HOW DO WE MAKE OURSELVES EASIER TO DO BUSINESS WITH?
Updated: Jan 27
PRECURSIVE GUEST BLOG | TIM COOPER ON GROWING YOUR SUBSCRIPTION BUSINESS
Tim Cooper has 30 years experience working in senior management positions across retail, outsourcing and technology companies. Most recently Tim has been at CPA Global, market leader in providing technology and services to the Intellectual Property sector, creating and delivering their strategy for managing customers in EMEA. Focusing on business to business (B2B), in this short article, Tim shares some practical tips on how to grow your SaaS or subscription business by making sure you treasure the customers you already have.
THE CONVENIENCE ECONOMY
I changed my car insurance this weekend. Took me five minutes on a well-known website, I saved £250 and I got free cinema tickets thrown in! On top of that, I spoke to the insurer’s customer service team, and it was a delight. The lady I spoke to was quick, personable and easy to deal with… made me think, is my life that simple and straightforward in the workplace?
Not really. In the B2B market, pressure is growing on organisations to provide the same immediacy and high-level of service that we take for granted in our personal lives. Two or three clicks on your mobile and you have switched home insurance or bought tickets to Milan for the weekend. Then at work, how often do you have to fill out a form, prescribed by your ‘approved partner’ in whatever you are doing, and then wait 7+ days for approval or more likely further questions…?
This kind of experience will leave you feeling frustrated and may make you think about finding a new ‘approved partner’. Customer churn, or the rate at which you are losing customers, is a big topic and an even bigger problem for many companies (or ‘approved partners’) today. Influenced by our lives at home, when we (the customers at work) are unhappy with a service we look for an alternative. It is that simple.
HOW CAN WE REDUCE CHURN?
So, couple our increasing demand for great service with following two, generally accepted, truths…
It is cheaper to retain customers than to win new ones
It is quicker to sell to existing customers than to new prospects
…and it’s easy to understand why managing customer churn is a big topic of conversation.
In the exec meetings of many B2B companies, customer centricity, customer intimacy and customer success teams are regular discussions. Discussions can start: ‘How do we get closer to our customers so we can reduce our churn?’. Now my view, unfortunately, is the outcome is often the same… the discussions end with: 'I know, we'll buy some technology for that!'.
The technologies in question will often be a CRM, a Customer Success technology, a tool to improve project management, a digital marketing tool to improve and automate parts of the customer journey. The one thing they have in common? They all claim to drive up the experience for the customer… like magic!
While technology can make a company more efficient, faster and more polished, it cannot make a company more customer centred. I know, shame! In fact, if you deploy technology to a company that is not customer centred, you are most likely going to make things worse. Distracting the front-line teams on learning how to use a new technology will just take time away from their customers.
So how do you harness technology to help you become better with customers? Well, that is a complicated question and I am sure there are many companies who will help you understand that (for a generous but extremely good value fee). But hold on, before you engage them (and commit to their good value fee), here's a simple checklist, in four focus areas, for your organisation to see if you are ready for technology to super charge your customers' experience with you. Spend a few minutes considering the questions under each focus area and it will help you understand how customer centred you are. And where you might want to invest some time improving your ways of doing things before spending out on technology.
1. Customer is truly priority.
I hear senior execs say 'we put customers first', but do they really? Think about the following to help you evidence this:
How often do you hear executives talk about specific customers? How often do they show real interest in how any one customer is doing, or do they ask generic questions about customers?
What proportion of your internal communications are about customers and how many are about the company?
Do you have a customer promise, or a customer charter that everyone in the company understands?
In your company values and/or behaviours, does the word ‘customer’ feature somewhere?
2. You define success within your customer teams in short and medium term.
Ever heard the CEO or Sales Director say 'we will lead the market through having the best customer relationships.' Does everyone really understand what that means? Three questions here to help you:
Do people in the customer-facing teams know what they need to do immediately and why that is important?
Is there a plan for what good looks like in 6 to 12 months?
What are your metrics and measures on managing customers and do you share them widely?
3. Do things WITH your customers, not TO your customers.
‘Go and talk to your customers about this new service we are building…’ or ‘go and have formal business review, at least two a year…’. Sound familiar? Relationships go two ways and are based on connections between two or more people. This area is a little less tangible but there are still ways to test how you are doing:
How often do you have a conversation with your customers that is not about something you want or because of something has gone wrong? People who have a good relationship just talk.
How do you reward people in the team who have great relationships?
How do you work with your customers? For example, it is easier to get me out for a coffee than to spend 2 hours in a business review… although I know I have to do the latter occasionally. Blend formal and informal meetings based on your customers’ preferences.
4. Spend time getting the right people with the right customers… chemistry matters.
‘Amanda, you know the Sales guy, is losing her touch. I spoke to ACME today and they just don’t like her.’ Really?! Nobody can get on well with everyone and one piece of average/bad customer feedback on a team member does not make them bad at what they do. If a relationship is not working with a customer, change the personnel, don’t assume your people are at fault. Couple of questions here:
When did you last shuffle the team so they deal with different people? Not good to do regularly, but people can become stale and relationships do lose their shine.
How often do you change people in relationships based on customer feedback? While you don't want to be seen as weak or malleable, swapping out a key contact can be a powerful move. It shows a customer you are really listening, and that their opinion matters.
The above checklist can help inform where you are. Yet unfortunately, like technology, it’s no silver bullet - the real hard work remains with you. Think hard about whether you are ready for the technology…would you give a Lamborghini to a 19-year-old?
So to finish, there is no doubt that technology can help and will continue to play a key role in supporting how organisations deliver a great customer experience. However, in the visible future at least, these technologies will be used by people and investing in them first is critical.
My final questions then:
How much do you spend each year improving your technology stack?
How much do you spend developing your people?
Is that the right ratio?