The Daniel Group
January 13, 2014 Issue
The Most Powerful Name In Corporate News and Information
Measuring, Managing and Improving Customer Service for B2B Companies
Interview conducted by: Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – January 13, 2014
CEOCFO: Mr. Daniel, what is the focus and philosophy of The Daniel Group?
Mr. Daniel: Our focus is helping business-to-business companies measure, manage and improve customer service. Our philosophy is that it is far less expensive to keep and retain a customer than it is to find a new one. Our focus is helping those people keep customers, keep them loyal and keep them returning through better customer service.
CEOCFO: Do you think companies in general will understand that concept?
Mr. Daniel: No, and there are two reasons for my response. One is that they assume that they are keeping existing customers, unless they happen to lose a large customer. There are few companies that I have worked with that have a process in place to track lost customers. Many times a customer will signal their intentions years or months in advance. Seldom are individual accounts formally reviewed to look for a customer that may be in the process of defecting. The second reason is that it is probably a lot more interesting and bit sexier to go out and try to find new customers. That seems to be where the focus of most senior management is; finding new customers. Do not misunderstand me, finding new customers is very important, but you have to keep existing customers from going out the back door if you are going to be successful in the long run.
CEOCFO: Is there a common thread among the companies that you work with other than wanting to do better?
Mr. Daniel: The common thread that is running through the thinking of many managers with which we work is that product features are no longer the only thing that sells. The ability of competition to innovate, catch up and even move ahead with new features is vastly improved in most markets over where it was years ago. What was new and innovative a year ago is now just the same as everyone else offers. In most markets today, most everybody is making a pretty good product. If you look at the trucking industry, there are a number of very good truck brands out there. With construction equipment, power equipment and machining equipment, there are a number of very good brands out there. Companies have to distinguish themselves in other ways, and I think service is a very important and valuable way they can distinguish themselves from the competition. Customers are increasingly expecting top notch service when they invest in a product.
CEOCFO: Would you walk us through a typical engagement with a client?
Mr. Daniel: A typical engagement is at least 12 months. We have worked with most of our clients for multiple years. One of our product lines is ServiceConnect. It is designed to help clients measure, manage, and improve customer service. We get information such as work orders, parts orders or some other kind of transaction data from the customer. We then do follow up phone calls with randomly chosen customers. We want to know how the experience went. All of that information is available to our clients through our proprietary website. They are able to measure performance at say a location level, and in some cases, they are measuring performance down to the service delivery person level. We are able to help them. The first step is to measure, and as we work with them many times we are working with them on how to manage that service delivery process and hopefully improve it.
CEOCFO: Are there particular levels where customer service tends to break down in the industries you cover or is it at every level?
Mr. Daniel: Based on our own observations and research we are currently doing at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the single biggest reason for satisfaction or dissatisfaction in a customer service experience is lack of communication from the provider. If I am going to get my HVAC system repaired at my commercial building or my milling machine, as an example, and I am told that a tech is going to be there at eight o’clock, I expect the technician to arrive as promised. But if the technician does not show up and nobody tells me why, when, or anything then I become very dissatisfied. Another example of why communication matters a great deal. For much of the equipment sold by our clients, repairs can be complicated. The service technicians begin the repair and realize other things are wrong besides what was to be fixed originally. Rather than calling the customer and communicating with them about what is wrong and if they want to fix it or not, they go ahead and fix it and the customer gets a rude surprise when the final bill shows up. That one word, communication, is probably the key to improving service in the industries we serve.
CEOCFO: Do your clients tend to take advantage of the full range of your services?
Mr. Daniel: Yes, we do a lot of specialized market research. We just finished up a major project with a client where they wanted to dig in more deeply into one particular segment of their market and learn a lot more about what customers were thinking. We also do internal surveys because we know that without engaged employees you will not be able to deliver positively memorable customer service. We are expanding our training options so that we can further help clients improve service.
CEOCFO: You mentioned working more in some newer industries. Where are you targeting and why?
Mr. Daniel: We want to grow because we have limited growth opportunities in our major market. We want to expand our presence in material handling, heavy truck, and machine tool markets, among others. In our traditional area market areas, we want to expand our consulting, training and research offerings. These markets are similar to those we are already serving, meaning that the companies are selling a complicated and significant product that is more mission critical. The product has ongoing service needs, part and service to keep it running and there tends to be a long-term relationship established between provider and customer.
