January 2009, Issue 4, Volume 10

Customer satisfaction
Towards qualitative client satisfaction / Behind the Scenes of the TOPdesk Help Desk / Cultural Influences on Customer Satisfaction

Satisfied clients
Changing providers remains a challenge. When you wish to switch to a new telephone supplier, move to a different internet provider or purchase your gas and electricity from another company, it’s more than likely that it will be a bumpy ride. On many occasions, services are delivered too late, you are disconnected too early, or there is a complete lack of clarity about the agreements made because you have had to deal with four different people regarding the same request. Few people will claim to be satisfied with these services.

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TOPdesk Magazine, a service management platform, discusses subjects that are topical in the world of professional service desks in IT, facilities and other service providing organizations. TOPdesk Magazine is intended for managers, service desks employees, facilities organizations and electronic city councils - anyone who is involved with supporting customers on a daily basis. This concerns both the processes and the technology behind these services.

Yet satisfying clients remains the objective of every organization that provides services. And that’s no different for a service desk. On a daily basis, service desk employees do their best to be of service for their clients, colleagues or consumers. But just how do they do that? And how can the effectiveness of their approach be best measured? In practice, it seems that such questions are not easy to answer.

TOPdesk Magazine is a TOPdesk publication tel: +31 15 270 09 00 email: editorial@topdesk.com. Editorial board Niek Steenhuis Editors Carrie Brandt, Claudia Funk, Henrieke Korten, Annemarie Moeijes, Gökhan Tuna Translators Carrie Brandt, Clare Donald Lay-out Cathy van den Berg, Jimmy Goedhart, Louise van der Laak Website Pim Besseler, David Blom, Ted Erkkila, Erik Pols This magazine is printed on FSC-certified paper, using an eco press with cadmium-free ink for all colours and distilled water instead of alcohol.

In this edition of TOPdesk Magazine, you will find a number of articles on the subject of client satisfaction. Consultant Gökhan Tuna discusses comprehensively the various approaches to client satisfaction within service management, as well as methods to improve it. We also examine the influence of cultural differences within Europe on the approach we take towards clients and discuss the latest trends in the area of client-oriented service delivery. Finally, to give you an idea of what we do to ensure that clients remain satisfied, we have interviewed our very own help desk.

TOPdesk Magazine’s editorial board also rates the opinions of its readers highly. Are we discussing topics of interest to you? What’s missing? What can we improve upon? Please send your responses to editorial@topdesk.com. Your feedback will help us to improve this magazine even further!

Niek Steenhuis


14 16 11
Contents January ’09
4 5 6 7 11 News Client in focus: AWVN Column: Past results Towards qualitative client satisfaction The Help Desk for your Service Desk Behind the Scenes of the TOPdesk Help Desk 14 16 Trends: Keeping Customers Satisfied Detailed explanation or light conversation? Cultural Influences on Customer Satisfaction Tips + Tricks




TOPdesk conducts client satisfaction survey
With the motto ‘Practice what you preach’ in mind, TOPdesk recently conducted a client satisfaction survey of its Dutch clients for the second time. The aim of the investigation was to determine to what extent TOPdesk has improved its services and products, as well as where possible room for improvement lies. The results of the survey are currently being processed and will be presented in the following edition of TOPdesk Magazine. Future surveys are also planned for customers outside of the Netherlands.

TOPdesk LinkedIn Group
TOPdesk recently created the group ‘TOPdesk – Service Management Professionals’ on the website LinkedIn. The purpose of LinkedIn is to establish and maintain business networks. Registering for this group will give you the chance to meet other professionals in your line of business, and exchange experiences about service management, ITIL and facilities management. You will also be able to participate in discussions with others in the profession and remain up to date on the latest TOPdesk developments. For more information, visit www.linkedin.com.

Contact persons on the Extranet
The menu option ‘Contact details’ has been added to the TOPdesk Extranet. Here you will find an overview of all persons who are registered as contacts in TOPdesk. You can also add, remove and edit contacts. When editing contacts you also have the option to indicate what information an individual wants to receive; for example, you can specify who in your organization needs to be informed when a new version of TOPdesk is released. In the list of contacts, you can request Extranet accounts or ask for the account of a colleague to be resent. Another new feature is the option to create and maintain a contact profile. Here you can indicate how we can best contact you or what the working hours of a contact person are. These data are important for our help desk, as they enable us to stay in contact with clients much more easily.

