In the age of the customer, it's all about them. Only their perspectives, goals, and actions are relevant. Vendors who know their customers deliberately change how they engage with them to better meet expectations and drive more revenue.
It's interesting to see to what lengths vendors will go in order to better understand how to delight their customers. Billions of dollars are spent annually on all kinds of technology - big data, analytics, voice of the customer and voice of the employee programs, NPS, surveys, social communities, enterprise feedback software, call center automation, CEM, and marketing automation, to name a few -- all in the quest to piece together what customers are doing and what vendors can do to gain their trust.
With all this investment focused on the customer, one would think that vendors would be further along in their transformation into customer-led organizations.
Unfortunately, there is a big gap between the talk and the walk.
Technology gives organizations a false belief that it drives better customer engagement. Listen to the marketing messages and you'll hear something akin to "your organization will know what to do once they correctly 'hear' with [insert product name here] what your customers' concerns and expectations are."
It's a big leap of faith that your organization actually does know what to do.
That is why the success rate of customer engagement initiatives has been so painfully slow and low. The real root cause is every organization's natural resistance to change. To many, the customer-led transformation is akin to a survival threat.
Here are five findings from our work with Fortune 500 organizations that demonstrate companies not only don't know what to do and have large blindspot when it comes to change. Not only do these actions drive customers crazy they also erode trust, credibility, and confidence as well as future revenue:
1. Frequent sales territories and/or management team reorganizations.
Customers spend personal political capital when they select and champion a vendor. Yet when vendors undertake the routine business practice of reorganizing territories and/or terminating the bottom ten percent of sales teams it's seen by the customers as a complete disregard for the time they've invested in educating the sales team and the political capital spent. Being forced to train a new sales team or executive champion with no additional ROI or benefit to show for their effort reflects poorly on the buyer and their decision to champion the vendor which leads to doubt about the vendor's long term viability.
2. Repeatedly asking customers for feedback but not acting on it.
Customers realize that providing vendor feedback is the primary mechanism for sharing suggestions and concerns. However, vendors frequently and repeatedly seek feedback without ever closing the loop with the customer. How the feedback is sought is not significant, what matters to the customer is that action is not taken on their input. After a while, customers stop participating and develop a negative impression of the vendor; the repeated requests are seen as a lack of organization, sincerity and disrespect for the customer.
3. Sale lacks knowledge about the customer, their journey and target outcome.
During the 70 percent of the buyers' journey this is completed before prospects want to talk with sales, they repeated engage with vendor websites and web forms in order to gain access to content. Buyers are well aware and permit marketers to collect valuable information on them in the expectation that vendors will use the information to be more contextually relevant. Unfortunately, despite having collected a wealth of information when sales teams do talk with a buyer they have little to no knowledge of the company, the buyer, their journey stage and their needs. Not only is this frustrating but it severely damages the vendor's credibility and reputation.
4. Customer support and success teams that never visit.
Today's B2B products, regardless of industry, are complex solutions that must integrate with existing equipment and systems. While vendors understand how to achieve that, every customer feels their situation is unique and wants routine visits. That need is more about validating the purchase decision and building a relationship than it is about working through the intricacies of integration. When customers realize their support/success team relationship is drastically different from the one they had with sales it increases their perception of risks as well as concerns about the vendor's commitment to the customer.
5. Sales deals optimized to maximize vendor margins.
Sales people operate on quarterly or annual quota that is often measured in terms of revenue as well as margin. The customer on the other hand, looks at their purchases through the cadence of budget cycles, business drivers and other factors. The buyer expects vendors to be flexible on pricing and margin and most are committed to seeing vendors are treated fairly. Sales teams that constantly optimize their deals based on margin telegraph that they are not in the relationship for the long term. Customers, in turn, feel Sales cannot be counted on when things get rough and won't 'have their back'. Done enough times, the vendor will be replaced.
These are just a few crazy-maker behaviors that undermine customer experiences. They are good examples of the disconnect between the talk and walk of customer engagement transformation.
Here are a few more:
6. Repeatedly missing product roadmap delivery dates.
7. Product trials that cannot be converted into production systems.
8. Sales contracts that are onerous or require lots of legal cycles.
9. Customer service/support teams that are less knowledgeable than Sales.
10. Expecting customers to purchase based on the perceived the success of competitors.
Today's technology solutions cannot deliver a holistic, cross-functional, multi-dimensional understanding of the customer. Until that becomes possible, vendors need to invest the resources to deeply understand their customers' expectations and what behaviors can make or break a relationship. Otherwise, vendors will continue to shoot themselves in the foot, inadvertently and repeatedly, until they either go out of business or wise up and embrace the process of transformation.
Follow Christine Crandell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ChrisCrandell