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Customer Retention Starts With New-Customer Orientation

For two decades companies have slashed training budgets and hired employees who bring prior experience with them. It’s common for companies to invest very little in shaping and developing their own talent and creating career paths for employees. In many companies, new-employee orientation has been pared back to an employee benefits review. Job orientation is picked up through on-the-job observations. Employee loyalty is low when employees aren’t engaged and don’t feel valued.

What about customer loyalty? Are your new customers shown how to engage with your company? Do you make it easy for them to get their needs met? Do they know what to do when they have questions or something goes wrong? Are you sure?

High-tech approach. In high-tech, low-touch companies with a large customer base, vendors create Knowledge Centers and point customers to FAQ pages or How-To links rather than train and pay a large account-management staff.

Does this approach leave customers feeling abandoned? Not necessarily. A tech-savvy vendor dependent on written material and Web links has invested heavily in learning what customers want to know and how to communicate that information clearly. Quality control is high. Continuous improvement is second-nature. It might be automated, but it probably covers 95% of what new customer contacts want to know. Contact information is clearly posted for customers whose needs aren’t being met through the Knowledge Center.

High-touch approach. By contrast, in high-touch companies, customers expect individual attention. But individual attention is not automatically superior. The quality of that attention often depends on the personality and training of individual employees. If a customer’s needs aren’t being met, an informal, high-touch company may not have a way of pointing customers to an escalation path. Stuck with only one person to work with, some customers opt for defection over confrontation.

Customer retention starts with new-customer orientation. It is secured over time through:

• Clear and easy communication.

• Satisfaction with your company’s performance.

• Satisfactory problem resolution when performance slips (including an effective problem-escalation process).

• The overall value your company delivers.

At one extreme the economic decision-maker wants to make an apples-to-apples comparison between your price and other prices in the marketplace. When your customer relationships are managed by engaged account managers, an apples-to-apples comparison is impossible because of the extra value your company delivers. The economic buyer might not be aware of this extra value. The day-to-day customer contacts are certainly aware. The manager of your Account Management team can ensure the economic buyer remains aware of your added value by initiating periodic account review meetings that include buyers and “influencers.”

Customer retention culture. Does your Account Management function deliver retention-securing value? If your company hasn’t developed standards to manage customer engagement and the customer experience, you’re at the mercy of each customer-facing employee’s personal discretion. That’s not a formula for building a consistent retention-focused culture. In the absence of a uniform culture, customers who are satisfied enough to keep doing business with you will latch on to people at your company who know how to get things done, even if that means bypassing their assigned account manager. That’s disruptive to the unofficial “go-to” resources, and it enables the ineffectiveness of the official account managers.

Not all old-school, high-touch companies invest the time it takes to ask new customers what they experience, observe and recommend at the one-month and three-month marks. They should. Failing to seek new-customer critiques makes it unlikely you’ll ever learn how to deliver a consistent customer experience. This makes your company vulnerable to customer dissatisfaction and preventable defections.

Source of revenue growth. A well-developed account manager not only takes “orders” and shepherds them through to delivery, he or she also:

• Educates their customers about new products and services. Tech New Master

• Listens for needs vital to Product Development or Operations.

• Periodically refreshes customers’ awareness of the company’s full offering.

• Probes for internal introductions to expand the relationship.

This level of performance pays for the investment in Account Management development with increased revenue. Your best account managers can be further groomed to take on leadership roles; someone who understands what it takes to consistently satisfy customers can master what it takes to grow sustainable profits.

It all starts with earning customer retention, and the first opportunity to start earning customer retention is when the relationship is new. If you run a high-touch company, ask new customers for feedback about your orientation process. Make soliciting, prioritizing and acting on customer feedback part of your continuous-improvement culture. Within a year:

• Improvements will drop from massive overhauls to minor tweaks.

• Consistent processes and policies will improve confidence, morale and productivity among employees with customer-facing jobs.

• More new customers will stay around long enough to become loyal customers.

Isn’t that return worth the investment in Account Management and customer feedback?

Ann Amati, Principal, Deliberate Strategies Consulting, helps companies use guidance from their current and past customers to grow future sales. She has a 20-year track record of using deep-dive interviews to create positive turning points in her clients’ relationships with their customers.

 

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