TOPdesk present at BETT Show
From 14 to 17 January 2009, TOPdesk will be exhibiting at the world’s largest educational technology event – the BETT show – at London Olympia. Come and visit us at stand #S90 and see how TOPdesk can best meet your service desk needs. If you would like more information on the event, go to www.bettshow.com.

Exhibitions and Shows
14 - 16 January Facilities Trade Show Brabanthallen, Den Bosch, the Netherlands 14 - 17 January BETT Show, Olympia, London, UK 4 - 5 February Legal IT Show Business Design Centre, London, UK 10 - 11 February KomCom Nord Hannover, Germany

TOPdesk Symposium 2009
TOPdesk is planning several seminars and a symposium for this year. The TOPdesk Symposium in the Netherlands will take place on 17 and 18 June in Rotterdam. During these two days there will be presentations and discussions about service management, the latest trends and TOPdesk. In the UK a TOPdesk seminar will be organized in Autumn 2009, while the German-speaking organizations can visit the German TOPdesk seminar in 2010. More information on these events will follow, so keep an eye on the TOPdesk website.


Client in focus
AWVN is one of the largest employers’ associations in the Netherlands and assists its approximately 600 members with legal and labour issues. The organization uses TOPdesk for the external support of customers as well as the support of its employees. Employers in the Netherlands that are members of the AWVN can direct their questions via telephone to the ‘employers’ help line’. Employees of AWVN register both the questions received and the advice they have given in TOPdesk.

Alongside his position as chairperson of the network ‘Young HR professionals’, Erik Tierolf is jointly responsible for the setup and use of TOPdesk. He explains the reasons for purchasing TOPdesk: “In 2003, we didn’t have an application in which to register the complaints, questions and comments of our customers that we received via our employers’ help line; everything took place via email. We had to be able to legally guarantee our processes; we therefore wanted to begin recording the types of questions we were receiving as well as the responses we were providing.” The implementation was well prepared, which was necessary, as AWVN was one of the first TOPdesk clients to use the product for legal support. “We are really pleased with it. I even gave a presentation about TOPdesk to another company because they were also looking to set up a similar employers’ help line.” Given that AWVN uses TOPdesk

for both external and internal support, the calls logged are very diverse. “Within the organization we receive a lot of IT-related calls. However, from our external customers we receive calls like: ‘My employees are taking really long breaks, what can I do about it?’ or ‘How do I fire an employee?’”. At the moment, TOPdesk is part of the face of AWVN that its members see. Erik Tierolf: “TOPdesk also functions as a marketing tool for us. The calls we register reveal the issues that our employers are dealing with. Based on reports, I ask the editors of our magazine to write an article on a topic that we receive many calls about. This is one way in which we can provide a better service for our customers.” AWVN requested its clients to fill in a survey about its service, of which the most important question was: What do you consider the best thing about our service that you receive in return for your contribution? “We often hear: ‘the employers’ line’ in response.

You can see the significant role that TOPdesk plays in the service we provide. We are also working towards making TOPdesk as accessible as possible for our members.” According to Erik Tierolf, TOPdesk not only assists the AWVN’s external clients, but also its employees. “Callers are always aware of the procedures. They know how long they need to wait for an incident to be processed, as well as what to expect because they automatically receive emails when the incident has been logged and processed. The operators also like working with TOPdesk; they are notified when an incident has been open for too long and can quickly look for standard solutions.” In addition to the technical side of things, Erik Tierolf is charmed by the social side of both the application and organization. “TOPdesk is very approachable and I really like the way the organization communicates.”



Past results

enthusiastic service. And worst of all, my parents celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary with cold food, empty wine glasses and completely negligent service. The restaurant simply did not live up to the high hopes I had instilled. It is indeed so that past results are no indication of future performance. My work as a consultant setting up service desks brings me in frequent contact with disillusioned clients. ‘What happened to the good old days when Joe, the system manager, walked around with his screwdriver and could immediately fix my problems? Now, I have to first ring the service desk and those people don’t know anything!’ It is the service management equivalent of a dirty tablecloth on your table. The introduction of a service desk makes it possible for an entire department to work more proactively and to better plan and structure work activities – certainly more so than with the proverbial screwdriver. Given time, it will result in better service across the board, but clients will often not notice it in the beginning. They were used to fast, personal service and their first impression is that everything is slow, difficult to arrange and impersonal. Clients are not pleased. What to do? Bend over backwards to provide the same fast and


