October 29, 2020

Owning Your Customer Relationships

Article

What does it mean to “own a relationship?”

Owning a customer relationship does not simply mean being in charge of the interactions that customers have with your brand, company, or organization. It means consistently providing value to your customers at every stage of their journey. It means having an informative and engaging sales process. It means having an onboarding process that is smooth, comprehensive, and leaves the customer set up for success. It means having support teams who know not just how to answer questions, but how to proactively solve problems as they arise. 

Owning a customer relationship is not, however, automating away these interactions so as to decrease headcount and spend. This is, in fact, an abdication of customer relationship management - and sooner or later it will result in churn, followed by a poor reputation.

Nurturing the relationship

When a customer (whether an individual or another business) entrusts an organization with their hard earned money, they expect to get what they pay for. In most cases in the B2B world, that means a return on investment that grows their own margins, and not just the pockets of the entity they are buying from. It requires a high level of trust, which is why nurturing relationships is absolutely vital.

Nurturing relationships starts during the sales process. Buyers want to know that they are dealing with people who know their product inside and out - all of its capabilities, as well as its limitations. They do not come to companies hoping to buy a bag of magic beans - which is why overselling can be dangerous, and promises that are “too good to be true” can actually damage a customer relationship before it begins in earnest. Setting a baseline of honest expectations is always the best place to start.

When salespeople know their product well, they sell it well. They remain a point of contact for the buyer forever - but once the sale is made, it becomes time for the onboarding team to take over. Onboarding (or success) teams get customers up and running, and are the experiences they provide will make or break that relationship. As with sales, it is critical that everyone involved in getting that customer up and running be equipped with the knowledge and information they need - both about the customer and how the product will be implemented - to make a success of the onboarding process.

Lastly, ongoing support is something that every customer needs. Sometimes, things can just go wrong, or downright haywire. Regardless, it’s up to support teams to ensure that customers get back up and running with as little disruption to their business processes as possible. Again, this means having essential knowledge routed to them at the moment of need.

Avoid a culture of avoidance

The adoption of artificial intelligence and automation in recent years among all sorts of businesses has boomed. One could be forgiven, though for questioning why it’s called “intelligent” at all. More often than not, customers cite dealing with automated representatives as a major reason for dissatisfaction with a company or brand. Inevitably, the frustration engendered by these machines, and the resulting fallout, falls squarely onto the lap of an actual person. This is unfortunate, both for the representatives who are trying to do as good of a job as possible, and for the customers whose relationships are clearly not being nurtured.

Automation should not be used as a way of avoiding dealing with customers. When companies set up a series of seemingly endless robotic operators and automated responses, it sends a very clear message to the customer, that being that they aren’t important. Instead, automation and AI should be used to empower agents to perform their jobs more effectively - routing vital information to them as it relates to the customer. There’s nothing wrong with routing low-level FAQs to bots - as long as they truly are that - low level. Everything else deserves a person to person interaction.

The ability to perform is essential

There is no relationship ownership without relationship nurturing, and it’s impossible to nurture anything without the ability to perform. Teams depend on accurate, timely, and relevant knowledge in order to perform well. Without that foundation, every other aspect of a customer relationship begins to crumble. This poses a particular challenge among remote workforces. Thankfully, there are tools available to make sure that baseline expectations can continue to be met. With the right priorities in mind, coupled with a plan to execute on them, any organization can own their customer relationships by nurturing them in every interaction.