industry knowledge and vision through blogs, white papers, conference participation and the like? Are they well known? And are they well-respected by your peers?
Next, take a look at their track record. Does the vendor have a sizable install base, or just a handful of active clients? Can the vendor provide named-account case studies and reference letters? While such endorsements are definitely useful on their own, you can get even more information by conducting your own reference checks. Talking to their customers is your strongest tool in evaluating the end-to-end customer experience. You will have personally had pre-sales interactions with the vendor, but ask the reference about their experiences in terms of implementation, technical support, communications channels, responsiveness and follow-up. Ask them what happens with their product suggestions and feedback; the overall friendliness and professionalism of the supplier; and their experience with the vendor’s software updates in terms of frequency, stability, and how painless the upgrade process is.
While existing customers of the vendor can offer the deepest first-hand experience, speaking to others who chose not to purchase that particular solution can also provide valuable insights. They may have discovered something that you wouldn’t have thought to ask, but would make a significant difference in your decision process.
The eScribe Experience
Here at eScribe, our focus on delivering a superior customer experience starts right at the beginning. Our “high touch” approach flows all the way from your first interaction with sales through to implementation, account management and support.
Our clients like us for many reasons, including having a fantastic solution — but a lot of their satisfaction comes right back to the total customer experience. Put us to the test — contact us for references, read some of our case studies, and ask our customers specifically about our support and the customer experience we provide. We’re confident you’ll be impressed with what you hear.