Customers are as diverse as the number of plant species on earth and customer relationship management is a topic of discussion in every organization. So before even discussing how to improve customer relationship, let me put a disclaimer that every customer is different. And the same engagement approach might not work with all of them. The approach to be adopted will depend on the business domain, customer type, geography, cultural inclinations etc. It is on the business to choose the right technique.
In this article, I intend to briefly cover the 10 best ways to impress your customers. None of the 10 ways are related to technology. Which means I am not covering things like how to effectively use your Salesforce or MS Dynamics CRMS (customer relationship management systems), or how to use various channels of engagement (chatbots, voicebots, social media) for improving customer experience etc. So here we go.
1. Know your customer
Never deal with a customer without actually studying them. Every customer or prospect expects a service provider to understand – at a bare minimum – their business, industry trends and value chain. Do your research before the first meeting with the customer. Bring out some of the facts you collected during your interaction with him. This will help generate more interest and he/she will be open to sharing more detailed information.
2. Use good customer experience not just in delivery of service, but also during your communications
A study shows that, about 22% of the companies see customer experience as the most exciting business opportunity in 2019. Hence it is needless to say a lot of focus has to be driven towards that area. However, it is a common misconception that customer experience is only about providing a quality product or service. Customer experience is perceived at a holistic level. It requires businesses to provide a consistent experience across various streams of engagement – service delivery, business meetings, written communications, trainings & workshops, conferences & trade fairs and casual interactions.
A business relationship is always based on trust and comfort. Creating a comfort level through polite and sensible communications can contribute to an improved customer satisfaction.
3. Acknowledge mistakes and find a resolution
It is a usual practice by majority of the businesses – service-oriented companies in particular –that they fail to admit their own mistakes. Customers realize that businesses are run by humans, and humans do make mistakes. Acknowledging that and immediately taking steps to resolve it is far better than trying to deny the responsibility. At the same time, this doesn’t hold as an excuse for carelessness and lack of commitment from the service provider. This also doesn’t mean that you intimate the customer every time you make a small mistake. Here I refer to actions that could adversely affect the operations of the customer.
4. Encourage collaboration
Improving collaboration with customer teams through frequent catchup meetings, trainings & workshops, customer visits, conferences & events, webinars etc. can help in the following ways:
- Improve the level of engagement with the customer
- Understand the strategy, needs and pain points of the customer better
- Build more rapport
All the above elements will eventually help in improving your customer retention.
5. Train your people
In any kind of business engagement, especially B2B, the customer interacts with a multitude of people in the vendor organization. They include sales people, marketeers, senior leaders, service delivery managers, project managers, team leads etc. Regardless of the frequency or duration of interaction, it is important for every person in the vendor company to learn ways of engaging with the customer. They need to be trained on the dos and don’ts while interacting with a customer. More experienced people can stay as the face of the company to ensure proper conduct and etiquette. The training need not be days long. It could be a combination of short sessions, proper guideline setting and timely communication.
6. Listen to your customer
There is a tendency among experienced sales people to assume what their customers are looking for. Rather than trying to understand the immediate requirement, some sales people in the vendor organization package their services the way they like it. This can leave a bad impression if the package doesn’t cater to the business need. It can often lead to the end of a business relationship. The right approach would be to listen to the customer delegate(s) and determine what their current priorities are, and then position the products/services accordingly.
7. First give your customers what they want
This is a debatable point. I have seen the sales team of my current organization pitching futuristic solutions when the customer is only looking for a simple solution. An example (in the case of a technology company) would be trying to sell machine learning, cognitive computing or blockchain when the requirement is, say only getting a few people to support customer’s mainframe application. This can sometimes dilute a pitch and force the customer to think that the service provider is not interested in delivering what they are looking for. In my opinion, the pitch has to be a combination of both. The vendor should clearly state that they can fulfill current requirements but can also contribute to future business by delivering innovative services.
The reason why I mentioned this as a debatable point is because, some industrialists are of the opinion that pitching futuristic things can be a door opener to many customers, especially new ones. Once customers are convinced that the vendor is investing in future, they might give a chance to have a discussion around current needs. What’s your opinion? Feel free to leave a comment on this.
8. Add value to customer’s business
This is something majority of the vendors do not consider doing. Hence it can act as a point of differentiation for those who do. This is about giving the customer something outside the barriers of the contract that can add value to their operations and growth. An example would be giving a special discount to a product distributor/dealer when the business is doing well. This can evoke a feeling of being in a partnership than a customer-vendor relationship, which in turn can lead to improved customer satisfaction and long-lasting relationship.
9. Engage frequently
This is important both when you are trying to strike a deal as well as delivering your services. Let us consider each of the stages. When you are chasing a prospect, frequent interactions with them can help in the following ways:
- Get insights about their business, strategy, vision, areas of investment etc.
- Keep the lead alive and help you send communications about your products and services
- Generate more interest in the customer
- Understand the customer’s requirements and needs
For an existing customer, the intention of staying in touch regularly will be different. Since the service provider would already know the customer’s business, the aim would be to maintain a smooth delivery and focus on future business. Some of the other objectives include:
- Update progress of your work
- Gauge customer satisfaction levels
- Connect with relevant stakeholders for future business
10. Become a strategic partner
Well, this is a tricky one. Being a strategic partner is the most advanced stage of partnership. Here, the service provider not only delivers the service promised, but also contributes to defining the customer’s strategy. The vendor needs to have an outside-in view of customer’s business for this. Strategy should translate into operations and not the other way.
But as I mentioned above, it’s not always that easy. Mainly because every customer doesn’t encourage their vendors to get involved in anything more than their area of service. So, it is for the vendor to decide their level of involvement by judging the customer type and interests.
That covers my 10 best ways to improve customer relationships. As I have mentioned in the beginning, the right technique to be chosen heavily depends on the type of customer. Are you already applying some of these techniques in your business? Let me know in the comments section.