Enjoying the most frequent personal interactions with customers, sales reps and FAS’s are the top brand touch-points for the majority of life science companies. Without proper marketing reinforcement, sales reps and FAS are delivering the company’s brand as interpreted by them, as opposed to being carefully engineered by the company. This can potentially cause conflicting brand messages in the marketplace, causing further complacency. Michel Bon, CEO of France Telecom is quoted with a wise observation: “If you sincerely believe that ‘the customer is king,’ the second most important person in the kingdom must be the one who has a direct interaction on a daily basis with the king.”vi
Aligning with Customers
Of course, service and support organizations are not charged with branding or marketing. They are charged with producing customer satisfaction. Virtually all of the respondents claimed that they frequently measure the performance of their service and support programs. The companies that do not frequently measure performance (17% of total respondents) cite lack of resources as the primary reason.
Respondents also state that alignment with customer expectation is challenging, but the majority of companies are actively working on finding solutions. No one reported that customers’ assessments are always well aligned with the company’s perception of service and support delivery. However, 4 out of 5 claim frequent alignment, suggesting that the companies service and support executives have a realistic view of how well their organization is performing.
The biggest customer satisfaction issues for the respondents are responsiveness and access to a live individual. Although the respondents are working to address such issues, less than half claim that they are doing very well in implementing solutions to align better with customer perceptions.
In general, is the industry standard for service and support high or low? Exactly half of the survey respondents assert that their company’s service and support offerings are somewhat better than the category standard. Even though the number of respondents to this survey is not statistically conclusive, the bell-curve in Figure 3 is slightly askew towards the left, suggesting a trend towards the perceived importance in providing good service in this industry.
As suggested by the survey data, most customer service and technical support organizations strive towards excellence in customer satisfaction, but the majority of companies don’t leverage it as a point of differentiation. If companies apply innovation to developing a truly differentiated offering, they can leverage this as a reason for scientists should do business with them, at both ends of the technology adoption life cycle.
A successful brand needs careful engineering and effective communications across all possible touch-points. Since most life science companies directly engage with their customers, service and support channels are most likely their top brand touch-points. Marketing executives would do well to collaborate with their counterparts in this area to help develop unique customer experiences through service and support communications.
Developing a unique and compelling service and support offering may elevate a life science product away from commodity status and into new heights of profitability. Two keys to success would be to ensure that the offerings being promoted are better than the reality of industry averages in meeting customer satisfaction and are different than other offerings within the category. By applying innovation and smart marketing to service and support, life science companies can set themselves apart from their competitors, cultivate lasting relationships with their customers, and build a strong brand that transcends any specific technology.
- i “Branding: Differentiation That Customers Value” Marketer’s Toolkit: The 10 Strategies you need to Succeed. (Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2006).
- ii The concepts of the Technology Adoption Life Cycle and The Chasm are discussed in greater detail in the January/February 2006 issue of Linus Report. The remainder of this paper assumes that the reader has a working knowledge of the Technology Adoption Life Cycle.
- iii Morris A. Cohen, Narendra Agrawal, and Vipul Agrawal. “Winning in the Aftermarket”. Harvard Business Review. May, 2006. Pg. 130.
- iv Original research – data unpublished. Methods: Every issue of each magazine was reviewed for a three months spread, and every advertisement was indexed. The average number of ads per issue was calculated by the sum of all ads reviewed, less advertisements from the publication itself, divided by the number of issues examined. “Service” message was defined as any copy (headline, subhead, body copy) that mentioned customer service and technical support.
- v Morris A. Cohen, Narendra Agrawal, and Vipul Agrawal. “Winning in the Aftermarket”. Harvard Business Review. May, 2006. Pg. 130.
- vi Quote from Michel Bon, CEO of France Telecom, as seen in “The Art of Delivering Great Customer Service”. Harvard Management Update. September, 1999.
- The Analytical Life Science Systems Association (ALSSA) is the primary trade association for companies that supply instruments, chemical reagents, consumables, and software used for analysis and measurement in chemistry and the life sciences. ALSSA’s mission is to strengthen the business knowledge and performance of its members. The association’s meetings, market statistics, industry surveys, and government affairs are directed to top executives with the goal of helping them to grow their companies in the rapidly changing global markets. Membership in ALSSA is open to qualifying companies. More information about ALSSA can be found at www.alssa.org.
- The author would also like to thank Mr. Mike Duff of ALSSA for the opportunity to collaborate with ALSSA to distribute the survey to its service executive membership, and for the opportunity to present the results at the service executives meeting in South San Francisco, CA in 2008.