Measuring Up Customer Relationships

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Think about marriage relationships for a minute. The strength of the relationship can be difficult to measure and sometimes gets summed up in terms like, “they’re best friends” or “they just go together so well.” Compare that with the simplicity of measuring the number of carats in a wedding ring – very objective, very measurable. In marriage relationships you’d have to build some sort of complex formula that combines the number of words spoken by each person to the other per day plus the number of minutes spent together, multiplied by the number of emotional events shared and divide by some factor like the number of kids in the household. Even then, you wouldn’t even come close to being able to measure the strength of the marriage.

For a business, customer relationships need to be measured as well. There are certainly, concrete and tangible measures like revenue, but that’s not really enough to know if you truly have a strong relationship. Sometimes customers are just hostages to a long-term contract or some other circumstance. So how can you know? How do you measure customer relationships? Surprisingly, we can take a thing or two from the way we tried to measure a marriage.

First, when looking at customer relationships, you have to look across all the points of interaction your customer has with your business. It’s not enough to simply survey customers about their sales relationship and call it a day. You have to go deeper – you have to look at their service interactions, delivery satisfaction, product packaging, technology implementations and all the elements that make up the whole relationship. They may love their sales rep, but would switch to another supplier in a minute because of poor delivery performance and bad customer service. In other words, you have to look at all of these individual interactions and understand how they fit into the customer’s overall experience with your company.

Second, just like the marriage situation, you have to identify those particular moments that have emotion attached to them. In the business world, emotional connection is not about hearts and flowers, but it’s about particular interactions that delight customers, miss expectations during a critical moment or even enrage a customer due to bureaucracies, poor hand-offs or mis-communication. Identify these moments in your business – better yet, have your customers identify them for you – they can quickly give you a list. Then, get a team working on being intentional with your customers in these moments. Don’t leave what happens up to chance – be proactive about the experience you want to create here. Value for customers is either created or destroyed in these moments, and that loss or gain of value is what later translates into non-renewed contracts or incremental business opportunities.

Third, in business to business interactions, the relationship is not monogamous on two levels. On the first level, your company is building relationships with multiple people within your customer’s organization. It’s not enough to simply ask the highest ranking decision maker how things are going. Just like you have to understand all the interactions they are having with your company, you also need to know the perspective of the various individuals within your customer. Over time within your customer’s organization, a turn order buyer that is frustrated with your inability to provide a good delivery schedule will communicate that frustration, and momentum will start to build and the relationship will be in disrepair. It’s critical that you address these opportunities as early as possible and make sure that every person that makes up this thing you call a “customer” values the relationship you have with them. Build a complete profile of each account in your CRM system that evaluates the buying influence and strength of relationship your company has with each person.

The other way the relationship is not monogamous is that your customer is probably also a customer of your competitor. So all these individual influencers, decision makers, and users have opinions not just about your company, but they evaluate your company in light of what they experience with your competitors. Do you have a stronger sales relationship, but your competitor has better technology integration? That factor may be big enough in the relationship to tip decision making and cause your competitor to pick up a larger share of wallet. To fully understand your relationship, you’re going to have to measure it alongside whoever your customer thinks is a leader in your category.

Measuring relationships is never easy. When it comes to customers though, they can be quantified and there is a right way to do it that will provide you with insights you can act on. The benefit of all this effort is that your team will be equipped to know your strengths and weaknesses, know which accounts need additional support and you’ll be proactive and intentional about building stronger relationships.

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