Differentiating our company from the competition
“People buy from People” is a phrase I hear all too often. However just how many of us truly understand what that means? Life is all about building successful relationships both in your private life and in your business life…
One of the first things you learn in a selling environment is that if your potential client doesn’t like you as a person they will never buy anything from you. First impressions make a huge difference and to quote another popular phrase, “First impressions are lasting impressions”. So if you start a relationship with a client off on the wrong footing you will very likely struggle to change the opinion that client already has both about you and the company you represent.
This would seem to be even more important in a market where a number of companies at first glance, appear to be offering a similar service to potential clients. The EDI market place can be viewed as one of these. So how do we set about differentiating ourselves from competitors who say they can deliver a similar service to us?
Firstly you must put yourself in the place of a client and list all of those things both technically, commercially and from a support perspective that you would expect your EDI business partner to provide you with.
Technically the first thing any customer/client would require is a reliable service. Any EDI service has to manage the main business artery transporting all the important trading documents into and out of the business. That artery must remain working 24x7x365 or as near to that as possible. Clients must be able to rely on the availability of the service at all times. That is even more important when being provided with a fully managed outsourced EDI service.
AdvanceFirst have invested heavily in our managed service facilities over the last two years. We now operate our main services on AWS (Amazon Web Services) and are able to offer service availability to all our clients of 98.5% although the last year our service operated at very close to 100% availability. Operating on AWS allows us to expand our server capabilities either from memory requirement or processor performance depending on demand almost immediately.
Having set up a brand new array of servers including both live, back-up, SQL and test environments we then needed to install our latest versions of the ABC (stand alone) and AMOS (Managed Service). We now believe that the latest .NET versions of our software are market leading… Just some of the functionality we included is as follows: –
We also did some research into what companies feared most about switching to a fully managed service. This turned out to be a loss of Visibility (e.g. Did the invoices I sent two days ago get through to my customer?) and Control (e.g. How do I produce detailed reports for my management team or resend Advance Shipping Notifications?).
We can give the customer answers to all these questions with our Visicon solutions. The main one of these is our ARC.net service where we store a history of all transactions that can be interrogated in numerous ways by our clients, improving both their Visibility and Control of all EDI activity. Upon request we can also store all documents for any client for any length of time as may be required by that client.
So assuming we have our software and managed services as functionally rich as is reasonably possible, (bearing in mind of course that the process of improvement never finishes). What else did we need to improve?
We have a total of well over 350 man years of experience in EDI within AdvanceFirst Technologies. This we have built up mainly from experience gained in GEIS (GXS) and AFT. To my knowledge we have never failed to deliver the solution our customer required no matter how complex the specification.
Next of course we have to look at Customer Service. You can have the best products in the world based on the latest technology but unless you provide your clients with first class customer care you are always going to be at danger of losing a client.
When a new client comes on board the first thing we have to do is allocate the most suitable support person to the account. That person may be the most suitable because of the technology we are using or because of the market that client may be in.
It is always hoped that the initial support person/implementation consultant will remain with that client throughout their time with AdvanceFirst. This gives continuity to the client and provides our company with one single point of contact for anything to do with that client. We do make sure that more than one support consultant is trained up on the requirements of each client to provide cover for holidays or illness…
Our customer will be contacted by their account support consultant on agreed regular intervals. Linked to this we are in the process of implementing a new CRM system which will provide us with a central repository of all client data and system configurations. This will also help us to provide a more proactive support function.
The process of giving first class customer care is one that is always evolving, just like EDI itself. We constantly review the service we provide with our clients and make sure they are always happy with the service we provide them and that we are addressing all their business needs.