personal service? This is often at the cost of improvement work concerning the set-up of a front and back office structure. Give further training to the service desk employees? This again causes uncertainty about the roles that service desk employees must take on because everyone always seems to be meddling in other people’s work. The result is a grey area in which no one is sure of what his or her responsibilities are. Client expectations are determined by the straightforward, personal – and often inefficient – service of the past. Their expectations need to be adjusted to the new situation. It is important to be clear about the new procedures and the response and resolution times, and it is particularly important not to revert to the ‘that is actually not allowed, but I’ll do it for you anyway’ types of responses, however tempting they may be. The service department must communicate clearly, be on the same page and question whether each requested service can be provided consistently, uniformly and in a logical manner, now, and in the future. Since they know what to expect, only then will clients slowly but surely become satisfied with the quality of the services you provide. By establishing, fulfilling and, eventually, exceeding expectations, you will find the key to customer satisfaction.

Last month, I went out for dinner. The menu was exciting, the view fantastic and the service attentive. While the bill ended up being higher than expected – thanks, in part, to a liberal amount of good wine – at the end of the night we patted our bellies in satisfaction and stepped smiling into the taxi to go home. I rang my father: ‘Hey Dad, you two wanted to go out to eat for your 35th anniversary, right? I recently went to restaurant X with friends. It was expensive, but worth it: delicious food, beautiful interior and a view of the water. It just opened, but is packed every night. If I were you, I would make reservations ASAP.’ I told the same thing to friends, and my word-ofmouth marketing started a real trend. However… friend A thought the food was mediocre, while friend B complained about the dirty tablecloths and the overly


Towards qualitative client satisfaction
Within the last fifteen years, the role of IT service has experienced explosive growth. What began as a small group of system administrators, who managed the network behind the scenes, has grown to become a valuable department, which has a central place within the organization. For IT organizations, providing good service is now more important than it ever was, with satisfied customers being a measure for success. Yet as contact with the client grows in intensity, IT service providers continue to measure the quality of their service without involving the client.

A Brief History of IT
In order to understand the essence of IT service delivery, you can best compare it with a magic trick. Magicians are renowned for making things that are tangible and visible simply disappear. IT specialists, in contrast, work in the reverse order. By measuring the quality of their services, they attempt to make ‘invisible services’ as visible as possible. The trend to make IT service ‘visible’ can be best illustrated based on the development that ITIL has undergone in the last couple of decades. The series of books on ITIL were compiled in response to the need to improve the way in which IT services were described

and set out. ITIL version 1 was released at the beginning of the 1980s, during which the emphasis was exclusively on managing the technology. During this decade, IT organizations delivered sufficient added value, as long as everything, from a technical point of view, ran smoothly. The maintenance and development of the IT infrastructure took place predominantly in the background. The second version of ITIL was released in the mid 1990s. It capitalized on a resolute change of mentality from the management of technology to the management of services. The reason for this change was that organizations were becoming increasingly

dependent on IT to reach their objectives. By offering technical innovations, the IT department enabled the business to realize its objectives more effectively. The contact between the IT organization and the client grew in intensity and, as a result, the service delivery was moved to the foreground. The third version of ITIL has been around since 2007. In this latest version, the entire field of service management is laid out. The IT organization is no longer the invisible team that it once was, delivering and supporting only automation tools. IT support, in contrast, has become an essential part of the organization and


responds to the prevailing demand for information technology. The IT organization and the business are involved in a continual process of finding the balance between supply and demand.

Delivering Quality
The IT organization must be able to deal with rapidly changing technological developments, while the commercial need of its clients changes at the same time. This tension between supply and demand puts IT managers under constant pressure to prove that

which Frederick W. Taylor laid the foundations in ‘The Principles of Scientific Management’ (1911), quality can be seen as an objective standard that can be measured. In this case, any divergence from the standard means a reduction in quality. Finally, the client-oriented approach leaves the definition of quality up to the client. Quality is thus subjective and depends on the client’s individual experience. According to the definition of Joseph M. Juran, expert in quality

help desk employees could answer all incoming calls within the given three rings, only to put the customer on hold. Sure, the quality requirement is met – the phone didn’t ring more than three times – but has a good service actually been delivered? Figures are conjured up out of thin air, creating the illusion that the service has been made measurable. The danger of this technical approach is that help desk employees aim to meet the quality standard, without it actually leading to a general improvement of the service. Whether the client is satisfied with the provided service does not depend on what is delivered (the technical quality), but also on how the service is provided (the functional quality). The telephone might be answered quickly, but is the help desk employee at the other end of the line actually friendly? Does he or she use too much jargon? And if the client is offered a solution, is his or her schedule taken into account?

