As a tech transfer professional, you answer to a number of stakeholders – university leadership, researchers, corporate funders, angel investors, and patent people to name a few. Their backgrounds are almost as varied as their interests, and yet you have to satisfy each group as if they existed in a silo. How do you meet everyone’s needs, including your own? Take a cue from some of the great customer successes in business.
Zappos recognized that one of their barriers to doing business (selling shoes online) was that people needed to try shoes on. It was conceivable that some of these shoes wouldn’t fit the customers’ needs and they’d want to return them. Mailing things back is inconvenient. It could cause friction in the buying process. Too much friction and customers will go elsewhere. So Zappos instituted hassle-free returns with free return shipping. Most of us know how that story ended – they’ve built a wildly successful company and are now a division of online retail giant Amazon.
Returns aren’t an issue for tech transfer but if you take a moment you can probably recognize some “friction” in your process. How can you remove it, make it more palatable or understandable? If you can improve the process in the eyes of your stakeholders, you’ll increase your perceived value.
Giving the correct answer, or service with a smile, is not excellent customer service. These actions meet expectations. The indicator of excellent customer service is anticipating the customer’s needs, and fulfilling them, before they realize they have them.
Working with your technology transfer department to address and allay concerns before they even exist will help you stand out to your stakeholders. An easy way to do this is to ensure every member of the process understands it. Creating programs that speak in their “language”, addressing their needs, and setting expectations that matter to them, will ingratiate your department with others.
Ban Offensive Words
No, we’re not talking about George Carlin’s list, but rather words like “no.” Ace Hardware doesn’t allow employees to say “no” to the customer unless they get a manager’s approval. Placing that verbal limitation on employees adjusts their thinking from a yes/no answer to finding a solution.
The same can work for your technology licensing office. There are times when something is simply not feasible, but in those cases it is essential to explain why. For example, telling a researcher his work is not being considered for commercialization is not nearly as helpful as explaining the types of projects that are. This tact places the onus on the researcher to adjust his project accordingly to make it more interesting to the other parties.
With ever-increasing competition, companies are always looking for ways to provide a better customer experience. These customer service trends can be applied to tech transfer as well to improve stakeholder relationships for the betterment of your department and your career.
How are you meeting the customer service demands of your stakeholders?