Your Brand, Their Service: Keep control of your customer experience delivered through service partners

I recently ordered HDTV service installation from my cable TV provider. At least, that’s what I thought I had ordered. As it turned out, my TV provider had sent my order to a regional service provider. The service provider in turn had sub-contracted my installation to still another company that serves my city. While my order had been placed with the brand owner, fulfillment had been left to a party two steps away. How would it go?

When my installation day arrived (I was told they’d show up sometime “in the afternoon”) no one ever came. Irritated, I called my provider to ask why the installer had been a “no show.” After 45 minutes on the phone, my provider explained they had “no control” over the installers. “No control,” I thought? I had spent $200 for a new HD receiver and the new service was going to add $10 a month to my bill. I had added $320 to my provider’s top-line over the subsequent 12 months and they had “no control?”

Simplification might be a mantra for our colleagues in product management, but the reality is that the trend in technology is still in the direction of complexity. Installation is becoming an even more critical component of the order fulfilment process. Why then, at this critical interaction point, do so many companies assume a “no control” position over this crucial piece of customer experience?

Building internal installation capabilities is rarely feasible for companies with extensive geographic coverage and rapid product lifecycles. Almost all such companies partner in order to perform some component of their service, whether it be installation or repair. But this doesn’t mean customer experience must suffer. Here are some common mistakes brand owners make:

1. Thinking installation and repair services don’t matter to end customers’ perception of brand equity. This seems like an obvious one, but it happens all too often. Customer experience in service channels gets forgotten when companies view installations as a Boolean – “Did the installation get completed?,” “Did the product get fixed?,” and not as a key interaction point that enforces (or detracts) from the overall brand.

2. Viewing service partners as a necessary evil. Partnering shouldn’t be treated as a “last choice” when building and acquiring service capabilities aren’t feasible. Partners are extensions of your value chain and should be treated as such.

3. Not considering the role of sub-contractors. In my example above, it ultimately turned out that the problem started when the installer went to the wrong address but had no mechanism while in still in the field to verify where I lived (believe or not, the upstream service provider has no policy for reimbursing calls so installers don’t use their personal cell phones in such circumstances). Companies make a crucial mistake when not understanding whose ultimately representing their brand in the field and how those processes get managed.

So what’ s a brand owner to do? Here’s an action plan to get started:

  • Communicate your customer experience expectations to your service providers and set benchmarks for them to achieve. Your service partners really have two customers – your end users where service is delivered and the brand owner who (usually) pays the bills. Brand owners have a choice of service partners and you should use this leverage. Work with services partners to improve experiences. If they refuse, choose new partners to represent your brand.
  • Understand how your service partners use sub-contractors. Ask questions about who is ultimately representing your brand. Do your partners use sub-contractors? How are they measured? Do they show up on time? Are they courteous and professional? Are they competent and trained?
  • Consider technology investments to ensure service quality. My installation’s problem started when the sub-contractor couldn’t verify my address. The result? I ended up getting a $200 credit from my TV provider for the missed installation. At that price, it wouldn’t take many missed installations to rationalize some technology improvements, maybe a handheld with GPS, to reduce errors.

Don’t make the mistake of claiming “no control” while service partners have your most precious resource, your customers, in their hands. Keep things in control and aligned around your brand.