“Quality is subjective and depends on the client’s individual experience”
their service is client-oriented. Nowadays, the magic word in service delivery is quality. But what exactly is quality? Scholars distinguish roughly three approaches to describe the concept of quality. First, the philosophical point of view: In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974) Robert Pirsig describes quality simply as ‘excellence’. One recognizes quality when faced with it, but cannot explain it. For example, “Music composed by Beethoven is of a high quality, but 1 we still don’t know why”. From a theoretical point of view, this approach is perhaps interesting, yet virtually unusable in practice because quality, according to this definition, cannot be accounted for nor measured. The second – technical – approach is exactly the opposite. According to this approach, of management, the quality of a service is good when the client is convinced that it’s good.

The Technical Approach
Currently, numerous IT organizations use the technical approach to measure the quality of their IT services. By employing objective quality standards, organizations can acquire insight into the technical quality of the service: How many questions are being answered successfully? How many disruptions are being restored? How many bugs are being fixed? To guarantee this quality, checklists of quality standards are drawn up; for example, the telephone at the help desk must be answered within three rings. To a certain extent, this is a useful method of measuring quality; however, it is no guarantee for success. In the example above,

The Client-oriented Approach
Research reveals that it is exactly this functional quality that is decisive in the perception of 2 clients. The reason for this is the nature of providing service: services are not tangible, but are effected as the result of interaction with the client. The client is one inseparable component of the service. Therefore organizations that wish to gain real insight into the quality of their service, should then consider applying a clientoriented approach. What does the client think of the service? If an IT organization is really striving for client satisfaction, then the



emphasis should not only be on what is delivered, but on how it is delivered. In order to promote a clientoriented attitude, in particular a change is needed in the way of thinking. Employees in service organizations must have a ‘service attitude’ in order to be able to 3 deliver quality. This attitude comprises three elements that the employees of the IT organization should possess. First, they must possess the technical knowledge and skills to meet the wishes of clients; in other

These may all be good intentions, but how can you be certain that such an approach actually works? If the quality of the service is determined by the client’s perception, then it is important to take the client’s wishes and judgement seriously. Only in this way can you measure whether the service provided at the end of the day actually meets the expectations of the client. A client satisfaction investigation is an ideal way to do this as it offers a platform for clients to express their views and opinions. As a result, the IT organization has a much better

reveals significant differences between the three parties, then the employees or managers clearly do not know how to place themselves in the clients’ situation. Use the results of periodic client satisfaction investigations to implement goal-oriented improvements, in order to ensure that, in the future, the service better meets the expectations of clients. The feedback of clients is an ideal way to evaluate the clientfriendliness of the IT organization. The figures and statistics that were conjured up out of thin air in the technical approach perhaps create the illusion that the service has been made measurable; however, a client-oriented approach presents a reliable representation of the quality of your service. In the end, only by listening to its clients can the IT organization structurally improve the service it offers.

“The danger is that help desk employees aim to meet the quality standard, without it actually leading to a general improvement of the service.”
words, the help desk employee should know what he or she is talking about. Additionally the help desk employee should be competent in assisting clients. He or she understands the client’s situation, finds out what the client wants and can offer alternatives that are useful to the client. A third component of this service attitude concerns the capacity of the service desk staff to work together as a team. The client is often dependent on several persons at once, who together are responsible for providing the service. They have to be able to communicate with one another in order to prevent the client from being sent on a wild goose chase. idea of which points they need to work on in order to improve their service. Client satisfaction investigations can be conducted in the form of a survey. It is best to conduct such an investigation periodically – annually for example – in order to check on a regular basis whether the service (still) meets the expectations of the client. After all, expectations can change considerably over time. It is useful not only for clients to fill in the survey, but also managers and employees. The results of the surveys can be compared in order to check whether discrepancies exist between the perception of service according to employees, managers and clients. If the survey

Gökhan Tuna is a Consultant at TOPdesk.

1, 2, 3

Kasper, van Helsdingen, de Vries, Services Marketing Management, 1999.

