by Clementine W.
The past year has reinforced certain important fundamentals – no matter how much triumph or adversity is experienced, maintaining a strong relationship is key to any long-term partnership, specifically in this context as pertains to our customers. There are certain basic ingredients that simply do not change – things like communicating regularly and often, managing expectations, and always ensuring respect is maintained throughout all interactions.
In late 2020 at the height of the pandemic, Salesforce conducted its “State of the Connected Customer” 4th Edition survey and received over 15,000 global responses. There were a number of pertinent insights they uncovered, including the following:
- 80% of customers agree that the experiences provided by a company are as important to them as its products and services, meaning the quality of a company’s customer experience has a direct impact on their potential for business success
- 90% of customers indicated a company’s trustworthiness is directly linked to how it acts during a crisis
- 91% of customers confirmed they are more likely to do business again with a company which provides a positive customer service experience
It is much easier to manage any relationship when everything is going well, but how do we build a long term customer relationship that weathers the inevitable challenges that will come our way, as in any normal relationship? As a leader, it is important to have a toolkit of strategies to turn to that will foster successful customer engagement, strengthen the relationship, and keep your delivery on track. With that in mind, I have listed below for your consideration some strategic suggestions that I have learned are key to building a strong customer partnership.
Address Problems Directly
Issues will arise and challenges are inevitable, yet while your instinct may be to avoid communicating while trying to solve problems internally, the best approach is to address issues head on and approach your customer directly. Not only does this give them the opportunity to explain the situation from their perspective, it gives you a chance to ask questions and fully understand their point of view.
Step Into Their Shoes
If you ever receive a request that seems unclear or unreasonable, take a moment to reflect. Are they getting pressure from their boss or other stakeholders to deliver a project they feel is in jeopardy? Do they lack confidence in the proposed approach because they don’t understand it? It will take some courage to work through these types of challenges, but it’s an important first step to ensuring you truly understand their concerns. Often, simply assuring your customer that their concerns are heard and understood goes a long way to calming a volatile situation while building confidence that their success is your team’s highest priority.
Build great customer relationships by listening to customer concerns and needs
Don’t Offer Solutions Immediately
While the temptation is to begin offering solutions to allay concerns, this can backfire. First, if your customer expresses a strong opinion, it is natural to feel defensive and want to set the record straight. However, this will likely escalate the situation, thus making things worse. Instead, demonstrate that you understand what they are saying and that you will follow up with solutions. Then step away to (remember this?) Step Into Their Shoes and analyze things from their perspective. This will give you time to formulate a comprehensive and measurable approach without needing to think on your feet or engage in the moment.
Offer Measurable Steps Toward Improvement
As quickly as you can, set up a follow up conversation where you recap the specific issues or concerns and lay out your plan to achieve the desired state. By outlining concrete actions rather than vague promises to make changes, you have a baseline that you can measure progress against, therefore demonstrating your ability to effectively manage the situation and build trust. Make sure these actions are achievable! Often, you only get one shot at fixing a challenging situation so make sure you create a path for success by outlining a plan that you can bring to fruition.
A one-off meeting can lay the groundwork, but continued check-ins against the metrics and actions that you specified are the key to building trust and confidence in your ability to create lasting solutions, and thus an ongoing partnership. Schedule recurring updates where you can demonstrate progress against your plan and show your continued commitment to resolving issues. By building the trust and confidence of your customer, you are positioned as a key partner to help them achieve their goals.
Don’t Take It Personally
Poise, professionalism, and letting your work speak for itself are all traits that will serve you well and ensure you manage your engagements – and relationships – successfully.
At the end of the day, by faithfully showing our customers that their mission challenges are our passion, and consistently execute with excellence, we are laying a solid foundation for building their ongoing trust and maturing a true long term relationship.