Good customer service doesn’t end when the product is delivered. If you don’t want to risk losing your customers to the competition, you have to be proactive about keeping in regular contact with your customers.
You don’t send me flowers, you don’t sing me love songs, you hardly talk to me anymore. Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond sang these words in their iconic love song “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” where two lovers, who have drifted apart, describe the feeling of being taken for granted.
Have you ever been taken for granted? Can you describe the emotion? Does it make you feel unimportant, small, resentful, angry, and indifferent?
The reality is most customers are lost because of neglect. They feel taken for granted and unimportant. Often when they defect to a competitor they will list a litany of other reasons because it is hard for them to describe neglect. Neglect happens slowly. It creeps up on customer relationships. It happens when businesses get into the habit of fighting fires rather than preventing them.
The cure is a system that allows them to fight fires and deal with emergencies and proactively engage their customer base. Some organizations set up monthly or quarterly account reviews that focus on account updates and problem solving. Others set aside time each day to proactively reach out to customers by phone or e-mail. This daily focus is powerful because a handful of contacts each day pays off. Those calls and e-mails keep you connected to your clients and let them know you care.
In my experience, a quick phone call check-in goes a long way. I do more business with Sondra, an account manager for a company that sells my company digital advertising, than I do with all of her competitors combined. Her product is not superior—quite honestly, she and all her competitors are about the same. Since we pay by monthly credit card billing, it is easy to forget about our account. Sondra doesn’t forget about us, though. She checks in with us every week. Sometimes by phone, other times by e-mail. There is nothing special about what she does. How are you doing? How can I help you? I have an idea; can we schedule a call? Have a great weekend? Yet her regular contact ensures that we never forget about her and her company and when we have additional budget to spend on advertising, she always gets it.
Protect Your Turf
Devin was devastated as he reluctantly called his boss with the news that he’d lost a top ten account. He knew that with this loss, his job was surely on the line. Earlier that day his contact called to let him know that they were not going to renew their contract and were going with one of his competitors. The competitor had promised significant service improvements and savings and the buyer was convinced that making the switch was the right thing to do. Devin asked for a meeting to offer a counter proposal. The buyer refused. Then Devin begged, “Please give me a chance to show you what we can do. We’ve been serving your account for 10 years and if I had just known that this is what you wanted, we could have provided it for you. We’ve always given you great service, haven’t we?” The buyer was unmoved. The decision had been made. It was over.
This same scenario plays out again and again across the business landscape. It is just part of the reality of business. Businesses must retain customers against an onslaught of salespeople that relentlessly pound on the door. When they fail to proactively manage their customer relationships, those salespeople slip through the cracks and encourage buyers to consider their options. Aggressive salespeople never miss an opportunity to topple embedded, long-term relationships. The battle never ends and vigilance is the key to protecting your turf. Losing your customer base can be catastrophic in this environment. Customers are essential to the survival of the organization.
As a business, you must take consistent daily action to protect your turf. You must take nothing for granted. Every customer and every relationship is at risk. Hoping for the best is a losing strategy. You must take systematic action to shore up and strengthen your relationships and reinforce the value of your product or service. You must respond swiftly to any real or perceived service issue no matter how small. And you must get proactive in meeting with your customers to learn about their business issues, uncover problems, and proactively suggest ways to solve those problems.
I’m not saying this is easy. One of the hardest things to do is keep your fingers on the pulse of your customer base. It is made even harder by the fast pace of twenty-first century business. Strong, trusting relationships are the key. Devin was unaware that he was in trouble until it was too late. However, had he been managing the relationship, it is highly likely that he would have been given a heads up that would have allowed him a chance to save the business.
The key to protecting your turf is a systematic approach to account management. Start with ranking and segmenting your customers based on revenue and profit contribution. Once you know where your customers rank in order of contribution to your business, take a close look at how often and in what ways you are connecting with them. How often are you contacting them through phone, e-mail, regular mail, or face-to-face interactions? What are the objectives of those interactions? Are some customers getting lots of contact while others are getting none? And where do these customers rank on your list?
Take an honest approach. Make an effort to view your account management activity through your customer’s eyes. Would your relationship-building efforts make you want to buy more from your company? Would you feel like your company really cared about you as a customer? Do you think that you really understand your business problems and situations? If not, what needs to change?
Based on your analysis, develop a more systematic approach to contacting and building relationships with your customers. Decide on the frequency, objective, and methods for staying connected. You may be constrained by budget cuts and travel restrictions so be prepared to get creative. Then execute your plan. Staying connected will help put your finger squarely on the pulse of your highest value customers while they’re still customers.