THE AGE OF THE BRILLIANT SERVICE PROFESSIONAL

by James "Alex" Alexander, Ed.D.
THE NEW DRIVER OF BUSINESS SUCCESS
Senior managers from all types of businesses in all types of industries are discovering that one role takes the spotlight in deepening key relationships with key accounts. Whatever title individuals in that position are given--field service technician, support engineer, implementation consultant, services account manager, resident engineer--no one has more potential impact on the success of the company and its key customers than the service professional...no one. High-performing service pros are where the action is, orchestrating a superb customer experience, proactively preventing problems before they occur, and leveraging relationships to rock out customers and lock out the competition.1

RESEARCH VALIDATION: WHAT EXECS SAY
Following are some executive comments taken from my research2 that reveal the power of the stellar service professional.

One senior executive from a huge telecommunications company talked about it in terms of competitive advantage: “Our lifeblood depends on the capabilities of our top service personnel to differentiate our company from others in the industry. They understand our customers’ issues and are creative in developing solutions to address them. They have become evangelists for our products and solutions and are often used in presales situations to demonstrate our capabilities.”

A manager from a European software company talked about finding new opportunities: “Frequently, the customer doesn’t know that we can help him with some other problem he is dealing with. Our top technical service people recognize and capitalize on these opportunities and we both win--the customer wins by having their needs served better, and we win by building our business and achieving revenue goals.”

A global head of services for a manufacturing company put it this way: “Our field engineers make one million customer calls per year. When they build deep relationships, our customer loyalty soars. We must maximize this opportunity.”

Obviously this is a topic of significance to business leaders and an evolution/revolution worth pursuing!
FLASH POINT: Unleash your service brilliance!
THE ATTRIBUTES OF THE BRILLIANT SERVICE PROFESSIONAL
OK, so you’re convinced. But you’re probably wondering: What does a brilliant service professional (BSP) look like?

Brilliant service professionals are, well, brilliant, and their glow lights the way to stellar performance.

Figure 1 illustrates the attributes of the BSP. Let’s review this diagram from right to left, starting with the results: repeatable, sustainable performance.
Figure 1
Attributes of the Brilliant Service Professional
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REPEATABLE, SUSTAINABLE PERFORMANCE
When service professionals rock, the outputs are repeatable, sustainable, value-adding performance. The impact is huge: Loyal customers get phenomenal value from their investment in your company and sing your praises far and wide. Your company achieves strong, profitable growth, in both products and services, and locks out the competition. And you, the brilliant service pro, get the rewards and recognition befitting your contribution and your status. Sounds like a classic win-win-win to me!

TRUST-BUILDING BEHAVIORS
Brilliant service professionals get brilliant results by behaving differently from average service providers. They must do many things well, but the very best service pros act in ways that quickly build and maintain integrity. BSPs ooze credibility as they proactively build trust.

TOOLS
The service rock star is a big believer in using tools. He enthusiastically embraces any checklist of required actions, set of practices, or relevant case study that can help him retain quality while doing his job faster and easier.

COMPETENCIES
Five competencies are integrated within the brilliant service professional:

1. Value-creating mindset. The brilliant service professional possesses a view of life based on creating value. He understands the big picture and collaborates with customers and colleagues to deliver business results and personal wins. Here is what executives have said on this topic:
  • “They build upon their credibility and relationship skills to find bigger customer needs and recommend appropriate solutions.”
  • “They understand the big picture.”
  • “Our top performers have a holistic viewpoint. They clearly see the importance and the fit of services and support as part of the overall solution when combined with hardware, software, and consumables. Our average performers fail to leverage the strength and diversity of our entire organization.”
  • “They have a program-level horizon instead of a project-level horizon.”
  • “They look beyond their role with regard to ‘what would the CEO want to know?’”

2. Customer acumen. The BSP knows a lot about his customers. He understands his customer’s industry, his customer’s markets, his company’s competitors, and his customer’s competitors. Furthermore, he is savvy about business in general. Executive comments regarding customer acumen include:
  • “They have knowledge of both the client’s environment and our business. They take the trouble to understand more, and it pays off.”
  • “They have a better grasp of overall business needs.”
  • “They bring a rich portfolio of practical experiences and relationships with others, and they possess an understanding of business dynamics and market trends.”