Sources Christian Grönroos, Service and Relationship Marketing (1990). Kasper, van Helsdingen, de Vries, Services Marketing Management (1999).


The Help Desk for your Service Desk
Behind the Scenes of the TOPdesk Help Desk
TOPdesk clients from all over the world can direct their questions, complaints and requests at the help desks in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands. The first line incidents are processed by the local support specialists in London and Kaiserslautern, while second line incidents are resolved by the head office in Delft. Here, 27 people process about 2500 calls per month. To introduce our Dutch help desk, we posed the most frequently asked questions to Jeroen Boks, Manager of the help desk, and Ivette van Putten, Support Specialist.

How are calls registered at the help desk?
Jeroen: “Almost half of our calls are phoned in. A quarter of them are registered via the Extranet, and the rest are received via email or passed on personally by colleagues. Many clients enjoy having personal contact.” Ivette: “That’s also nice for us; if we have the client on the line, we can identify precisely what is going on. We want to work together with the client to resolve the problem – more as a colleague than as a service provider. We are only satisfied if the client is satisfied.”

front office and the next day in the back office. Every support specialist can handle both first line and second line incidents. The most important thing for us is that we remain accessible; the customer should not have to wait. That is why we have set up the process so that there is always someone to pick up the phone. Even if no one is available to answer it in the back office, the call is transferred to the Sales department. They are also quite familiar with TOPdesk. They talk with the client, and if they cannot immediately come up with a solution, they create an incident for the back office.”

We do not believe in making false promises as to when an incident will be resolved. Some problems have complex causes, and in that case, the resolution time is difficult to estimate. If you have a strict deadline, then you run the risk of closing an incident for the sake of meeting the deadline, even though the problem has not been completely resolved. Our work is meaningful if we are able to offer the client a solution, instead of just an answer.”

Are the incoming calls prioritized?
Jeroen: “We make a distinction between multiple sorts of priorities. Disturbances with a high priority are those that cause the client to be unable to continue working. Each day, one support specialist is designated to handle these sorts of problems. If we receive such a call, then this person drops everything to try to resolve the problem as quickly as possible. The less serious

Who do I get on the line when I make a call?
Jeroen: “A call is first received by the front office. If they are all on the telephone, then it is picked up by someone in the back office. These two teams are manned by the same people: a support specialist works one day in the

How quickly will my call be processed?
Jeroen: “In any case, the call will be examined within a day, so that the client knows what to expect. Almost half of these calls are resolved on that same day, and often within one conversation.


disruptions, functional questions and change requests are entered into the normal process flow and are addressed according to the order in which they are received.”

Communication department know if there is an error in the manual or if something can be improved upon.” Ivette: “If a call concerns the technical functioning of a module, then we pass on incidents to the project team in the Development department that is responsible for that particular module. Each team has a developer that has been appointed to keep track of and process incidents. If we receive questions about purchasing extra modules, we pass these on to the Sales department.” “Despite the fact that, internally, many departments work together to process calls, we make sure that the client only needs to have contact with one department, namely, the help desk. It doesn’t matter who the client speaks to

Are the help desk employees able to resolve everything themselves?
Jeroen: “Actually, we work together with all the departments within TOPdesk. For more complex problems, we ask the Test team to research the disruption. It is possible that an error only occurs if a combination of factors is present: for example, it can be dependant on the version number, the settings, the environment and/ or a certain order of processes. The possibilities are just about endless, so research can be quite time consuming. The Test team has specialists that are able to sort through all the details. We let the

at the help desk. All of us log the details thoroughly so that anyone can handle an incident. New clients often need to get used to this; at the end of the conversation they ask, ‘Could I get your name please?’ After they have spoken with us a few times, they don’t ask that anymore. They have come to know that their calls are always addressed and handled appropriately.”

What happens to my suggestions for new functionalities?
Jeroen: “If we receive an idea for a new functionality in the software, we first check whether it already exists or has already been submitted as an idea and then later rejected. If neither is the case, then we pass it on to the Development department. They assess the functionality to see if


