The good news, I suppose, is that 33 of those companies were purchased and are still going strong – just now part of a larger organization. NSCA may be down in members as a result – but, in these 33 locations, people still have their jobs (and, in many cases, a much brighter future).
As integrators get bigger, however, I want to share a few stories and lessons learned to prove that getting bigger doesn’t mean you should start “thinking” like a big company.
The Impact on Customers
I was recently invited to facilitate a strategic planning meeting for one of the larger NSCA integrator members. This company now has 1,000+ employees after the acquisition of nearly 20 of our former member companies over the last five years. It has a national/global footprint and offers a broad range of solutions. In 2015, this company launched an extensive customer experience survey and evaluation of its net promoter scores. In 2016, it received the results.
The bottom line: Hundreds of clients overwhelmingly stated that, while they really like the comprehensive portfolio of solutions, they preferred the old way of doing business with smaller firms.
When these firms were smaller, the customers felt that there was more of a customer-service feel, they knew the owners well, they had relationships that mattered, and they took care of issues personally and quickly.
In a bigger company, the new model is much different. There is a complex overlay of regional directors, vertical market specialists, technology champions, and account managers. Who does the customer contact when they need help? The new matrix created confusion internally and externally.
Customer feedback included comments like:
- “We liked you better before you got so big.”
- “We want to deal with this person like we did before.”
- “I used to be able to speak with the owner if I needed to. I now have four points of contact and never know who to call.”
As it grew, the company had forgotten how to do the small things well. It didn’t build the organizational structure with customers in mind. This company is now revamping its customer focus for 2017, placing a higher priority on relationships and being easy to do business with.
Doing “Small” Well
I got a frantic call from a very large integrator member about an issue with one of the industry’s premier manufacturers. This integrator wanted me to mediate a major dispute between the two companies. The issue was a delivery promise not made (lots of details and liquidated damages, etc.). It was the usual stuff that happens all the time. The bottom line: A very small problem on a very large project.
In this particular case, I happen to be good friends with the CEOs of both companies. While I was being lectured on customer-service basics by one CEO, I sent a text to the other CEO. He replied: “On vacation. Back in two weeks.” I replied: “Can you deal with a major customer issue?” He replied: “I’m calling your cell now.” I asked the first CEO to hang on, and then conferenced all three of us together. They, too, knew each other well.
It turns out that this was a minor issue involving a new software upgrade, and the integrator’s one and only certified technician was unavailable (he was also on vacation). The other techs couldn’t figure out the problem. The manufacturer’s account rep indicated that, due to policy, he couldn’t step in and provide support without the certified tech present.
Within minutes, the manufacturer’s CEO (the one on vacation) contacted his support team and authorized an emergency work order to resolve the problem. His people sent a new download and walked the other techs through the upgrades, agreeing not to create an invoice or make a big deal of this. In two hours, the situation was resolved. Lessons were learned and everything was fine. This very big manufacturing company did “small” well.
One of the best business leaders I know (who founded a very successful, billion-dollar company) told me a long time ago: “Our culture is centered on the customer first. No matter how big we get, we will always stay small in front of the customer.”
I’m not entirely sure what that means in his business, but that business philosophy is why I answer my own phone when our members call. We have lots of members/customers, and we try to stay small when they need help. -Chuck Wilson, NSCA Executive Director