More so than even before, every enterprise large or small, B2C or B2B, products or services-based is focusing on Customer Satisfaction & Retention. In a global & digitally disrupted world where information asymmetry is virtually non-existent; as organizations continue to invest heavily on IT & sophisticated CRM systems, they tend to forget that customers are humans first and foremost and are looking for a truly empathetic partner who can create the best experience for them.
While it’s easier to understand each customer uniquely in a B2C world, it’s far more complicated in the B2B world, where a customer is not just one individual but a group of individuals from different divisions with different personalities and different expectations of value drivers from the vendor. Secondly, frequent “reorgs” within the customer’s organization means that the vendor has to work with a constantly changing set of individuals in the same position or role. The rapidly changing macro dynamics of the customer’s industry, the nature of global competition, the constantly evolving technology disruption and shifting priorities means keeping track of a very complex & multi-dimensional Customer Satisfaction Matrix with constant real time changes.
But at the core of this complex relationship matrix is a much simpler equation: managing a Corporate Customer is really managing expectations of a group of people, each with his/her set of perceptions and a larger corporate objective that is broken down into a division or a team’s objectives which in turn are broken down into an individual’s objective. This individual is a ‘human’ and not a robot; he will operate based on a decisioning system that is triggered by a combination of emotional & logical set of choices. While vendors try very hard to influence the rational decisioning process to their advantage, the emotional part of it is usually ignored or treated with a “one size fits all” strategy.
When I talk about appealing to their emotions, I am not in anyway alluding to ‘pleasing the customer through flattery, wine & dine or time spent on fine golf courses’. I mean that the focus of a partnership with the customer is on winning the trust, being seen as dependable, listening to and understanding the decision constraints posed by the individual’s organization, knowing their preferences based on past experiences, respecting their operating style and creating a win-win partnership. As it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate oneself based on capability & competence alone, winning the trust as being seen as an empathetic & intelligent partner would be the X factor in successfully acquiring and retaining the customer.
Forming & Nurturing Relationships
When we meet people and form relationships, creating a good first impression is undeniably an advantage. Everyone would agree to this, but what does it take to create a positive first impression.Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy has been studying first impressions alongside fellow psychologists Susan Fiske and Peter Glick for more than 15 years, and has discovered patterns in these interactions. In her new book "Presence," Cuddy says people quickly answer two questions when they first meet you:
• Can I trust this person?
• Can I respect this person?
Psychologists refer to these dimensions as warmth and competence respectively, and ideally you want to be perceived as having both. Interestingly, Cuddy says that most people, especially in a professional context, believe that competence is the more important factor. After all, they want to prove that they are smart and talented enough to handle your business. But in fact warmth, or trustworthiness, is the most important factor in how people evaluate you. "From an evolutionary perspective," Cuddy says, "it is more crucial to our survival to know whether a person deserves our trust."
Growing & sustaining the relationship
I would like to reemphasize that even complex B2B relationships can be broken down into multiple 1-1 interactions. While each human is different in his or her own way, we can broadly summarize and expect the following strategies to yield positive results while building a trustworthy relationship or partnership:
a. Demonstrate Empathy & Emotional Intelligence: This is not merely using cheesy adjectives all the time, but clearly understanding the Customer from their standpoint; the political landscape and the macroeconomic factors in the industry. At the end of the day are you able to write down the top 2-3 personal objectives of the individual and build your strategy to make this individual successful. You will never find these clearly articulated or outlined for you nor would you get an explicit communication on the same from the customer, but if his or her needs are consistent with the larger objective of the Enterprise, it would work magically.
b. Create a Win-Win-Win value proposition: Create a win-win proposition for your organization, the customer organization and the individual customer. In most cases this is not too hard to do, but requires careful thought and planning. Once the strategy for all the stakeholders is put in place, consolidate this with your team and put a common strategy in place to address the need.
c. Adapting to significant change at customer’s end: Understand that this plan should be revisited every time a new stakeholder takes over, or if there is a significant change in the Customer’s organization and/or division. What worked well thus far can backfire if every new change is not understood and then carefully planned out all over again.
d. Addressing the myth of perfection: Most customers understand that no one is perfect, so it is critical to admit it, if something wasn’t executed as per plan. Stay away from excuses like they are a rash. This will further enable you to build trust with a customer.
All customers, regardless of whether they are B2C or B2B are humans and the expectations that they have from a relationship are also human-like. While organizations working with customers have invested a lot in creating sophisticated engagement models (with differentiators) and repeatable process that rely on sophisticated CRM systems, the more important angle of building ‘trust & relationships’ is often ignored which often leads to higher churn and lower overall satisfaction.