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Servitization and the Customer Service Supply Chain—the View From a Primary Supplier

I ended my "Servitization and the customer service supply chain" article with a commitment to follow the chain from a primary supplier through to the consumer and then share with you what I've found. To recap, the questions I am interested in getting answers to include: are manufacturing businesses using customer experience to differentiate themselves? If they are, how are they doing this, and how are they impacted by the customer service they receive from their suppliers?

Earlier in the month I had a chance to sit down with Ian Ashby, senior vice president for support at Epicor Software, to hear his thoughts on the impact a customer service operation can have within the service supply chain.

As you might expect, there is recognition that the customer service operation within a supplier does have an impact on the downstream business and its ability to serve customers. Ian comments, "We know that if we get it right, it helps our customers to deliver good service to their end-customers." There is also recognition of the interdependency within all business within the supply chain. Ian says, "Each link in the chain has an impact further downstream. "This is also true within the downstream business. However, the situation has not moved past recognition stage in that businesses are not asking Ian's team for service agreements that are tailored to their specific business needs and their specific customer service requirements.

One of the challenges is that, probably like many businesses, our knowledge and visibility is very focused on the direct relationship rather than also expanding our understanding of, or visibility into, the follow-on value chain and the knock-on impact. When looking to provide customer services to business that are themselves heavily promoting services around their products, this downstream visibility would be very important.

If this downstream visibility is not possible, at a minimum organizations need to have a good understanding of how they are impacting the businesses they have direct relationships with. The organization Ian leads puts a lot of effort into measuring its performance, both from an internal and an external perspective. This is achieved via the KPI's (key performance indicators) generated from the team's own "ERP" system-called EpicCare and externally through customer surveys and closed loop activities to follow-up. Collectively these measures drive the continuous improvement activities within the Epicor support organization. Ian explains, "That is bread and butter to us."

So, although Epicor is not a manufacturing business, it does look to differentiate itself through the customer service experience and it does recognize the impact that service has on its customers and the knock-on impact.

Ian observes that in the many conversations he's had with Epicor customers they are interested and keen to hear about our approach, including the customer surveys, the Net Promoter Score, and the continuous improvement processes this drives. However, the perception is that this is not something those businesses undertake with their own customers. Yes, they all have internal quality metrics and KPI's but that external facing metric, for the most part, is missing. Now, the majority of Epicor customers are in the mid-market, specifically manufacturing, distribution, retail, auto-aftermarket and timber/builders merchants. While companies in the enterprise space have been doing this for a while, maybe this external customer feedback is something that is missing from the mid-market?

What are your thoughts? Is your business in the mid-market? Do these observations ring true to you? If you have external success measures, what are they? If you don't, why is that? Do you have tailored service agreements with your suppliers and customers? 

Learn more about supplier relationship management.

Posted by Charles Clayton, Global Customer Advocate, Epicor


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