The added value of a good help desk
We asked Wolter Smit, Director of TOPdesk, what the important factors are when it comes to a good help desk at TOPdesk: “When we began this company in the early nineties, I was the one on the line with clients. We wanted to do whatever it took to help the client as much as possible, regardless of the size of the organization. That is still one of our core values at TOPdesk. Call it a sense of pride. The client must be pleased and we must ensure that they’re pleased. The help desk plays an essential role in this.” “Moreover, the help desk adds a lot of extra value to the services we provide. The market is being flooded with more and more free and open source software. TOPdesk offers solutions at a price, so we need to distinguish ourselves from the rest. For example, one of the added values of purchased software is that the application is strong and well-integrated – you don’t need to fuse together a lot of individual applications. But the most important added value is the excellent support. For a large part, a software supplier is justified by a good help desk.” “And something that shouldn’t be forgotten: if you are a supplier of help desk software, then you should of course have a good help desk yourself. We offer excellent support for a fixed annual price. Surveys have indicated that our help desk is always well appreciated. For example, clients are not forced to log incidents by email or on the Extranet. If a client prefers to speak to someone on the telephone, then that is of course possible. We believe in the human factor in doing business, so we have to make that apparent in our help desk. That is something for which we will not cut corners.”

it is indeed desirable and whether it is feasible to create. As soon as something is decided, they let the Help desk know and we pass this information on to the client.” Ivette: “We also pay attention to the kinds of incidents we receive. If we get a lot of calls about a particular functionality, then we discuss it with Development. Perhaps they can do something about the design or the term used to clarify the functionality.” Jeroen: “Of course, we use TOPdesk to support our own processes. If we come up with ideas for improvement while we are working, we let Development know. We are actually are own beta testers. If we can’t work with the software, then we don’t let our clients work with it.”


Trends Keeping Customers Satisfied
Maintaining a strong base of satisfied customers is an important objective for any business operation. This is especially true for service management organizations; in fact keeping customers satisfied is often their primary objective. Each organization has its own methods, but learning to capitalize on new trends in customer satisfaction will keep your organization ahead of the game. In this article we have outlined some of the latest customer service trends relevant to help desks, call centres and other service management organizations.

Extended opening hours
For better or for worse, gone are the days of working the 9 to 5 for many service management professionals. With consumer expectations continuing to grow, the trend of 24/7 service has begun to spread to service desks and call centres. In contrast to just a few years ago, consumers are seeing more and more European service desks that are open on evenings and Saturdays. While working non-standard hours can be inconvenient for the employee, it can make the difference between a satisfied customer and a dissatisfied customer.

Personalization entails customizing a product or service to the unique


needs of a consumer. Websites such as Amazon.com have lead the way in the digital world, with personalized websites that offer customized selections of books and CDs that are based on a customer’s past purchases. Help desks and call centres are now also seeing the value in personalization techniques. Customer satisfaction increases when clients feel that the solutions to their queries have been specifically designed for them. One way to enable support technicians to better personalize their responses is to give them access to client histories and more basic information about the client.

Employing individualized SLAs can also be of help in identifying tailored resolutions for the client.

Text messages and chatting
For a long time now, contact with the service desk has not been bound to the telephone. Email has turned into a communication tool that is vital to most business operations. Nowadays, many service desks and call centres are taking it a step further and beginning to use online chatting and text messages as communication tools. Genesys Telecommunications conducted an international survey on the most

preferred forms of communication with contact centres. Results showed that Americans have the most favourable views of chatting: 28% indicated that this was their favourite form of communication, compared to 16% of Europeans and 11% of Japanese people. On the other hand, Europeans prefer communicating with businesses via text messages, while only 2% of the Americans do so. Email, however, remains the number 1 communication tool worldwide: 85% of consumers prefer to email about their requests, problems and complaints.

Business-to-business gifts
A couple of years ago, Annemarie Vosselman, a consultant for a client research agency, observed that business-to-business relations were becoming increasingly more formal.1 Nowadays, the opposite holds true. Vosselman is observing an increase in the (almost explicit) request from clients that organizations ‘pamper’ them with things like complimentary lunches, gifts, invitations to various events or golfing appointments. Perhaps this is a reason to consider not only friends and family during your Christmas shopping, but clients as well? These days, it is not enough to just offer a product. Clients have higher expectations, but there are also more and more ways in which to keep them satisfied. Text messages, online chats, gifts, personalization and extended opening hours are just a few of those ways, which can make the difference between keeping and losing a client.




Detailed explanation or light conversation?
Cultural Influences on Customer Satisfaction
Geert Hofstede was one of the first to conduct in-depth research into cultural differences. Among other subjects, he examined the differences between how IBM workers around the world viewed matters such as time, hierarchy, success and assurance. Now, more than 20 years later, businesses still use his book as a guide. When operating outside of the continent, European companies often expect to deal with large differences in culture. But even within the continent such differences can make the difference between a satisfied and unsatisfied customer.


