Love in the Time of Corona

I was invited by Rob Baldock, the MD of Clustre to give a short webinar a couple of weeks ago on Love in the Time of Corona.

Actually, it was really about how some of our clients are maintaining business relationships while they are locked down at home but still have access to a telephone or the internet.

So here’s a summary of the 5 actions for maintaining long-lasting business relationships in the “time of corona”.

John O’Connor
CEO, Deep-Insight
 
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My Role as a Relationship Counsellor

Good morning. I’m John O’Connor, CEO of Deep-Insight. I sometimes refer to myself as a relationship counsellor. We set up and run Customer Experience programmes for large international B2B companies. Our clients are the likes of Atos, BT, Serco, Santander and so on. We also run Employee Engagement programmes and I’ll talk about one client in the course of the next 10 minutes but primarily it’s the MDs and Sales Directors of B2B companies that we deal with.

I call myself a relationship counsellor because our job is to help senior executives understand and enhance the relationships they have with major accounts. We do this by telling them:

  • Which of their accounts are in good shape and which are like to defect to the competition;
  • Which account managers are doing a good job at building long-term relationships within those accounts;
  • What is the one thing that they as senior executives need to address in 2020 because it’s an issue across all of the client base.
  •  

    What is a B2B relationship?

    Well, it’s largely built around two elements: Trust and Commitment.

    The theory is quite simple: people only buy from people that they trust. Long term commitment between two business partners is based on exactly that – a relationship built on Trust. Although B2B stands for business to business, I often say it’s really P2P (Person to Person). Organisations don’t buy from organisations. It’s people who buy from each other, even when they work in large organisations.
     

    5 Actions You Need to Take

    So keeping that in mind, how should we deal with our clients in the current environment? I’ve been reflecting on what some of our clients are doing with their customers and it seems to boil down to five things. These five actions are all based on building an emotional connection with clients and enhancing that client relationship:

    1. Tell Customers how you are Contributing to Safety
    2. Treat Customers with Care and Empathy
    3. Communicate Constantly and Consistently
    4. Treat Employees with Respect
    5. There is no fifth action: Just make sure you do Actions 1 – 4

     

    1. Contributing to Safety

    This first point may not apply to every company but it probably does apply to most. Tell your customers what you are doing to contribute to their safety. After all, this whole COVID19 pandemic is primarily an issue of human safety. People out there are naturally concerned both from a personal and from a professional point of view.

    Some of our clients deal with safety for a living. For example, one of our clients is a company called Survitec. It has over 3,000 employees manufacturing safety equipment for Defence and Marine clients. We’re working with the Marine division which manufactures everything from life jackets to the largest lifeboats you’ve ever seen. Their clients include cruise companies, oil & gas organisations, ship manufacturers, ship managers and so on.

    Let’s take something like a lifeboat inspection. In the last few weeks, Survitec has literally re-written the manual for doing a lifeboat inspection. It had to, to make sure that it complied with WHO guidelines on things like workers practicing social distancing, the wearing of gloves and face masks, the basics of handwashing and use of hand sanitisers; on carrying out deep cleans after work has been completed. All shipments that are sent from Survitec’s warehouses are cleaned and wiped down before being dispatched.

    But there’s not much point in rewriting the manual if you don’t also tell clients that you have done so. That’s what Survitec has been doing.
     

    2. Treating Customers with Care and Empathy

    Quite a few of our clients have customers that operate in industries that have been hard hit by COVID-19. I’ve already mentioned Survitec and the fact that it works with cruise companies. Now that’s a tough industry to be in at the moment.

    We have another client called Timico which provides a range of IT services to UK clients. Many of these are operating in the restaurant and retail industry. These companies are hurting – both at a corporate level and at a personal level. A lot of what Timico has been doing in recent weeks is talking to their clients, understanding what their particular circumstances are and, in many cases, renegotiating deals and contracts based on the reality of what’s happening in their industry at the moment. For Timico it’s all about “providing confidence that they are doing everything they can to support their customers”.

    I’m sure you have clients in a similar position. Be like Timico. Be empathetic. Go into listening mode.
     

    3. Communicating Constantly and Consistently

    Remember that communication is two-way. It’s about listening as much as it is telling. In fact, it should be a lot more listening that telling, in the current environment.

    We have another client called Invenio that has about 1,000 staff deployed on large technical projects all across the globe – Americas, Europe, Middle East, Asia, Africa. Last Friday, we completed a customer feedback programme for them and while there was some debate at the start of April about whether we should go ahead, the CEO Arun Bala decided – correctly – that now was absolutely the right time to find out what his clients were thinking. As of this morning, we’re going through all the feedback with the various Invenio account owners. The next step is for those account owners to go back to their clients, share and discuss the feedback, and come up with action plans to address any issues.
     

    4. Treating Employees with Respect

    You might say this is not related to customers but remember that your staff are the daily interface your company has with clients. Treat them in exactly the same way that you treat your customers. Put it another way: “How can you expect your staff to provide a great customer experience when they are not having a great employee experience?”

    Now, more than ever, your customers will judge how you deal with them currently when they consider who they do business with in the future. You probably know there are lists circulating in the UK naming companies who have provided bad customer and/or employee experience!

