The key difference between a customer and a client is that where a customer uses your service once, a client repeatedly makes use of your service and organisation, thus building a trusted advisor relationship with you. Nowhere is this more so, than in the specialist services industry. As a trusted advisor in the Enterprise Database Management space, Ascent Technology is an organisation that therefore has a large client base, rather than a base of once off customers.
The key to turning customers into clients, says Johan Lamberts, Ascent Technology’s MD, is simply to provide them with everything that they may require, when they require it and doing so at a affordable and competitive price. This would include excellent service, flexibility, the reliable availability of expert skills and continuity. By this, he means that clients want the security of knowing they will be dealing with the same established service provider, year after year.
“It is often a painful process to change a service provider. There is a lot of intellectual property and site knowledge involved in something like Enterprise Database Management, so continuity is crucial to maintaining a strong client relationship,” he says.
On the flipside of the service excellence equation however, is the fact that globally, there is a serious skills shortage. This is exacerbated in South Africa, whose skills crisis is well documented, while the shortage is even more acute in the rest of Africa.
In the vertical markets – such as Enterprise Database Management – the impact of the skills shortage is certainly being felt, adds Lamberts, but he says that one must never expect clients to accept mediocre service just because skills are at a premium.
“Being the best and delivering true service excellence is absolutely critical if an organisation aims to continue transforming customers into clients. After all, the best way to ensure that you develop a client base is to provide them with the kind of service that ensures they keep coming back.”
Ascent considers this a fundamental principle of doing business, offering its clients strong technical knowledge, critical skills and depth of expertise. As a trusted advisor that brings both experienced personnel and a deep understanding of their vertical market to the table, the company is able to build long-term relationships with its clients.
“Building such relationships in turn leads to new opportunities for your business and allows you to expand into new markets. For example, Ascent is currently expanding its presence into sub-Saharan Africa, enabling the company to assist in other regions where there is currently a skills shortage.”
However, Lamberts warns that while such a shortage of skills may well lead to new business opportunities, an organisation must not allow itself to be distracted by potential opportunities that are not part of its core skills. It is vital, he says, to ‘stick to your knitting’ if your overarching goal is service excellence.
“In a world plagued by skills shortages, there will be many opportunities for a business that has got its service paradigm right. You still need to be dynamic and creative with regards to retaining and growing your own skills base though; this in turn will then enable you to take advantage of those opportunities that will assist you in growing your core business.”
Lamberts adds that for a business to have longevity, sustainability and a constantly growing client base, it needs to regularly refocus on its core skills. By remaining focused on this aspect, a business will never allow itself to become complacent enough to consider mediocre service to be good enough.
“Ascent’s success is built on the fact that it understands the challenges in the client environment, offers great depth of skills, ensures executive management availability to clients and it consistently delivers continuity and flexibility. We believe that these qualities are the keys to service excellence, and the company will continue to refine this service paradigm, in order to keep turning new customers into regular clients,” he says.
“Service excellence will always remain the name of the game. Remember that when it comes to service excellence, good enough is not actually good enough. As far as Ascent is concerned, there is no such thing as simply good enough. For us, only great is good enough.”