14/07/2010

By Andy Coote

When Wayne Rooney left the field after one of England’s disappointing performances in the World Cup recently, he made a remark — “Nice to see your own fans booing you. If that’s what loyal support is…” – that suggested that he really didn’t understand why the fans were expressing their disappointment so vocally. Since their early departure, I’ve lost count of the jokes and one-liners at the expense of the team, the manager Fabio Capello and individual players like Rooney, Emile Heskey, John Terry and Stephen Gerrard. The expectations that supporters had of the team, which were probably never realistic, had been left unfulfilled and the backlash has been immediate and vocal. The reputation of team, manager and players has been damaged and will take some repairing.

Your customers will have their expectations of your service to them. Maybe you’ve always delivered within a few days and that response time has been built into their processes. Maybe you always find a quick solution to their IT problems and their expectation of service uptime is based on that. Then, one day, your service is not as timely — after all it has never been promised — and the response you get is surprising. You are held responsible for their systems being compromised because you didn’t live up to their expectations. You’ve tried to help them and do your best and, somehow, that is no longer enough. You may be excused for thinking something along the lines of— “we’ve worked our socks off for them and all they do is complain.”

Becoming embedded into the processes of your customers is usually a good thing. It gives you a certainty of business and you can plan your own processes much better. Most good supply chains work that way, with ‘Just In Time’ processes being the norm. The key difference is that, in most cases, the expectation is written into the agreement. There is a service level negotiation and agreement that makes it clear to both parties what can be expected and how any failure in those service levels should be handled.

Take a look at your key relationships. How have they developed? Is there an explicit service level agreement or is it implied and maybe one sided? How would you know what your customers expect of you?

Part of managing your customer relationships is knowing your customer and making sure that you are aware of their expectations is clearly part of that process. Not only do you not know when you inadvertently cause your customer problems by not conforming to their expectations but you may also be missing something that could be used as marketing capital. Being able to deliver quickly and to commit to that, may be a differentiator in your business and may give you an edge in negotiations.

Most important, though, is that you have taken the time to understand your customer’s processes and the challenges they have to deliver to their customers. Building a reputation for caring about and supporting your customers’ needs is not a time intensive task and can be undertaken as part of account management. Building a reputation for improving their processes by suggesting better ways to service their needs is even more of a marketing plus.

Your customers are your life blood. The more you know about them, the better you can tie them into you — preferably with explicit service level agreements – and improve the lifetime value in the relationship in a way where both of you win.

Watch a video of the Academy for Chief Executives Speaker Showcase at The Grand Connaught Rooms in 2009, where speakers talked about new ideas.

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Andy Coote is a professional writer and co-author of A Friend in Every City (2006), a book about Social Networking and Business. As a commentator on leadership and networking, Andy provides content strategy, writing support and services for a number of Business Leaders. You can reach him at andy@bizwords.co.uk or view his website at www.bizwords.co.uk.

Andy edits the Virtual CEO Newsletter which appears each week on Fresh Business Thinking and showcases the members, leaders and professional speakers whose input forms the resource available to all Academy members. More at www.chiefexecutive.com. This article represents his own views and not those of The Academy.

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