“Our job is to make our customers look good to their bosses.”
That’s the philosophy of Tekserve, an Apple retailer and IT services provider in New York City, as articulated by Director of Marketing Jazmin Hupp.
Imagine that you are a long-time Apple retailer and supplier, and then Apple builds their flagship store just two miles from you, then four more just as close. Some might find it time to close up shop. Instead, Tekserve used the challenge as an opportunity to refocus on their customers. Their reward? Consistent growth, being featured in the Crain’s New York Business Fast 50 and the Computer Reseller News’ 2012 Solution Provider 500 list, which ranks the top technology integrators in North America.
Tekserve doubled-down on the service surrounding Apple’s products, particularly for businesses. Almost 2/3 of their revenue comes from B2B relationships, where they are far nimbler than Apple. Much of their work involves integrating Apple products into existing networks, including wholesale conversions from PCs to Macs.
Tekserve credits their growth to three main areas of focus:
- Comprehensive customer immersion
- Engaging employees in the Tekserve culture
- Creating a great B2B customer experience
Comprehensive Customer Immersion
Tekserve has a thorough program to stay close to their customers, including surveys, analytics, and customer visits.
Tekserve uses a variety of surveys, most based on the question “Based on this experience, how likely are you to recommend Tekserve to a friend or colleague?” from the Net Promoter Score (NPS) approach. The goal of these surveys is to gather feedback about the customer experience and likelihood of recommending Tekserve to others.
One activity that differentiates Tekserve is that their survey is not restricted to paying customers, as they also survey prospects pre-purchase. This is a crucial step, as Bruce Temkin recently argued, saying “An overwhelming majority of companies have no idea about the experiences that cause people to not become customers… I call these your non-customers. This can be a serious blind spot.” Tekserve avoids this problem by sending a survey request to prospects after they receive a quote. This helps them find barriers in their sales process that can be missed by typical customer-only surveys.
Their surveys are sent by email and are tied to the respondent to enable them to follow up. The surveys also include five to seven optional questions that, while not specific to the transaction, give Tekserve more information about their customers’ and their practices in an area of interest. They offer a drawing for those who participate in the additional questions. For example, they recently included questions about customers’ backup practices. This data was then used to create the following Infographic.
A common problem with using verbatim responses is the tendency to overreact to individual comments. To create process that would allow Tekserve to evaluate the highs and lows of their customers as a whole, the company centralized the responsibility for survey info-gathering with the marketing team. Each week departmental managers receive the best and worst survey comments to follow-up on. Having both in the same report encourages staff to keep the negative comments in prospective with the overwhelmingly positive. Each supervisor contacts customers that left negative feedback as well as customers who left positive feedback to thank them. The process also incorporates Facebook comments and Tweets, to give a better overview of customer sentiment and target resolutions appropriately.
This focus has resulted in NPS scores that are consistently in the 70s. Those not familiar with how to calculate the NPS score can find more information here.
Tekserve does not have quite the analytics focus of Great Clips, with their constantly-updated data from all salons, but nevertheless focuses on those areas that are most critical to their business.
Having found a direct correlation between higher phone call answer rates and increased revenue, incoming calls are tracked with a goal of 93% answered. They also track email response rates by department, with a goal to respond within four business hours. They try to act quickly, as they find that a slow response in one medium causes customers to move to a second like calling or tweeting. Not only does a slow response impact the customer relationship, it ties up additional resources – a double hit.
The surveys and analytics are both very good, but their customer visit strategy really impresses me. I regularly talk to companies who acknowledge the importance of visiting clients, but just can’t find the time to make it happen. I even worked with one company that felt that visiting clients was an unnecessary expense! Not so at Tekserve, which features customer visits by their CEO and VP of Sales as central to their Customer Experience strategy.
The story about how their customer visits began reminds me of this brilliant United Airlines commercial. Tekserve unexpectedly lost a valuable client. This caused them to step back and reassess how they maintain their customer relationships. The answer was to elevate the level of the relationship through leader-to-leader meetings.
Whereas Tekserve typically works with an IT Director or purchasing contact, these client meetings are with a CIO, CTO, or Vice President and begin with an account review, including the work done in the last year. They discuss any big wins, and review the operational impact of Tekserve’s work.
Then they move to the future, asking the client where they see their business going and how Tekserve can help them prepare. Typical follow-up questions include:
- What challenges do you see coming to your business in the next six months?
- What do you want to learn more about?
- What can we do to help you prepare for it?
These future-focused questions transform the visit from tactical to strategic. While the primary focus of the visit is to reinforce the client relationship, there are times when they uncover new partnership opportunities. Jazmin recounted a visit with a medical provider who was purchasing specialty charger stations. The visit uncovered a partnership opportunity, resulting in $500,000 in new revenue.
