Most marketers, especially those in B2B, understand the importance of customer relationship management. CRM tools like Salesforce, Sugar, SAP CRM and others have made it easier to integrate marketing automation with sales opportunities among a company’s current customers, in addition to nurturing leads towards becoming customers.
All of this automation creates the opportunity to lower the silos between marketing and sales, but your plans will be built on a weak foundation if you don’t have a company-wide culture centered on your customers.
I was recently interviewed by Lorrie Bryan, managing editor of CANVAS Magazine, for an article she was writing entitled Saving Face: Tips for Customer-Centric Customer Facing. This is a topic that, in my opinion, never gets old. Anyone in marketing who’s not listening to sales or customer service for insights is working in the dark.
Here are my answers to Lorries questions. I hope you find them agreeable and welcome any thoughts you have on the subject as well.
1. What does customer facing mean to you?
Anyone representing a business while interacting with a customer of that business is customer facing. Of course, the most literal example is when a company representative either in sales, customer service, or tech support meets with a customer face to face.
Customer facing also relates to everything from phone reception to printed and electronic correspondence. Even invoices are examples of customer facing interaction.
2. What functions are included in customer-facing tactics?
Every touch point with a customer, even prior to any transactions, is an opportunity to make a positive impression. The function I would apply most broadly to customer-facing tactics is CRM, or customer relationship management. There are several software programs that help support and organize customer engagement; Salesforce.com is a leading example. Some companies we work with have created customized programs for this purpose.
It’s not exactly a comfortable fit to describe customer-facing interaction as a tactic because it implies more manipulation than sincere and personalized engagement. I believe a company’s best opportunities for success in CRM come from a shared culture of customer-centricity than a shared strategy or tactics. It’s the collective voice of all customer-facing representatives that best deliver any brand’s promise.
3. What should small business to business organizations consider priority relative to customer-facing activities?
Define your company’s culture, develop your story and build your program on individual buy-in from everyone in the company, not just your frontline.
Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and walk through your entire process with their best interests in mind. Do this as often as you can to keep your program dynamic and constantly improving.
4. Is it easier or more difficult to instill solid customer-facing strategy in today’s world? Explain.
I believe it’s easier than ever because there are so many ways to check the pulse of your marketplace. Today’s empowered consumers in both B2B and B2C aren’t silent and their opinions and perceptions can be gauged in many ways, including keyword alerts, online and phone surveys, social media monitoring, etc.
Instilling a customer-first culture is especially important as part of a company’s on-boarding with new employees. Many people need to up their business-related social skills, and having an established program and shared commitment can encourage employees to be positive when dealing with customers.
5. Small business sometimes lacks a central marketing group. At a time in which the marketing organization must redefine its role from managing customer interactions to integrating and managing all the company’s customer-facing processes, what advice do you have for them?
This is easy. Read Delivering Happiness by Tony Hseih, the CEO of Zappos. Although Zappos is a B2C business, their culture is built on great customer service and a shared passion for making each customer’s experience positive beyond their expectations.
Zappos’s approach carries over to its vendor relationships and strategic partnerships, too, which also sets a great example for B2B.
Tony Hseih reinvented the job of selling shoes, a job previously characterized by disgruntled character Al Bundy (from Married with Children, on bended knees in the shopping mall shoe store), and made it a job in which a young person working all day on the phone with Zappos customers believes he or she is making the world a better place.
6. What challenges exist in developing sustainable customer-facing strategy?
People can be tough customers. Most of us live and work in what can often be stressful environments. Not only can your customers be stressed for reasons beyond anything to do with your business, your employees can be too. If not kept in check, emotions can enter into a business discussion, especially a customer complaint. Suddenly, what may have been an opportunity to solve a problem and earn a long-term loyal customer becomes a meltdown.
Your policies and guidelines for customer engagement need to be based on honesty and a sincere interest in meeting your customers’ needs. Just as importantly, your day-to-day culture needs to true to your brand promise.
Celebrating success based on issue-free sales and satisfied customers is wonderful, but don’t forget to recognize and share those problem solved situations, too. Proactively avoiding serious problems is what customer service is about but, should they occur, solve them. You’ll earn loyal customers, and some of the best and most believable case-studies, as well.
How would you answer these questions? Please share your thoughts on any or all of them via a comment below.