Soft sell

20 March 2008

From a customer perspective, does it really matter if you are dealing with a large company or a small one? Large companies will cite fleet size, age, location, variety and a million other reasons why big is better, but when it comes to it, the thing that makes a real difference is very simple: customer service and from that customer satisfaction.

Utilizing software to ensure that customer service is exceptional can eliminate the perceived difference between large and small. If your customers know that when they call they will speak to someone who knows them, knows their rental history, understands their requirements and can deliver solutions quickly it makes a difference.

A lot of smaller operations confuse personal contact with great customer service. If customer knowledge remains in people's heads, rather than being shared it's useless. It's great that Joe the branch manager has a fantastic relationship with Fred, but when Joe goes on vacation, Fred finds no one in the branch who understands his needs. Your rental software should tell anyone in the branch that Fred always rents excavators with 2–foot buckets, he never gets charged insurance, always picks up the equipment himself and that the engine on the last excavator he rented blew up on site. That way Fred doesn't just get the same service whenever he comes in, no matter who's at the desk; when he mentions the equipment failure on his last rental, you can react with genuine understanding.

Do it right

There are hundreds of events that affect your customer's perception of your level of service, to take just a few examples:

BILLING – how many credits do you generate each month? Do you generate them because something went wrong with the equipment or because the customer disputes the price, or just because they were keyed in wrong when you produced your invoices?

Your software should help you ensure your bills are right first time. At our company, for example, when a contract is created, the software can check to ensure you have a PO from the customer, that it's a valid PO number, that the price matches what you've agreed previously and takes into account any special offers you are running. You can even check what you've previously quoted the customer in your own or other branches. Checks that take split seconds on a computer system would take too long if they were done manually.

MAINTENANCE – there is nothing more likely to upset customers than sending them equipment which breaks down. Your software should ensure that maintenance schedules are flagged up before equipment is allocated to contracts; that service data such as clock hours on generators are checked and entered at dispatch and off–rent so that you can charge for excess usage; that when equipment is returned damaged, it can be separated from the rental fleet so that it doesn't go out again before the repair is dealt with (not to mention being able to quickly charge the customer for the damage). Workflow within a computer system should help you control these activities so that your business moves the way that you want.

A lot of smaller organizations pull away from CRM (customer relationship management) systems and contact management because it seems expensive and complicated. Reality says that managing customer relationships is what you do everyday – it should be an integrated part of your business process and of your software. It shouldn't be a separate application, or something you do in Outlook!

Software should allow you to understand your entire relationship with your customer, not only rental history, but business potential, customer service calls, equipment breakdowns, billing issues, anything which makes a difference. Software companies realize just how important this is to smaller organizations and their products (some designed specifically for SMEs) allow comprehensive tracking of customer issues.

Software should help you free up time to spend with your customers while ensuring that your customers always get the same level of exceptional service from you. Software should promote customer satisfaction from every contact that a customer has with your business from quotation/inquiry to billing.

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