Can chairs with lumbar support, frosted cubicle walls that let in more light, and shorter employee commutes all add up to happier customers?
Needham, MA | February 27, 2006 — Do customers calling with questions about their software really care if the person giving them help on the other end of the line sits in a Haworth Zody desk chair — the first chair endorsed by the American Physical Therapy Association? Can they sense a greater focus, a more engaged response, or a higher level of energy if that person gets their morning coffee in a state-of-the-art kitchen equipped with a coffee bar that encourages people to converse while they brew? Will the quality of the products themselves be higher — and will sales volumes rise — if cubicle panels are 50% thicker, if wood surfaces accent the steel and glass, or if a traditional white refrigerator was replaced by one with stainless steel French doors?
Yes, says Gary Levine, President and Founder of Two Step Software, Inc. whose product, Corporate Focus, helps the nation’s leading law firms and corporate legal departments track the countless details that flow from corporate governance. Corporate Focus tracks how many shares of stock are owned by whom, which resolutions were passed at which board meetings, and who is currently an officer or director in which subsidiary, no matter how large or complex the ownership structure or whether it is public or private. Corporate Focus is the de facto standard for tracking private equity ownership, says Levine. But he is also quick to add that great features don’t have the allure they once did.
The Intangibles Matter
“In the software applications business,” Levine says, “most customers are won or lost based on intangibles, not because a product has this or that feature. When a new product feature comes out — if it’s really important — most competitors will copy it within a year. What’s much more difficult to copy is the feeling customers get when they deal with your employees. If employees aren’t enthusiastic about the company or the product, customers won’t be either. And you can’t fake it.”
Which is why Two Step today moved to Needham, Massachusetts (Needham Executive Center, 144 Gould Street). Located on the Massachusetts Route 128 technology corridor, the new office offers employees a much easier, shorter, and faster commute than did the company’s previous location near a busy downtown business district in another Boston suburb. In addition, Two Step has installed two T-1 lines for Internet access, wireless network connectivity in all common areas, and a VoIP digital telephone system that, among other benefits, allows each employee to easily see on their computer screen which other employees are currently available to take a customer call — making the risk a customer will be placed on hold virtually zero.
Few would be surprised to find a software company on Route 128 or to learn that it has excellent Internet and telephone service. That’s exactly the point, Levine says. Like great product features, great communications should come with the territory when dealing with a technology provider like Two Step. True differentiation must come from the human factors that create the customer’s ultimate experience.
“Very few of our customers will ever walk into this office. The only reason we moved to our new location and created its new design was for the convenience of our employees. They are the ones creating the customer experience. It is precisely by making changes to our physical environment that we make a difference in the customer’s virtual experience.”
Those changes include a top-to-bottom redesign of the new office space — a space in which everything from the data rack and servers to the floor coverings and finishes are brand new. “I just decided in this move that we should bring over as little as possible from the previous location. We’re not bringing the desks, the chairs, the file cabinets, or the phone system. Since all of our customer records are online and our product code is on our servers, I told everyone: Just bring your laptop and the pictures of your family.”
Like most software executives, Levine claims no special expertise in office space design. For that, he turned to Janet Giunta, an interior designer with Joyce Contract Interiors of North Chelmsford, Massachusetts — who came highly recommended to Levine by his real estate broker. Giunta, with 20 years of experience designing office interiors around Boston, is in high demand these days as the importance of office design in a virtual world is getting noticed.
Software companies are beginning to realize they can think outside the box and still stay within budget, Giunta says. For Two Step, a relatively few creative touches made a big impact on the space design.
“I think we took a pretty vanilla space and made it into something special,” she says. “When you came into the space before it was just white walls and flat carpeting. What we were able to do is add accent walls and checker board tiles, and then vary the heights of the cubicle partitions so everyone gets the most light from the windows available to them. It’s contemporary, with metallic overtones and frosted glass, but still comfortable with warm colors and some natural elements such as wood.”
Levine believes that such quality-of-life differences are just good business. He also sees a strong connection between the office enhancements and how his product improves the lives of attorneys, paralegals, and their clients. “We want to bring out the best in our people so they can bring out the best in our customers. That’s what we want our brand to stand for.”