Customer service was once viewed as the cost of doing business.
“Across almost every industry, leaders are focusing on service as a way to compete in today’s competitive marketplace,” says Mary Jo Bitner, academic director for the Center for Services Leadership at Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business.
But times have changed. Companies that are in search of new revenue streams are finding that in addition to providing great customer service, offering value-added services to their product lines are helping their bottom lines. And the help them make the most of the opportunities, many are seeking help from the ASU Center, which focuses on research and executive education in managing and marketing services.
“Customer demand and the competitive challenges posed by the commoditization of many products has pushed many goods-based companies to take another look at services as a source of revenue and profit,” says Stephen Brown, director of the Center for Services Leadership, who has spent the past 20 years tracking the growing importance of services as a product. “Many are following market leaders to become goods-and-services companies.”
For example, Boeing has broadened its offerings by adding the lucrative market of services to its aircraft manufacturing. The Hewlett Packard and Compaq merger created a new company whose major product is services. IBM’s impressive financials over the past decade — in shining contrast to its competitors — were largely the result of its service businesses.
“In 2001, we were launching our first fee-based service business,” says Steve Church, president of Avnet Integrated and chief corporate business development and planning officer. “We wanted to offer more services and solutions. We knew a lot, but there was a lot we didn’t know.”
Church says Avnet’s membership in the center — which concentrates on expanding service innovation by combining the latest scientific insights from the academic world with the best of business strategy in the real world — allowed the company to “build a culture of service excellence that focuses on the customer and gives each a great customer experience.”
The Center, which was created in 1985, remains the only one of its kind in the United States, devoted to research and education in the services field. Its research findings form the foundation of the Center’s executive education program, attended by managers and executives of leading firms. Member companies include AT&T, Charles Schwab and Co., Ford Motor Company, IBM, Mayo Clinic and others, who sponsor research, fund scholarships, host MBA student teams and participate in executive education.
Many member companies sponsor research that is published in academic journals, and shared at the Center’s executive education forums. Bitner, for example, has been studying the effects of self-service technologies (SST), working with Ford and a major pharmaceutical benefits management company.
“The Center is really a tremendous resource for any company that has a strategy to to improve customer serve or add services to augment its products,” Church says. “We learned that by getting our employees engaged in customer service, we built customer loyalty, it helped us compete, and it enhanced our financial performance.”