Perfecting Service Management

Issue #69

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Becoming Customer Centric - Respond to the Customer with Account Strategies
by Craig Bailey

In the prior edition, we began discussing the step of responding to the customer based on the results of your Voice of the Customer (VoC) input and analysis. We continue that topic by sharing a strategy to leverage your VoC results for specific customer accounts. The result (why you want to read this) is that you will:

  • Identify additional revenue opportunities in existing accounts
  • Expand the level and breadth of contacts that account managers have with these accounts
  • Clearly identify account issues (gaps that can be closed)
  • Align the corporation's resources to resolve account issues
  • Enhance the relationship between account managers and their customers
  • Increase account revenue

In many ways, implementing account strategies could be considered a microcosm of an overall VoC program. Implementing account strategies (to the fullest extent) is something that may only be done for a firm's highest-profile (strategic) accounts. However, there are many facets of this that any account manager may find beneficial to leverage for his or her specific accounts.

Implementing account strategies involves the following six steps:

  • Compile account-specific results
  • Engage senior management in the customer's experience
  • Prepare for the customer review meeting
  • Meet with the customer
  • Educate the organization and engage resources to respond
  • Continue the process

Compile account-specific results. The first step is to compile an account-specific report. This entails creating a report of the specific customer's feedback resulting from surveys, interviews, etc. The report should outline: who participated (names and titles), the levels of satisfaction and dissatisfaction by person, and any comments they shared during the process.

Additionally, it is important to review the overall VoC reporting which outlines global or customer segment-specific trends and compare with the feedback received from the specific customer. By doing so, you can communicate to the customer what is being done to address global issues, or issues impacting customers like them, in addition to discussing those issues which may pertain only to the specific customer. Customers value knowing how their experience with your firm is the same as, and/or different from, other customers.

The following steps outline how this can be done, by leveraging the customer's feedback.

Engage senior management in the customer's experience. While it is not expected that each customer has a relationship with an executive from your company, it is highly beneficial to have senior executives (VP and above) develop relationships with 2-3 of the firm's highest priority accounts. Highest priority accounts can be defined as those that generate the most revenue, have strategic name recognition or are an important partner in the industry within which your firm operates. Having executives develop relationships with the highest priority accounts forms the basis for a very effective and long-term partnership between the firms. A specific step that an executive can perform is that of an interactive review of VoC results, with the customer's Account Manager and the customer. This provides opportunities for the executive to hear "unfiltered" feedback from the customer base. Additionally, it is an excellent opportunity to turn problem situations into new business opportunities. That is, executives typically don't get bogged down in the details. Instead, they strive to form strategic relationships built upon mutual respect and trust. With executives this close to the customer, the firm demonstrates to all constituencies the commitment the organization has to the customer.

Prepare for the customer review meeting. The major activity in this step is holding a rehearsal, or dry-run, of the customer meeting between the account manager and the senior manager assigned to the account. The goal is to determine the appropriate strategy for the meeting and what messages need to be delivered to the customer. It is important to assign specific discussion points. The senior executive typically covers an overview of the corporation, future plans and objectives of the VoC program. The account manager then discusses the customer's feedback results and asks key questions, such as:

  1. What can I, the Account Manager, do to improve your satisfaction and loyalty with our firm?
  2. What can the Company do to improve?
  3. What is everything necessary for you to become Totally Satisfied?

Note: these questions provide additional input to the VoC program and serve as a closed-loop to the step of "obtaining the pulse of the customer."

When scheduling face-time with the customer, use this opportunity to indicate that a senior manager from your firm will be present, and it would be beneficial to have senior manager(s) present from the customer's firm as well. By taking the posture of presenting analysis material that will benefit the account, instead of selling, the account manager can enter offices that may have previously been closed. The account manager now has an excuse to move horizontally and vertically within the account's organization in order to present the results and extend his or her sphere of influence.

Meet with the customer. In summary, this step involves sharing what has been observed as broad trends across the customer base and what is being done to respond globally. Then comes a review of the customer's specific input/concerns and finally your firm's response.

The main goals of this meeting include:

  • Clarify any account issues
  • Identify additional ways to help the customer achieve specified goals and objectives (a.k.a. identify additional business opportunities)
  • Understand how the account evaluates the firm's products and services
  • Demonstrate to the customer that the firm takes customer input seriously and is responding to meet identified needs

Educate the organization and engage resources to respond. This step involves educating and engaging others in the firm to respond to the specific account's feedback. For example, there may be information that needs to be shared with Marketing and Product Management that may lead to future enhancements to the products or services. It may also be appropriate to pull together the extended account team to respond to the customer's specific feedback. Too often, customer satisfaction and loyalty are left on the shoulders of account management and/or customer care. While these are key functions impacting the customer's experience with the firm, many other personnel touch the customer, and/or influence the customer's experience. As such, it is important to bring together members of the extended account-team to ensure that each organization understands the areas of satisfaction and dissatisfaction of the particular account and each person knows what he or she can do to positively influence this specific customer's perception of the firm.

Continue the process. By now, many of the benefits of implementing account strategies have been realized. It is important to continuously loop through this process on a periodic basis (monthly or quarterly) with each account in the program. During each subsequent meeting, the team will start by providing an update on what has been done, the programs now in place, or steps taken to respond to the customer's previously identified areas of dissatisfaction. It will be observed that each pass at this process builds upon an increasing relationship of mutual trust and respect.

To reiterate, implementing all aspects of account strategies outlined above is not something that is necessary for all customers. It is suggested that this is a program that is performed, in its entirety, for a firm's highest-profile accounts. With that said, however, it is highly recommended that account managers leverage VoC results to hold similar discussions with their lower-profile accounts. While senior management from the firm may not be engaged, the account managers and customer will realize positive results here as well.

In the next edition we will discuss approaches that you can take to provide an update to the overall customer base sharing the results of your VoC program.

In closing, responding to the customer to communicate what was learned, what you have done and what is planned as a result of your VoC activities demonstrates that you care about your customer's business. And, as outlined above, by properly leveraging this information, you can not only increase customer loyalty, but also lock-in additional revenue opportunities!

View previous articles in this series.

Contents

+ Becoming Customer Centric
+ Recommended Reading
+ Reader-Input Incentive Plan
 


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Recommended Reading

This issue we recommend Mike Sheridan's article Reinforce Your Brand in the Contact Center in CRM Magazine. The article highlights the importance of using your call centers to strenghten your brand, as Mr. Sheridan writes: "Your brand identifies your organization and is made tangible through every customer interaction. Because your contact center is frequently the primary point of customer interaction, it is in a unique and powerful position to build and reinforce your company's brand."

 

Reader-Input Incentive Program
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