What does capacity planning have to do with customer service? For professional services organizations, a lot more than you would think.
Exceptional customer service is vital for organizations that want to ensure sustainable growth, create brand affinity, and maintain healthy customer relationships. There is a reason why Amazon Prime retains over 90% of customers year over year. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos once said, “We are never competitor based or obsessed. We are always customer based and obsessed.” Amazon’s guaranteed fast delivery on select products is one reason the company has over 112 million loyal customers across the U.S.
The company’s ability to optimize shipping and delivery (supply/demand capacity planning) makes them accountable and consistent. Customers know they can rely on Prime for the goods they need – on time, (almost) every time. However, Amazon wouldn’t be able to guarantee such reliability without a system in place to understand the amount of goods they are able to sell, and how quickly they can get those goods into the hands of trusting customers.
This relationship between supply and demand is similar for professional services organizations. But an effective demand planning process for services team members is significantly more complex. We all know that a project delivered on time, on budget, at high quality doesn’t just happen. It requires intentional project planning and disciplined resource management. And while reliable delivery is essential for projects under management, it also allows an organization to understand when and how they can staff and start new projects.
The ability to project future demand and understand the capacity to sell and start new projects will unlock meaningful growth for a services organization. More importantly, it will keep its customers happy. Professional services teams know this and prioritize the customer experience — and the rewards are tangible. Increasing customer retention by just 5% can boost profits anywhere from 25-95%.
Demand planners and services leaders around the world agree that on time, on budget delivery is of paramount importance. To start a project off on the right foot, staffing plans are critical, and teams who fail to understand the gap between available resources and forecasted demand will suffer from lost revenue and wasted hours. Prior to starting a project, managers need to develop a match strategy between the skills needed to deliver the work and the available resources with those skills.
Resource-driven forecasts are one way for an organization to ensure they are meeting demand. Also known as bottom-up forecasts, this approach allows teams to schedule all of their planned work and match the right resources to projects accordingly. Planned work includes both projects in the sales and marketing pipeline and also projects currently underway. Then, an organization can translate the scheduled work into accurate, time-phased revenue forecasts. This provides insight into an organization’s capacity to successfully deliver the work within the estimated time of completion.
The real benefit to customers is a promise kept throughout the entire lifecycle, from the time a project is sold all the way to its completion. This includes effective project planning, strong project management, an understanding of resource capacity throughout the project schedule, discipline around agreed upon budget parameters, and ultimately a fulfillment on punctual (and high quality) delivery.
If an organization wants to provide excellent customer service it is critical for them to strike a balance between capacity planning and resource management. Harmony between the two functions, aligned with trustworthy data, provides teams with visibility and predictability into their business. Beyond facilitating stronger resource planning, this balance will keep a sales team well-informed of what they are able to sell. They key is to have reliable underlying data to inform the planning process. With access to real-time data around resource bandwidth and production capacity, sales reps can keep a pulse on what types of services they can sell over a specific period of time, and when those projects can begin. The resulting clarity helps everyone deliver with confidence and ace the customer experience.
To gain competitive advantage, services leaders must invest in structured capacity planning and methodical demand management. A combination of the two will lead to the one thing that can make or break a business: a remarkable (maybe even obsessed) customer experience.
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