In all areas of business, customers are expecting more. The typical vendor-client relationship is a thing of the past, becoming a partner to your customers is the new norm. However, this is not an overnight process, rather one that takes time, effort, and cultivating.
Of course, growth is important, and organisations always want to acquire new customers. Yet, in order to grow, existing customers must be retained, remain loyal, and continue to be happy with the service they receive.
Founding a partnership
Planting the seeds to grow partnerships starts before a client has even signed a contract. It is a relationship that should be nurtured from the first point of contact with each person they engage with, establishing a connection immediately and managing expectations of what is to come.
Nowadays, it is crucial that clients see value in what they are paying for and that suppliers continuously deliver further value and high levels of customer satisfaction. What you are selling should not just be a commodity, it should develop into a necessity that their businesses cannot function without.
Generating customer loyalty through brand loyalty
Something to remember is that when initiating a partnership, you are never solely selling a product or a service but also a brand and a culture and inviting customers to become part of that experience. Therefore, it is key to identify what your brand represents and what role it will play in the customer journey.
In a similar way to human relationships, for example with friends and relatives, a partnership is based on fidelity and long-term commitment. This cannot be achieved without really knowing them on a personal level; their needs and values, what is important to them, and what they care about. Just like human relationships, customers will distance themselves, lose respect, and become less engaged if you are inconsistent with the service you provide – especially during difficult and testing times.
The impact of customer success management
Customer success management is by no means a new concept, but vital in building partnerships with clients. When a business begins to establish itself and onboard clients, account managers have the capacity to nurture their clientele. However, as that client base continues to grow, there is the risk of neglecting current customers as the focus shifts to new business. This is where customer success managers come in.
Customer success managers should be a main point of contact for customers, prioritising their needs and offering help, support and guidance. It is a role based on authenticity rather than commercial function, creating a genuine, ongoing dialogue with clients as opposed to looking for the next sales opportunity.
Evolving as a partner
As straightforward as it may sound, communication is key in order to transition into a partner for your customers. Actively listen to what they are telling you and make their voices heard within your organisation, whether that is positive feedback or areas to make improvements. Welcoming opinions and criticism will help both parties to grow and, therefore, feel the benefits of establishing a partnership.
Create a two-way conversation by listening to their needs, but also proactively reaching out to customers. All too often, clients remain quiet about any problems or issues they may be facing, and suppliers end up firefighting later down the line. Or worse still, frustration has built up to a point that it is challenging to retain the customer.
By simply checking in with customers on a quarterly basis, you will get to better understand them, work in a more collaborative way, and be able to offer ongoing support. This is also a great way to encourage growth through learning from various sources. An example of this is idea and knowledge sharing on a client-to-client basis.
Step out from behind the screen
Where possible, meet customers face-to-face. Whether that is at events, going to visit them on-site, or even inviting them into your offices. These days email is perhaps the preferred method of communicating with customers, which no doubt has numerous benefits. Nevertheless, this approach welcomes several problems, such as miscommunication and avoidance. It is much easier to engage with one another and establish a genuine relationship once both parties get to know the faces behind the phone calls and emails.
Out with suppliers, in with partners
Building partnerships and increasing satisfaction is of course beneficial to your customers, but it is also vastly instrumental to your business. Clients that become partners will be your best advocates, willing to share their story with others and endorse the service you provide. By forming a mutual trust, customers will not only believe in your product or services, but also your brand and its values.
By and large, true partnerships are founded on two leading factors: honesty and transparency. This means always keeping customers updated and informed, even if those conversations may be difficult at times. Contrary to what some people may think, clients will feed off this approach and begin to place more trust in you, seeing you as an extension of their business as opposed to a mere supplier.
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