Growth strategy through customer service: Honeywell Aerospace ups the ante

December 21, 2012

As the economy slowly recovers, many companies are beginning to use the “G” word in their business discussions and strategies, particularly as they look forward to 2013: Next year could be the year of growth.

Honeywell Aerospace recently made an internal investment designed to yield competitive advantage support the company’s growth strategy. It is a one-of-a-kind employee-training program dubbed the Honeywell Academy. Created with some of the top minds in service leadership at the W. P. Carey School’s Center for Service Leadership, the Honeywell Academy is a professional certificate program delivered completely online. And Honeywell Aerospace is sending its entire 1,400- employee customer service organization through the academy.

“What we were looking for was a comprehensive customer services’ skill development academy,” says Adrian Paull, Honeywell vice president for customer and product support. “Since we are all customer service professionals, we wanted a way of having our full organization receive the same training. We were looking for an online capability with global reach.”

“It is a huge initiative and huge commitment on Honeywell’s part - as well as our part - to really transform its organization,” says Mary Jo Bitner, executive director of the Center for Services Leadership. “I’m not aware of any program like it. It has a strong focus on service and service fundamentals - from both a strategic and a front-line delivery perspective - being delivered online across multiple time zones and types of employees.”

What is the Honeywell Academy?

The academy is an eight-module certificate program focused on creating a common language and tool set around service.

“The first four courses zero in on service excellence, which is our expertise and distinct competency at the Center for Services Leadership,” says Nancy Stephens, marketing professor and faculty director of the Honeywell Academy. “The material was developed here at W. P. Carey by our all-stars, Mary Jo Bitner and Steve Brown, two of the biggest names in the world for service excellence.”

“The last four courses are focused on marketing,” says Stephens. “The idea is for Honeywell employees to understand how their customers are doing business. We want them to ask themselves, ‘Who are my customers’ customers? How do they compete?’ We all work better when we understand our customers, and a key objective of this program is to promote better service through better knowledge of the people and institutions with which Honeywell does business.”

“The program is extremely flexible, since it's offered online,” says Bitner. “It allows for standardized training across all of Honeywell’s worldwide locations and encourages employees from Dallas to Shanghai to Berlin to get out of their everyday mindsets and interact with each other to make things better for their customers.”

Honeywell employees have three years to complete the eight courses. The first class of 48 employees graduated in October 2012.

“It is slowly and deliberately changing the culture inside Honeywell,” says Stephens.

Why create the Academy?

“It’s not enough to be adequate, you have to be great,” says Stephens. “In many industries, most competitors are at parity so the only way they can compete effectively is to increase the level of service and customer experience, and I think that’s what Honeywell Aerospace wants to do.”

Indeed, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) suggests that customer satisfaction is a leading indicator of company financial performance. Stocks of companies with high customer satisfaction scores tend to do better than those of companies with low scores.

“The fact that Honeywell is committed to this says that it is a super smart competitor,” says Stephens. “We already know that Honeywell Aerospace is a very successful company in terms of being profitable. But now it is going to the next level of excellence. This is an example of a good company getting better, of continuously improving.”

For Honeywell, it was also about its own experience with the Center for Services Leadership. “I had previously been exposed to some of the leading edge thinking coming out of the Center of Services Leadership and had personally benefitted from it,” says Paull. “I wanted my organization to become familiar with these tools and benefit from the same knowledge.”

“We have a strong functional organization focused on product and customer support,” says Paull. “Under those circumstances it was really clear that any leader would want his or her entire organization to experience this development so that we all have the common language, the common toolset and the common commitment to improve our understanding and delivery of best-in-class customer service.”

A common language

When managing 1,400 employees globally, finding a common language is no easy task, but that was what they were able to achieve, says Paull. “We wanted to have a common language around the science of customer service,” he says. “We also felt that it would be beneficial to have a common tool set -- around service recovery or service blueprinting -- so we boiled the subject of customer service down to its foundational aspects and really thoughtfully explored it.”

“On a professional level, it made me more aware of customer attitudes and to think like a customer,” says Matt Mooney, senior project support program manager at Honeywell Aerospace, who attended the Honeywell Academy. “The program makes you think about the quality of the services that you provide. That was my key take-away – that providing a product alone is not good enough; you need to also be able to provide service as well.”

Murdock Welborn, field service product specialist at Honeywell who attended the academy agrees. “An ah-ha moment for me was during the blueprinting course when we walked through processes that we had experienced many times in the past, but identified the many different touch-points with customers that we took for granted,” says Welborn. “Now we appreciate that these various points of contact offer an opportunity to succeed, as well as, obviously, an opportunity to fail. Most importantly, they offer an opportunity to put our best foot forward and to distinguish ourselves from our competitors.”

“On a professional level you find yourself speaking a common language across the board with your counterparts within Honeywell,” adds Welborn. “You’re able to speak that common language and, as a result, solve problems for your customers.”

A growth strategy

“Good service is good business because it offers a competitive advantage,” says Stephens. “It helps the customer know that Honeywell Aerospace truly does care about it. It’s a matter of trying to assure that today’s customer will also be tomorrow’s customer. It is a matter of understanding that customer relations do not end with a sale; they only start with a sale.”

And that is how good service equals growth.

“The first sale to customers is made by the sales team,” says Paull. “The subsequent sales are really made by the service experience. We want customers to feel validated that they are working with the right supplier and that Honeywell understands them and supports them. Yes, we were introduced to our customers because we were successful in selling to them in the first place, but subsequent follow-on business is a validation of the service and support the customer receives. In this context, service is a growth strategy. It’s growth through being best-in-class in service and support.”

It’s an innovative, wide-reaching strategy that is aimed at shifting the culture and mindset to being service-based. Time will tell how the academy influences Honeywell’s business, but in the meantime it has enhanced its internal culture.