CEOCFO: Is there much competition in your industry for the segment that you tend to serve?
Mr. Daniel: We have competition. There are many more competitors on the B2C side than the B2B side. We focus on the business-to-business company. Our biggest competition is a lack of awareness of the issue, and that tends to be the biggest competition for us. Once we start talking to people and start educating them about why they need to be doing this, they get interested. It is getting them educated as to why that is the first step.
CEOCFO: How do you reach potential clients?
Mr. Daniel: The biggest source for us is referrals. That is how we built our business. The referrals take place usually among senior level managers. Increasingly, we are using the internet more and using our website. We are trying to put more content on the website and use the website to educate people about why. We can educate them on good customer service practices whether they choose to use us or not. Those kinds of things help educate customer and help them learn about what we do so that they will give us a call when they need our service.
CEOCFO: When you are speaking with a prospective client, is there a typical aha moment when they understand what you do and how your approach might be different from others?
Mr. Daniel: Yes, I think there may be a couple. One is when we start talking about our interviewers. Typically, we hire the best interviewers possible and pay them well. We have an ongoing training program for them. We think interviewers are important because that person is, in effect, the representative of our client’s company when they are on the phone with a customer. We want them to do a very good job. I think one of the first aha moments is when we start talking about how that person is going to start interacting with their customer and how that should matter to you. It should matter because we do not know if we are going to be talking to an operator, piece of equipment, or whether it is going to be the president of the company. It could be either. I think the second aha moment is when we start going through our online portal and we show them that they are going to be able to see in real time what their customers are saying about them. Many of them have been doing annual surveys, email surveys, or sending postcards. Even if you have a good response rate someone still has to organize. Our system, LinkConnect, does that for them so our clients can get immediately usable information.
CEOCFO: Does the long history of The Daniel Group have meaning for your potential customers or is that not as important these days as it might once have been?
Mr. Daniel: I think it does because, first of all, our client turnover is very low. It is low because they trust us with their customers. They look at that longevity as an indication that we are doing something right. We are not perfect, but far more times than not, we do things the right way. I think that is something that adds credibility when we talk toB2B managers. The other thing I should add to that is that by virtue of being around for a while, you develop a wealth of knowledge and understand their business. Some of these businesses are far more complex than selling a cell phone to a customer. It is an extremely complex business with ongoing relationships. In some cases, those relationships are worth millions and millions of dollars each year.
CEOCFO: According to your site, giving back is important for The Daniel Group. Why and where do you focus your efforts?
Mr. Daniel: Personally, I have always been interested in education. Many of my activities are with the undergraduate institution I went to, NC State. I was on the Girl Scout council for a number of years; I served on the board of the WFAE Radio, which was the local public station. As a company, we typically select a charity each year and focus on that. This time, we have done it a little differently in that we have focused on one particular one for a couple years, which is the Ronald McDonald House here in Charlotte. We did things like wash cars for people, serve meals, and in the past we helped at a place called Crisis Assistance, which serves homeless people. We have provided food, and we have done things like that to support that particular charity. We believe quite strongly that we need to give back. We just need to give back to our local community in whatever way that we feel that we can.
CEOCFO: What, over years, has changed most at The Daniel Group concerning philosophy and understanding?
Mr. Daniel: One thing is size. We are a small firm, but we have over 50 people now. I have to do things such as manage people as opposed to being a consultant, which is what I was. The other thing is that with people who work remotely, which most of our people do, it is harder to keep in connection with each other. We work hard at keeping connected. We do have quarterly face-to-face meetings, and we are using technology to try to foster some of those connections. As we grow, that continues to be a struggle for us – keeping people connected.
CEOCFO: Your company is on the Inc. list, so we know business is good. Sum it up for our readers. Why pay attention to The Daniel Group today, and what is ahead?
I think we do
the best job possible. We try to practice what we preach in that we deliver
good customer service to our clients. What is ahead for us is trying to
develop an even deeper understanding of what drives good customer service so
that we can share that with our clients and help them keep those profitable
customers that they need to be keeping.
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