As an international organization, TOPdesk has had years of experience working with clients all over the world. One thing the company has learned from supporting so many international customers is that they are not all the same. Differences in culture often impact the way businesses approach customers of varying nationalities. This article highlights some of the differences that TOPdesk employees have encountered, with a focus on

the differences between British, Dutch, Belgian and German customers, of which TOPdesk has the most experience.

The sale
Cultural differences start becoming apparent during the sale. For example, more so than Dutch clients, German clients often devote more time to gathering information about a product during the sale. They often know almost as much


about a product as the sales representative. As soon as a client shows interest in the product, the sales representative is introduced extensively to the client’s organization, in a similar way to taking a tour

of a factory. During the next step in the process, many demands are placed on the sales representative. German clients often ask detailed questions that can even cause the most experienced pro to break into

a sweat. Detailed arrangements are made in advance of the implementation, so that everything can go as planned. Amandine Reville, TOPdesk consultant for the French market,


has observed that French clients focus more on a good product for the lowest price. “French clients are not always entirely clear about what they want or need. The process of completing a sale can often be quite long;

specialists Fenneke Gonggrijp and Ivette van Putten have noticed that British clients often seem to be more accustomed to being assisted by females when it concerns technical matters. This is in contrast to people from

other professionals by their first names and joke around a bit more,” tells Ivette van Putten. Often times, business associates must work overtime to satisfy the needs of French clients. “They expect optimal service and accessibility.” There are some slight differences in Dutch and Belgian business contacts. According to Nancy Van Elsacker, Belgians often prefer to deal with other Belgians rather than Dutch people, because other Belgians have experience that is specific to their country. “Even though they speak the same language, they often get the feeling that Dutch people may not fully understand their unique situations. They also do not want to be treated like a number.”

Arndt Oberhöffken: “German clients often ask detailed questions that can even cause the most experienced pro to break into a sweat.”
all the various layers of the organizational hierarchy must weigh in on the decision, even if only one person will be making the actual decision.” One thing is sure in France: clients are almost always very courteous because they must always be respectful. “A potential client will usually want to keep the salesperson from losing face.” In Belgium, the client’s and supplier’s business connections can be more important than in the Netherlands. “Social networks play a bigger role here,” remarks Nancy Van Elsacker, Account Manager at TOPdesk Belgium. Many Belgian clients select a particular supplier because other organizations with which the client is familiar have already put their trust in that same supplier. other European countries who sometimes seem sceptical as to whether a female will have enough technical expertise to assist them properly with their queries. Furthermore, many British customers also seem to prefer assistance of a more proactive nature than do other clients. They like to receive follow-up calls and discuss their queries over the telephone, as opposed to through emails, which is the preferred method for many Dutch and German customers. Britons often prefer more detailed explanations than do their European counterparts.

Dependability comes first
It is no surprise to hear that all clients, regardless of their cultural background, find the trustworthiness of a supplier to be essential. Freek Takken, Customer Service Manager at TOPdesk Netherlands explains, “Clients become displeased when

Amandine Reville: “French clients expect optimal service and accessibility.”

Expectations and communication
Cultural differences continue to emerge after a sale has been completed. Cultural backgrounds can also influence the expectations that clients have of their supplier. TOPdesk support

Another difference is in the level of formality exhibited during business conversations. While most European customers prefer to keep business conversations formal, British customers are often more inclined to keep such conversations light. “They address

they feel that the help desk has not responded quickly enough to their issues, or if the responses are unclear. Communication is very important: when you show respect and carefully explain the process, the client will immediately become more


understanding. I have also noticed that clients want to be able to accurately anticipate the course of future events; they want to know exactly what, why and when something will happen. That is why clear communication and dependability is of the utmost importance to them.” As it is for everyone, dependability is vital for German clients. Nice small talk is not enough because so much is expected of the supplier. Arndt Oberhöffken, German TOPdesk consultant, gives an example: “If the planned deadlines are not met, the customer will stir up a fuss, which can have a lot of consequences for the supplier. The best solution to a conflict of this sort is to be completely honest and to take responsibility for the situation.” Freek Takken agrees: “The nice thing about dependability issues is that they are relatively simple to resolve. Showing respect and admitting it if you made a mistake is very important. Not leaving until that the client is satisfied, will make you feel satisfied yourself.” In general,

be more and more complicated; clients do not always know all the ins and outs and they look to you as the expert. So you can view ‘difficult’ clients as people that are working in your field of expertise.”