3. Relationship skills. The brilliant service professional knows that relationships are what matter in work and in all aspects of life. He is a master of the four core relationship skills of listening with intensity, probing with purpose, presenting powerfully, and acknowledging concerns. Again, here are some direct quotes from my research participants that emphasize the criticality of these skills:
  • “My top performers possess not just adequate or good communication skills, they have great communication skills.”
  • “They communicate the invisible well.”
  • “They display superior creativity in listening to customer issues and creating a solution strategy that clearly shows how it solves the problem quickly and thoroughly. The differentiator is their level of creativity, their understanding of issues, and the speed with which they react.”
  • “They are superb communicators with clients, team members, and management within our company.”
  • “They find a way to outline options and pros and cons to the customer in such a way that this becomes the customer’s direction.”

4. Engagement management. The BSP understands how engagements are run, how problems are solved, and how to best interact with the customer. Internally, he uses the knowledge management system, follows procedures, uses prescribed tools, and provides accurate updates on all work in a timely fashion.

5. Technical proficiency. The brilliant service pro knows enough about his technology, products, and services to get things done. Interestingly, deep technical know-how is not vital in most situations. Here are some comments from my research that demonstrate this point:
  • “My star performers are all good technically, however, most are not technical experts--they know when to bring in technical gurus when needed.”
  • “Interestingly, many of my people who customers see as trusted advisors are only technically adequate. They deliver their value through helping customers connect the dots--showing how the best use of our solutions can have a big impact on that customer’s issues.”

IF YOU WANT IT, YOU CAN HAVE IT
So there it is: Five competencies that are enhanced by tools and mobilized by trust-building behaviors that will yield the results that customers crave and executives yearn for. Like anything of value, it will take some work, but the good news is that the attributes are known, the skills determined, and the steps to success defined. If you want it, you can have it.

WHAT'S IN IT FOR YOU?
If you rise to the status of being seen by your customers as a BSP you will:
  • Provide greater customer impact. A brilliant service professional takes charge of the customer experience and makes recommendations that drive the most value. They get personal fulfillment out of providing great impact.
  • Create great relationships. Customers highly value people who improve their business and personal situation, and thus appreciate having a relationship with a brilliant service professional. They also are willing to become reference accounts for the service professional’s company, which makes getting more customers both easier and faster.
  • Achieve recognition. An advantage of being in a customer-facing role is that top performers get lots of recognition because of the visibility they achieve and the huge value they bring to customers and to their employers. Who doesn’t like to be well known and respected?
  • Build your personal brand. The word gets out when you are the very best. As a top performer, you’ll build your brand throughout your company and the industry in which you work.
  • Enjoy job security. The very best performers in any profession in any industry are never without a job, whatever the state of the economy. If you are a BSP, the worst thing that will happen in a downturn is that you will land a position with greater opportunities!
  • Make more money. Brilliant service professionals are in short supply, and the best ones make very good money. You can be financially secure and enjoy the lifestyle you want.
  • Have more fun. Brilliant service professionals take pride in their roles, their accomplishments, and their relationships. They do important work that makes a difference. Isn’t that what fun is all about?

Becoming a brilliant service pro can be a life-changer for many individuals. Go for it!


1 I talk in detail about the rising criticality of services within product companies and the opportunities and challenges it brings in my book Seriously Selling Services: How to Build a Profitable Services Business in Any Industry.
2 Alexander, James A. 2007. “Transitioning Technical Experts into Trusted Advisors.” St. James City, FL: Alexander Consulting.

This article was adapted from The Brilliant Service Professional: Building Trust, Creating Value, Having Fun, by James “Alex” Alexander, and can be purchased on Amazon.com or the Alexander Consulting website.
James "Alex" Alexander is founder of Alexander Consulting, a management consultancy that helps product companies build brilliant service businesses. Contact him at 239-671-0740 or alex@alexanderstrategists.com.

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