Customer Relationships - Wide AND Deep
By Bill Kennedy - Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software makes it easy to view customers as statistics. "How many calls have you made?" "How many answers to our email blast did we get?" Similarly, sales management software encourages pipeline analysis, e.g. "How many suspects, prospects, customers do we have?" "What is our conversion percentage from suspects to customers?"
Don't get me wrong. I'm in favor of tracking the stats. The reports are a good indication about whether things are going well or not. But quantitative analysis only tells part of the story. While it will tell you how many relationships you have, you have to dig deeper to determine the quality of those relationships. CRM software will give you some hints. If you see either old or a large number of unresolved issues with a customer, that's a sure indication of a deteriorating relationship. Similarly, if you see a large number of referrals you know your relationship is healthy. The problem is the 80% in between.
The older I get, the more I believe there is no substitute for human to human interaction. Human relationships are just too complex to be automated. You have to visit a customer to see what's going on. You find out things that would never otherwise come to your attention. Visiting a customer gives you a chance to celebrate with them, such as when they have just landed a huge new deal or your contact gets a promotion or achieves a higher level of education. It also gives you a chance to say, "Did you know we have a way of dealing with that issue?" about a challenge they didn't even consider asking you about.
How do you do this? Either you visit them or invite them to visit you. As I've said before, I never charged customers for phone calls or emails, because I WANTED them to call. Maybe I was giving up a quarter hour of billable time here and there, but I more than made up for it by being able to bill for a whole day when I visited them. But getting them to visit you is a whole other matter.
At my former firm, we struggled with getting customers out for events. Accountants can be a tough crowd! They shy away from anything that might be sales related. They tend to stay in their offices. You have to give away a significant amount of practical content to even get their attention. Charging them to attend a customer event is problematic at best. Then, when you finally get them to come, you have to crack the whip with your own staff to be sure they actually talk to the customers instead of to each other.
At the end of the day, there is no better relationship than knowing your customer so well that they view you as a trusted business advisor rather than just a vendor who uses CRM.