ASSESSING YOUR SERVICES ORGANIZATION QUICKLY AND EASILY: FOUR STEPS TO BRILLIANT SERVICES

by James "Alex" Alexander, Ed.D.
You probably visit your physician and work with your CPA each year to assess your physical health and financial well-being. The information you gain allows you to feel comfortable in staying your course or provides the impetus to make needed changes in your personal life. So doesn’t it make sense to assess the health and well-being of your services business on a regular basis? Doing a yearly services business assessment--or health check or whatever you choose to call it--will:
  • Provide valuable insights to make your services business better.
  • Demonstrate due diligence--a trait of an effective manager
  • Show you care by involving key players--a characteristic of an effective leader.

Sounds worth doing, don’t you think?

A well-implemented assessment will answer many questions:
  1. Is your existing services strategy still the most appropriate for supporting the overall business, or have things changed that might impact the services role?
  2. Is your services portfolio up to date, or should some services be enhanced or new services delivered?
  3. Are their gaps in your services delivery and support processes? If so, what must be changed to improve effectiveness and efficiency?
  4. Are the right services being sold to the right customers in the right way, or do some changes need to be made?
  5. Are the right targets and incentives in place, or should new goals and recognition be considered?
  6. Do customers see your services as value adders, or do you need to rethink how you work?
  7. Is the services organization valued internally, or do you need to re-position or re-brand your business?

A four-pronged approach is an effective services assessment approach:
  1. Executive interviews.
  2. Key player focus groups.
  3. Field observation.
  4. Voice of the customer research.

STEP ONE: INTERVIEWS WITH THE EXECUTIVE TEAM
I suggest that you personally conduct face-to-face interviews with your executives. The goal is to determine how the executive team views the strategy of the organization and, specifically, what role the services group should play in helping to meet those goals. Here are the types of questions to ask:
  1. What are the two or three critical business issues (problems that must be solved or opportunities that must be capitalized upon) that must be addressed in order for the executive team to achieve its strategic goals?
  2. What role should services play to accomplish the business strategy?
  3. What are the services organization’s biggest challenges and services opportunities?
  4. What changes would they like to see in the services business by the end of the current year, and in two to three years?
  5. How do you compare against a brilliant services standard?

This is important information to know. In addition, this process demonstrates that you are proactive and helps strengthen these very important personal relationships.

STEP TWO: FOCUS GROUPS
The more key players involved in the assessment process, the more they will be supportive of changes you later implement. I’d suggest one- to two-hour focus groups (over the phone is fine) of key groups such as:
  • Your frontline services providers.
  • The sellers of services.
  • Your services management team.

Again, the focus should be on existing strengths, challenges, opportunities, and suggestions for improvement. I guarantee that you will find out some valuable information and probably a surprise or two.

STEP THREE: RIDING ALONG ON CUSTOMER CALLS
The third step is accompanying sellers or your services consultants or engineers on customer calls. The focus is strictly to observe the business development process or services delivery process in action to find out what really happens, not what people say happens. You will learn a bunch.

STEP FOUR: ASKING CUSTOMERS THE RIGHT QUESTIONS THE RIGHT WAY
The last leg in the assessment process entails conducting a “voice of the customer” (VOC) market study, which involves interviewing customers.

The goals of the VOC process are to:
  1. Gather quality information to help define and prioritize high-potential (high value to the customer and good profit to the company) services that could be introduced quickly with minimum hassle.
  2. Build a business case for the need for a stronger service emphasis.
  3. Deepen and expand customer relationships.
  4. Determine how customers currently use the services offerings.
  5. Find out customers’ critical business issues.
  6. Determine if customers are interested in new services.
  7. Ascertain the value drivers and price points that customers look for in new services.
  8. Identify their decision-making process--how they buy services.
  9. Gather feedback on the importance and effectiveness of the services the customer currently utilizes.
  10. Look for any other areas of improvement or recommendations to develop more of a partnership relationship with the customer.

POST-ASSESSMENT ACTIONS
  1. After all of the assessment information is collected and analyzed, I’d suggest a one-day, off-site planning meeting with your staff to digest the findings, consider possible options, and then build an improvement plan.
  2. Next, I’d recommend sharing key findings and planned actions with executives in a two-hour session. It’s always good to get senior management’s blessing.
  3. Next, I’d suggest sharing findings with everyone in the services business.
  4. Go back to the customers you interviewed and share findings and plans.

IN-HOUSE OR OUTSOURCED
Whether you do all the above yourself, hire an outside expert to conduct the assessment, or use outside expertise for coaching while you do the legwork (my recommendation), make a yearly assessment part of your ongoing plan. The worst possible outcome is that you will confirm what you are doing, and that will strengthen relationships with people vital to your success.

If brilliant services are what you desire, use an assessment to light the fire.
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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