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Moving From Customers to Brand Advocates

Image Courtesy of Live Life Well, LLC.

I recently had dinner with a business partner whom I have done business with for the last 17 years. The relationship that began in 2001 has spanned my moving across four companies, his moving across three companies and me moving from being a client to a partner.

While I have established many business partnerships throughout my career, this is the only one that has spanned almost two decades. As we spoke about this dynamic over dinner, it was easy to identify that the relationship has sustained this long due to customer experience.

Over the years, both as a client and a partner, this vendor has understood the value of delivering an exceptional customer experience and in that time has turned me into a brand advocate for his organization. As a result I have routinely referred his organization into clients and prospects alike.

According to a Walker study, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator and Temkin Group research shows that 86% of customers will re-purchase based on a good customer experience versus the lowly 13% who say they will after a bad customer experience.

So how does an organization, like the partner I shared dinner with, deliver exceptional customer experience that fosters an almost twenty-year relationship?

1. Know the Customer’s Needs

Many organizations train their marketing and sales teams to message to their customer’s biggest problems. While this is better than focusing on your product and service, it still falls short.

While customers can often articulate their problems, they often do not have a full picture of their needs, which are causing their problems.

In a meeting with a prospect, I was told that their biggest issue was getting a clear line of sight into their customers; how they purchased and what products they owned. Indeed, a big problem. However, what they really needed was a data management process, which would then alleviate the problem. While they did not approach me asking for a data management process, I was able to identify their need and tie it to their problems.

As organizations make the investments to gain customer insight and map customer journeys, they need to go beyond identifying problems. They need to address and message to customer needs as often times customers themselves will confuse the two.

2. Challenge Your Customers

The old adage is “the customer is always right.” I reject that notion, but do agree that the customer is king.

I believe the best vendor-customer relationships exist when organizations can challenge their customers to explore new ways of doing things and in so doing, deliver value.

In the partnership I referenced at the beginning of this blog, the relationship has worked because over the years, the vendor has sought to educate me on a better way to do things and challenged some of my pre-conceived notions all with providing better outcomes in mind.

The communication throughout has reinforced a shared vision, but the ability to challenge to find a better way.

Vendors who want to help their customers improve and are intent on delivering value-based outcomes, need to be able to challenge their customers and help them improve along the way.

3. Admit and Promptly Fix Mistakes

As long as we are human, we will make mistakes. In any business relationship errors will occur, issues will arise and as times go by something will not go according to plan.

While this should be expected, customers should also expect a prompt resolution by their vendor partners.

About seven years ago I was working with a client on a multi channel demand generation program that included email, web, direct mail and phone. Just days before the program launched, we noticed that the 800-number that had been printed on the direct mail piece was incorrect . . . off by one number. I called the client and informed him of the error, told him it was missed in the QA process, assured him we would fix it and that we would be paying to expedite the new printing on the direct mail pieces so we could make the launch date.

While the client did not enjoy hearing about the mistake, he did greatly appreciate in his words “the integrity in which we dealt with the issue.”

Customer experience is imperative to business success and will continue to be the thing that separates companies. This requires a cultural and operation shift in many B2B companies, but as my trusted vendor can attest to, it will lead long-term dividends.

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