Jazmin recommends that your visits focus on deepening relationships, rather than letting them become sales calls. Focusing on your client’s business can allow great opportunities to develop organically.
Engaging Employees in the Tekserve Culture
Tekserve’s customer focus is reinforced through how they engage their employees. Since techs spend the majority of time at customers’ sites, Tekserve constantly reinforces their company’s values.
Tekserve typically finds their best recruits from independent techs who may have used Tekserve for hardware repairs while doing integration work. These technicians already have a relationship with Tekserve, making for an easier hiring process.
Their focus continues on onboarding. They know that their newest, greenest tech is still their face to the customer. As Jazmin explains, “everybody knows the guy who bags their groceries, but nobody knows the store manager. And the guy in front of the customer is often the lowest-paid person on the team.”
Orientations focus on the company’s principles and history, including their philosophy: “We live in a world where things are broken, and we won’t always be able to meet expectations. So please lean on the people around you to create a better experience, particularly when you know you’re getting into trouble.”
The first three months of an employees’ tenure sets the tone for their experience at the company. To reinforce the culture and make sure the experience is positive, Tekserve conducts reviews at 30, 60, and 90 days after a new hire comes onboard.
Technicians are also trained to understand that facts don’t matter – a difficult message for a technician to internalize! They train them to begin by acknowledging the problem and aligning themselves with the customer before they begin troubleshooting. While this does not always come naturally, technicians find that doing this sets expectations more effectively, and reduces the blame shifting that can occur in these situations.
Creating a Great B2B Customer Experience
While the customer immersion and company culture lay the groundwork, Tekserve also designs the experience to maximize the potential for success.
They are open seven days a week and focus on providing the fastest response time possible. This has led to many opportunities, including a relationship with Music Max Mobile. The company was preparing for a concert at Central Park, when they realized they were missing a key plug-in for their Mac. They sent out requests for various companies in New York, and Tekserve responded with the missing software in less than 20 minutes. This led to a long-term relationship, and MusicMix Mobile even gave credit to Tekserve when they won an Emmy!
When on a job, the company knows that the beginning and ending of the service is most critical, and builds processes to make sure the experience starts and finishes on a strong note.
Before scheduling a visit, they ask a series of questions to prepare their technician for success. They make sure the technician arrives early, which can be a real challenge in New York City, and start the transaction by setting expectations for the visit, including how long they expect to take. They deliberately estimate high, preferring to overestimate the time needed at this client and finish early, rather than the technician having to leave before the job is done.
They end the experience by providing great documentation about the work that has been done, following up to confirm that expectations were met and if there are any other needs and thank them for their business. This provides confirmation for the work they have done, but also helps future technicians that may be involved at the site.
Advice for Others
I asked Jazmin her advice for companies that want to create the same great customer-focused approach as Tekserve. Her answers surprised me, as they were not “Do as we Do”, but instead “Learn as we Learn.”
Her first recommendation was to hire a combination of internal and external managers. They have found that hiring from the outside brings ideas that may not have come internally. But you need to balance these hires with internal promotions, which provide consistency and reinforce the culture.
Jazmin built much of her strategy through networking with peers, particularly at conferences. She especially recommends the annual Net Promoter conference, where she learned many of the practices she now uses. She also presents at and attends Apple-specific conferences. By bringing in external talent and networking with peers, the company has continued to learn and build an adaptational approach to staying close to their customers.
Tekserve has a great story to tell for any business, but particularly for those with a B2B focus. It all starts off with their Customer Immersion program. Tekserve implements best practices, and also establishes a few of their own. More importantly, they have the diligence to execute them consistently. I particularly like their customer visits – it is here that you can truly learn how well you are serving your customers, and occasionally be rewarded with new business.
Earlier in my career I introduced a similar program to a company, and we learned a tremendous amount through these visits. Not only did we receive feedback on our product development, but this helped us completely change our marketing approach through a better understanding of how our customers were communicating about our product.
It is also very challenging to build a consistent culture when so much of your workforce is out and about all day long. The 30, 60, and 90-day reviews are a great way to make certain that the customer focus is reinforced, and to battle the tendency for a new employee to try to do everything him- or herself.
Lastly, how many times have you experienced a poor start to a customer experience? A bad start taints the entire visit. By creating a solid process for technicians to begin and end effectively, they prevent avoidable issues by creating a repeatable customer-inspired experience.
Tekserve is a great example to any B2B company. By creating a comprehensive customer immersion program, engaging the employees around the customer, and creating the process for a great customer experience, Tekserve continues to grow, delighting even more customers each year.