Friday, April 4, 2008

Customer Partnership: Conflicts and Issues

Because people develop relationships with other people, do you fear your business may be in jeopardy if your customers feel more loyalty toward a few terrific employees than your company?
A significant aspect of devoted relationships is they are personal in nature. How, then, does a customer build a personal relationship with a company? Or vice versa? Can a customer bond with an entity rather than a person? It may seem an oxymoron because loyal partnerships require reciprocity, mutual investment and benefit, and connected interactive communication through time.
When we delve more deeply into the word relationship, we find the concept of relatedness. It refers to connectedness, or kinship, and what one person or thing has to do with another.
We also discover relationship refers to the feeling existing between persons or things. Thus, even though an inanimate object does not reciprocate a person’s feelings, the importance of the experience is understood.
There are multitudes of ways persons derive value from non-human relationships — appreciation of beauty, inspiration from art, literature or music, solace from nature, and physical protection from structures.
People do not connect with or relate to something vague or contradictory. Because a company has a unique personality, regardless of its size or scope, wise management identifies, articulates and cultivates a distinct identity embodied by its business, vision, mission and priorities. That is the corporate profile.
A company can position itself within any arena, from a town to a continent, in order to speak effectively to and serve its universe of customers.
Most companies have several different types of customers, each with its own needs for service. Not all customer contacts for instance, need to be partnerships. Functional, fast, friendly service may suffice and be completely appropriate; e.g. Fed Ex. But this blog speaks to those more complex and demanding customer interactions and partnerships that must be developed in time and require commitment and care to flourish.
Chip Bell, in his book, “Customers as Partners,” defines a customer partnership:
“It starts with a deep and assertively demonstrated respect for the customer, moves with the spirit of contribution and ends with the joy of knowing the best possible has been done to meet or exceed a need.”
A good partnership can yield such a different quality of experience that we want more and more. Great partnerships reflect the best of our attitudes, abilities and dreams.
When partnering succeeds, satisfied customers become champions who advocate enthusiastically for your company.
Devoted customers become an extension of your sales and marketing efforts and contribute actively to your success. In today’s competitive business climate, this is particularly important because, as we now know, customer satisfaction does not guarantee customer retention.
A retention marketing strategy is far superior to acquisition tactics because loyal customers spend more money each year they stay with you. Wise companies focus on the substance of a customer partnership rather than on a single transaction.
The delivery of superior customer service requires depth, spirit and heart from employees imbued with superior customer service and partnership attitudes. Dedicated employees never act tired or bored, are always responsive to customers and colleagues, and are eager to please. When a customer has a problem, the employee must know to fix the customer first, and THEN fix the customer’s problem. Superior service should be respectful and confident, never deferential.
The long-term nature of a partnership derives from the special relationship existing when customers experience a committed connection concurrent with the service.
The experience of partnership does not require a relationship of long duration. It may arise spontaneously as a consequence of extraordinary service.
However, it is not possible to delight customers every time. While customer partnerships produce greater intrinsic satisfaction than traditional customer interactions, they also can be more for giving of mistakes and more economically rewarding.
Six core elements of powerful partnerships are described by Bell in his book:
1. Abundance is anchored in an attitude of generosity. The giver finds pleasure in extending the relationship beyond just meeting the need. Partners don’t keep score; they are non-competitive. The synergy of their combined efforts creates abundance.
2. Trust develops when partners feel confident and have a track record of fidelity. “Trust is a state of readiness for unguarded interaction with some one or something,” Bell writes. Difficult situations can be handled confidently and effectively with the net of trust beneath them.
3. Dreams enfold a vision of what the association could be and acknowledge the commitment required to take the relationship to a higher plane. Shared vision is the foundation strengthening joint purpose and individual contributions combining for mutual benefit.
4. Truth and candor are tools for growth. Interactions based on honesty coupled with straight talk, compassion and care nurture cleanness in associations. Truth honors authenticity and obliterates guilt and deceit.
5. Balance is a pursuit of equality seeking stability overtime. Balance embodies a quest for equity, fairness and fair play.
6. Grace grounds the partnership with a sense of familiarity and ease, peace and tranquility. An excellent partnership is artistic, more heart than head, more romantic than rational.
Employees are your internal customers. They must be excited about their work in order to remain loyal to your company, its mission and values, and deliver superior service to your customers.
Employees need to demonstrate their own integrity. They must take personal responsibility for knowing the truth and expressing it, taking initiative willingly and having the tenacity to solve problems in ways delighting customers without compromising the company or its business, and keeping the company’s best interests at heart.
Employees feeling respected. valued and supported will more likely manifest confidence and competence while serving your customers than those feeling indifferent. disconnected, maligned or used.
Delivery of dedicated service requires each employee be conscious, emotionally present. and connected with the people around them.
A critical challenge for companies is to earn devotion, build trust and create an environment cultivating employees’ ethical professional conduct.
Each customer contact represents either a step toward partnership (trust, customer satisfaction and loyalty) or a step toward disconnection (disappointment. aggravation and departure).
Each employee-customer contact creates an opportunity for outcomes ranging from delight to apathy. Companies caring deeply for customers strive to create a culture promoting superior service attitudes throughout the company, fostering customer partnerships resilient enough to weather the storms, and promoting an attitude of “we’ll figure out a way to do whatever you need.”
Responses such as ‘It’s against our policy” kill customer goodwill and partnership as well as employee spirit and devotion.
Customers don’t expect us to be perfect: they just expect us to demonstrate we care enough to strive to improve.
Good partnerships derive from repeatedly meeting the needs of each party in the relationship (company and employee) and creating opportunities for success.
Companies striving to create stewardship with their employees empower them to serve customers with confidence and a genuine spirit of good neighbors.
Devoted employees feel pride of ownership, share the company’s vision and contribute individually and collectively to achievement of common goals. Because great partnerships do reflect the best of our attitudes, abilities and dreams, they inspire a connection creating a dynamic enterprise.
Companies demonstrating their deep and abiding respect and trust for their employees and providing uncompromising support achieve a profoundly enduring partnership.
Devoted employees know their value to a company. They feel and demonstrate a profound sense of loyalty to the partnership.
Dedicated employees not only feel free to connect with and serve customers, they thrive on building those powerful partnerships. Loyal employees delight in contributing to the synergy of an endeavor bigger than an individual.

A final thought: when you can create a partnership with a customer you are building a HUGE barrier that dramatically reduces the likelihood that you will lose that customer to a competitor.

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