By Kiran Patel, Apptivation COO & Head of Delivery
I don’t think there is any argument that keeping a customer happy and providing the best possible service will provide for a fruitful and long-term relationship. It goes without saying that it’s generally easier to sustain existing relationships and keep customers happy that to attract new customers.
However, the perception of ‘Customer is King’ is fraught with danger for service providers and customers alike, and should not be confused with ‘Providing good Customer Service’.
Let me explain with 5 examples.
1. The customer is always right!
Probing and challenging are key skills that support the customer in ensuring the articulation of a customer’s understanding is appropriately conveyed and also ensures they are getting expert advice on all aspects of their requirements. A service provider has a choice... do as you are told and become an engineering machine or provide the strategic and game changing advice to become a strategic partner. Neither is necessarily wrong but each attracts a different relationship, with one making the assumption that the customer is always right and the latter always questioning whether the customer has really thought of all the possibilities.
2. Why do I need to speak to anyone else when I am connected to the CXOs.
Don’t judge the strength of your network just based on senior relationships, provide value to customers by providing insight from their own employees to allow customers to gain the most value. Whereas the senior management team may provide strategic direction, the person doing the job day in day out will provide immense insight into the current process and potential improvements.
3. If I lose my customers I don’t have a business!
The ‘customer is king’ approach may in the short-term feel like its value add and a great model but is often short lived. Do you prefer to be passive and let a customer come to you if they think you may have something to offer, or active in pushing out ideas to customers in which case it creates a longer-term strategic partnership? Furthermore, being a service provider that just delivers on what is requested without consultation is generally going to end up in a price war with other organisations with delivery being fixed price.
4. I won’t go to the customer with a change request, as it will damage the relationship.
Agree the change control process at the Steering Group, including the rationale for ensuring it is strictly followed, to avoid conflicts down the line. Whether it’s the service provider that makes a mistake, or it’s been driven by the customer, admission is king. Openness is the key to success.
5. Provide good customer service
Demonstrate value to customers in order to demand respect. Make cost become the smaller element to partner selection. Customers understand and are prepared to pay for quality resources, extensively fighting down cost for ‘Quality’ resources is not in the interest of customers any more than service providers since it will reduce the ability to provide the best resources whilst impacting performance due to the negative undercurrent. Assuming the ‘customer is king’ is not conducive to providing a great customer service.
[b]Focus on customer service and don’t worry about ‘Customer is King’ messaging.[b]
Customer and service providers alike will get the best out of a relationship with transparency and being open to challenge. Both consultancies and agencies have their respective space and the value they bring to a customer. As a service provider, always be clear about the value you are able to provide so you are not unfairly judged by a customer, and it’s clear what the boundaries are for the services you are able to provide. Don’t pretend to be something you are not, and don’t pretend to offer something you are unable to service.
Run a successful partnership by offering what you are good at, and delivering with a vision of obtaining a great case study at the end of the engagement.