February 17, 2006

Customers are not the Enemy

"We are their customer, not their enemy" - I was onsite at a client when I heard that. The anger and frustration of the speaker is not adequately reflected in the quote.

The individual (a finance type person) said it right after a conversation with a bank. The bank was calling to collect an overdue payment for a corporate line of credit. I should say right up front that I only heard one side of the conversation, so I don't know what was said by the bank.

But it seemed that the bank was behaving in a heavy handed way. This person's employer - my client, is in excellent financial shape. There is no way they could ever be a late bill payer. Unfortunately, the finance person couldn't get a word in. Not even to explain when and how the payment had in fact been made. Instead the bank insisted on waiting on hold while the payment was made via web banking and a confirmation number for the payment transaction was provided.

I listened as this was done and I assume that according to the bank, it became a "mission accomplished" moment. Instead the bank made an enemy that day since they treated their customer like an adversary.

The "Customer is the enemy" attitude pervades most industries and many companies. In business development we speak of campaigns, positions, securing accounts and closing. These set the tone for adversarial client relationships.. I suspect that the attitude may inhabit your company too.

Most times a business has no choice but to grin and bear such negative events. For example banking services for a businesses is a very "sticky" matter. It's hard to switch all your financial services to a new bank...it's a lot of work....hence why "sticky" is an apt word. That being said why wouldn't a bank be able to see the full portfolio of a business client's services and perhaps adjust tactics. I know in this case they should have because all their services are now at risk. As they say: "Networked markets can change suppliers overnight."

Okay, you're an enlightened business person. You've read Cluetrain. But you're beginning to suspect your organization treats its customers like the enemy. What do you do?

Here are three things your can do right away to improve customer relationships:

  1. Make sure that your people have access to the information they need to make the right customer decisions;
  2. Identify all the "moments of truth" that your clients have with your organization. These are situaltions such as my example where a client could become motivated to move their business as a result of your policies or practices. Review each scenario to make sure actions are fair and equitable. Set expectations for each with your employees;
  3. Know which clients are at risk of leaving by conducting a total account review. This is where you sort and segment your customers by qualitative and quantitative criteria. The effort results in a listing of best to worst. Monitor all at risk relationships and intercede when necessary. Conversely make sure your best clients stay your best clients;

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