Sep 15, 2007

Getting Started by Asking Questions

When considering what type of services to offer your customers the simplest way to proceed is to start by asking them. What particular difficulty are they experiencing with your product? What is its business impact? But just asking your customers isn't enough - you need to understand the demands that their customers are making, and how your products are being used to meet that demand. You must strive to provide service solutions that your customers need, not necessarily those they say they want.

Many years ago a major car manufacturer began to study the new car sales market. They were attempting to understand why so many people hated to buy a new car. They talked to the dealers (their "customers") and then began to interview their customer's customer (the car buyer). The result was a new program, offered in selected markets, of fixed price car selling combined with full disclosure. No more haggling or negotiating. There was one price, and it was listed. This new service increased car sales in those regions where studies showed that new car buyers were women. Studying your customer and your customer's customer will tell you what service will reduce "customer pain" and increase solution value. Many times, you can get a good idea of value pricing, based on your interviews.

For instance, an installation and configuration service for complicated lab equipment could get newly purchased equipment "producing" quickly, at measurable value to your customer, which will tell you the value of the service, and provide guidance for pricing.

Consider starting your process by having a conversation with your customer. Ask leading questions and explain what you are trying to do. Consider asking permission to talk to a few of their customers. At first, keep your questions general and open-ended. Remember you are tying to surface a new product idea. As an idea begins to take shape, and you have a straw dog to share, consider going back to the same group to get more specific feedback.

5 steps to getting started with Services

1. Talk to your customers.
2. Talk to their customers.
3. Identify the "pain" associated with existing product.
4. Explore possible service "Band-Aids" for that pain.
5. Create a "test" service proposal and share it with your feedback group.