problem occurs, the telephone does not stop ringing. Sales representatives are expected to be available at any time, even after business hours.” This is much less the case for Dutch clients. Freek Takken: “I have never

Freek Takken: “Clients tend to be very patient, reasonable and forgiving.”
Overcoming misunderstandings and errors
What do you do if a client is clearly in the wrong? “When the source of a client’s displeasure is yourself or a colleague, you must clearly admit your error,” says Freek Takken. However, this irritation can come from elsewhere. “I hardly ever come across a client who insists on his or her standpoint, particularly after I have carefully explained that the error was not caused by me or my company. As long as you remain respectful, you may explain to a client that, sometimes, there is nothing you can do to help a situation. completely lost my patience or seen a client go too far. Dutch clients can certainly be quite severe. I visited a client once who immediately started shouting at me as soon as I walked in the door. After discussing the matter for an hour and a half, he concluded it by saying, ‘Freek, I am really glad we got to talk.’ If you just show respect for the client as a person, it can still become a pleasant conversation.” Regardless of cultural background, a supplier’s dependability, honesty and accessibility are fundamental determinants in keeping a client satisfied. However, a service management organization can further improve its service and better understand its clients by taking into account the client’s cultural background. Does the client prefer to be contacted by telephone or email? Does the client expect an extensive explanation or is one tip enough? By incorporating these factors into an organization’s practices, contact with clients can ensue a lot more smoothly.

Fenneke Gonggrijp: “British customers are inclined to keep business conversations light.”

Freek Takken believes clients to be very patient, reasonable and forgiving. “Most people do not want to create a conflict; they just want to reach the same level of understanding with the supplier. I have noticed that clients often ask for advice. IT is getting to

You do not always need to be in agreement with the client.” The situation is different for German clients. A German client is almost never openly held in error. This goes for French clients too. Amandine: “As soon as a


tips + tricks
Customer service tips from Freek Takken, Customer Service Manager at TOPdesk
• During initial contact with a client, try not to take a standpoint immediately. Instead, indicate that you will investigate the matter and get back to the client; • Prepare your response well; • Always treat the other person with respect; • At the end of the conversation, summarize the main points and confirm any agreements; • Always speak from your own standpoint. Thus, “I think that…” instead of “You do this…”; • It is sometimes useful to enlist the help of a colleague when dealing with a difficult issue. He or she can give a fresh perspective on the situation and the client does not have a (negative) history on which to judge your colleague; • Match the client with the right person. Everyone has a unique style and way of handling different situations; • Always attempt to resolve the situation sensibly and honestly. Admit it if you have made a mistake. Clients appreciate sincere apologies; • Be punctual with regards to appointments.

A handful of the TOPdesk help desk best practices

• Always let the caller speak first, so that he or she has the chance to formulate his or her problem or request; • By summarizing the problem, you can deduce whether you have understood the client’s issue correctly; • You do not have to have an immediate answer for everything. “I am going to make this into an incident and get back to you as soon as possible” is a legitimate answer; • Search through old incidents and the knowledge base to see whether a call is a known problem, which will prevent unnecessary work; • For large problems, clearly explain what the options are and tell the client what they can expect; • If there are many steps that need to be explained, you can first email these to the client and then ring them; • Record every step of the process in the Action field, even if you have sent the caller an email or rang the customer and no one picked up the phone. That way it is clear for both parties what steps have been taken concerning the incident.

TOPdesk UK limited t +44 (0)20 8846 8516 e info@topdesk.co.uk w www.topdesk.co.uk

TOPdesk Netherlands t +31 (0)15 270 09 00 e info@topdesk.nl w www.topdesk.nl

TOPdesk Deutschland GmbH t +49 (0)631 624 00 0 e info@topdesk.de w www.topdesk.de

TOPdesk Belgium t +32 (0)3 292 32 90 e info@topdesk.be w www.topdesk.be

TOPdesk Canada Corporation t +1 416 800 2118 e info@topdesk.ca w www.topdesk.ca

Copyright © 2009 TOPdesk UK Limited. Although this magazine has been produced with the utmost care and attention, the writers cannot be held responsible in any way for any damages that may occur due to errors and / or deficiencies in this publication.