I am frequently asked: is there a silver bullet to create great customer experience every time for every customer? My answer is: no.
During the past months I’ve had many interesting discussions with colleagues and customers on the topic of what is the key to create manage customer experience? Every customer is different, so you need to get a key chain full of them.
What I’ve suggested my colleagues to do first, is to go to a few car dealers and start bargaining on a car of their choice, with an intention of buying one, or not. Since selling cars is fast-paced business, you’ll pretty soon pick up the best (and worst) practices and know whether the car sales person creates good overall customer experience or not. In the best (or worst) case, you’ll go home with a new car and know what worked in your case.
In general, there are many sources stating that 80% of companies claim they are customer-centric, but only 8% of customers say that’s true. As a consumer, I’d like that 8% to be closer to 100%, but for now, what would be the few ground rules on how to beat most of the competition and be a part of that small group of truly customer-centric companies?
Here are my TOP-5 favorite tips for every person working with customers in B2B:
Rule 1: Listen & Speak out
Most people you do business with don’t have the time to chitchat (at least until you make friends with them). Always add value to a phone call or a meeting: it might be a small new insight or a critical question to gain more mutual understanding. Dare to contradict if you don’t agree with them to create some ”edge” to the conversation. Otherwise you might be a good listener but you don’t add value. However, do it in a constructive and polite way.
Furthermore, you don’t have to be a world class speaker. As author Janne V. Korhonen pointed out in ”Sales Fundamentals for Technical Specialists” (Korhonen 2017), a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania states that mid-level extroverts actually generate considerably more sales revenue than full extrovert or introvert sales people. Of course, there is cultural variation.
Rule 2: See the Big Picture & Mind the details
Try to understand customer behaviour and strive to know them better in person, if possible. Companies pay the bills but business itself is usually an interaction between people with their hopes, fears and personal ambitions. Consider the whole customer journey, from marketing to after-marketing. How would you make it easier and more pleasurable experience for your customers to help them succeed in the long run?
And remember, little things add up to big wins. It does not take you too long to put your signature and a personal note into their Christmas cards beneath the ready-printed company’s best wishes. But it will have long lasting effects.
Rule 3: Be proactive & wait
You don’t have to be a psychologist, but try to step into the customer’s boots from time to time to get the overall feeling of what they are experiencing right now. Consider the right time when to call or to meet. Is the best time to hand out your offer on Monday at 12:00 or Friday at 16:30? If you are able to gather ”intel”, like when your customer is on holiday or taking their kids to the kindergarten, use that information to work on your timing. Give some room for them to discuss internally and make decisions, but remind them of your existence if it has been too long since you last discussed. And remember Rule #1: add value when you do.
My thumb rule under this category for years has been: ”Call them before they call you, both in good and bad”. If you know they are about to need something, make your proposal before they ask you. If you know things are not going too well in your project, give them a heads-up and tell how you are going to fix it before it turns in to a crisis.
Rule 4: Be personal
You don’t have to be the nicest person in the world if it’s just not your thing, but you go a long way with basic manners and consideration to other people. Some might say: ”You are here to work, not to make friends.”. But working with friends around you make your work a whole lot easier, even fun. But remember: never let your friends down. If you constantly keep it that way, they will never let you down either. Loyalty goes both ways.
Rule 5: Get feedback
With feedback you know whether you are using the right keys in your keychain. Feedback might be a simple pulse check of the weekly ”feeling” by phone, or something more structured, like a comprehensive survey every year. Or both.
In any case, follow rule #4 and make it personal. You might want to avoid feedback forms as they contradict with being personal. The funny thing is, if you get the feeling that you are spending more and more time getting feedback from your customer, that actually tells you that you are on the right track making it more personal.
I hope that reading this far, you would say that these rules were obvious. In the end, customer interaction really is not rocket science or even brain surgery. Instead, it’s more like a philosophy or a mindset of ”careful consideration”. But that’s just the beauty of it: you don’t have to invent new rockets to be truly customer-oriented.