Be a good customer. This was my key takeaway on the last day of the TSIA (Technology Services Industry Association) Technology Services World conference a couple of weeks ago in San Diego. The theme this spring was the convergence of services and sales and strategies for making both synchronized and profitable.

I’ll be honest, this was not my topic of choice. As Customer Engagement Manager in Support at 8x8, I am primarily interested in support channel measurement, traffic shaping, and self-service—I’m less focused on making support a revenue-generating function. I was really surprised, then, at how the closing keynote at TSW resonated with me. As someone recently on the market for a knowledge management solution, my ears perked right up when the discussion fell to customer requirements for purchasing and implementing new services.

We’re all customers, too

But this keynote also got me thinking. As managers in business who continually look for new solutions, we are customers, too—in many cases, of each other. So it raises the question: are we customers that promote and practice this thinking with our solution partners or prospective vendors? Do we operate with the belief that solution vendors have our success (and not just our subscription) in mind?

If we as business customers can apply these practices when partnering with technology providers, it will help kickstart and perpetuate the same ideas on both sides. The same way good sales agents and engineers do their homework and prepare to be flexible and creative when building their offerings, we can be better customers who are ready to work together toward success.

Here’s how:

  • Focus on objectives, not just strict system requirements – If a technology is missing a bell here or a whistle there, but can help you achieve your objectives, reconsider the necessity of those bells and whistles.
  • Know your KPIs and have targets to achieve – Define what success means to you and your business to better frame the conversation about how or if an offering can get you there.
  • Seek to follow best practices and be open to the recommendations of the solution vendor’s experts – If there’s a reason industry peers are doing things another way and being successful, it’s worth examining how and why you should, too.
  • Have ideas about where the solution can provide cross-functional value – You should of course focus on the ROI and outcomes for your own program, but if there is an opportunity to help other groups gain efficiency, share data, etc., with a particular solution, everybody wins.
  • Protect yourself from surprises – Get critical internal and solution touchpoint experts talking early and in detail, and understand what is and is not supported out-of-the-box or “for free.”
  • Talk to other customers with similar objectives – The TSIA network is built for this, but it’s easy enough to ask prospective vendors for client references. LinkedIn groups built around the types of programs, methodologies, and outcomes you are interested in are also a rich resource.
  • Look for partners, not just vendors – This means treating partners with honesty, respect, and trust when communicating and providing feedback (and when talking about them with colleagues).

Making things better for the customer

As a collective network of tech service providers in TSIA, we look for new ways to do several key things:

  • Improve as an industry
  • Develop collective best practices to increase customer satisfaction and willingness to recommend and renew
  • Synergize sales and support/services
  • Maximize efficiency and profitability through organizational harmony

We are committed to driving these objectives by looking at ways to adopt cutting-edge business practices and strategies. This includes things like KCS®, swarming, and creative organizational structure. Especially relevant to our mission is a key part of the “L” (or Land) portion of the TSIA LAER customer engagement model: a candid conversation between service providers and customers or prospects about whatever it is they’re trying to do with the thing they want to buy.

Why a “customer is always right” approach isn’t always right

Services in the tech industry are evolving to better meet the customer on their terms. But solution offers should really be tailored around how the solution as designed can meet customer objectives through common best practice.

Over-customization and a hyper-focus on the “customer is always right” philosophy—even before one actually is a customer—can quickly create unmanageable situations, and turn what might have been a good solution into something that does not scale (if it can be launched at all). A focus instead on understanding desired outcomes and mutual qualification is better for both vendors and shoppers.

Besides creating efficiency in the buying/selling cycles, this establishes an understanding of what the customer is trying to achieve and trust in the vendor as experts in whatever area their solutions fit. And it helps those vendors create programs that customers can manage and grow to be continuously successful.

Ultimately, industry innovation starts “at home.” If we can nurture good partnerships with our own solution providers and focus on objectives and best practices, we can turn around and help our customers do the same, laying the foundation for perpetually great experiences. And as we say at 8x8, the experience is everything.

KCS® is a service mark of the Consortium for Service Innovation.