    We have a Danish client called Pelican that operates a series of self-storage facilities for small businesses and for consumers all across the Nordic region. Most of their sites only have two staff so good communication with employees is again a key requirement for Pelican’s management team. Two weeks ago, we completed an employee assessment for Burkhart Franz, the CEO of Pelican, and I’m going to read you two comments that came back from staff in that assessment:

    “Since Pelican has taken quick actions during this corona crisis, my trust in our company has grown. My score is higher than before due to this fact.”

    “It’s really nice in this hard Corona situation that I can trust my employer. At the moment I have no worries about losing my job or salary, like many of my friends and family. Thank you for that!”

    Now even if Burkhart wasn’t in a position to make any financial commitment to his employees, he’s the sort of guy who will let employees know exactly where they stand and what is likely to happen. And they really appreciate it. Be like Burkhart. List to your employees. Do it now.
     

    Summary

    So here are my key messages again:

    1. Tell Customers how you are Contributing to Safety
    2. Treat Customers with Care and Empathy
    3. Communicate Constantly and Consistently
    4. Treat Employees with Respect

    If you need a fifth message, it to spend a lot of time thinking about the other four, because these are actions that companies need to take now, not just because they’re the right thing to do, but because they make sense commercially as well.

    I’ll finish off with a message from a recent conversation I had recently with Ed Stainton, who manages the major government accounts for BT including the relationships with various police forces across the country. Based on their most recent customer assessment, we know that Ed already has a fantastic set of relationships with his clients but he’s convinced that in the next Deep-Insight assessment, the scores will be even better. Ed is convinced that this is the case because his teams have been working 24 x 7 throughout March and April on a whole range of activities directly or indirectly related to COVID-19. Ed believes that enhanced contact is going to lead to better and deeper client relationships. I think he’s right.

    Thank you for listening and remember: be like Survitec and Invenio! Be like Arun, Burkhart and Ed!

     
     

    Why are Trust and Commitment so Important in B2B?

    Trust and Commitment

     
    The following words are from two American academics Rob Morgan and Shelby Hunt. We’ll come to these guys shortly.
     

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    “Commitment and trust, rather than (or at least in addition to) power and dependence, are now central to discussions of business relationships.
    Researchers and practitioners have come to view most interactions between business parties as events that occur over the course of a relationship between two or more partners.”

    —————————

     

    The funny thing about business-to-business (B2B) is that it’s less about business and more about relationships. In fact, B2B is really P2P: person-to-person. People buy from people. In large organisations, the decision to go with one particular service provider over another is often down to the answer to one simple question: “Do I really want to work with this person?”

    The answer to that question is usually based on the perception of whether the individual can be trusted or not. Without trust, there can be no commitment.
     

    I thought companies bought mainly on price?

    Large business contracts are often put out to tender. Companies will often produce a clear set of evaluation criteria to help guide the choice of service provider. Price is always one of the evaluation metrics. Even so, the final decision is often made on softer and unwritten criteria. Few decisions are made solely on the basis of price. Often, they are made on a combination of price and solution/ functionality. But when it comes to making the final choice to award any contract, subtle psychological elements come into play.

    “OK, I know these guys seem to have the [INSERT: ‘best product’, ‘lowest price’, ‘most innovative solution’]. But what if it all goes wrong? Will they sort out the issues or will they leave me in the lurch? Will I lose my job?”

    Fundamentally, we like to buy from people we think are honest, who treat us fairly and who act with integrity. In other words, we buy from people we trust. Price is generally a secondary consideration. It can’t be ignored but rarely is it the most important factor in the decision-making.
     

    Morgan and Hunt

    Two American academics figured this out a long time ago. In 1994, Rob Morgan and Shelby Hunt wrote a seminal paper on what really drives a long-term relationship between two business partners.

    The Commitment-Trust Theory

    The Commitment-Trust Theory of Relationship Marketing quickly became a hit, not just in academic circles, but among senior business executives who were trying to identify why people were likely to do business with you.

    Morgan and Hunt realised that long-term business relationships are built on a mutual and cooperative working relationship between two partner firms. Focus on Trust and Commitment if you want to foster and nurture such relationships. That’s why we built these key metrics into the heart of our Customer Relationship Quality (CRQ) methodology.


     

    Customer Relationship Quality (CRQ)

    Deep-Insight’s CRQ model works on three levels. Let’s take a quick look at each level. From the bottom up:
     

    The Relationship Level

    Trust and Commitment are the most important building blocks for a good relationship but don’t ignore Satisfaction. This is simply a measure of whether the customer’s expectations have been met or exceeded. Satisfaction is quite transactional. Customers can be happy one day and deeply unhappy the next, if they experience a problem. If the problem is solved, satisfaction levels increase quickly.
     

    The Uniqueness Level

    Experience is a measure of how easy you are to do business with and if you are seen as a trusted partner. You can have the best products or services in the world but if your clients can’t work with you and don’t see your people as trusted partners, you will not be seen as ‘Unique’. Deep-Insight defines Solution as a combination of Innovation, Leading Edge and Value-For-Money. These are three related but slightly different concepts but if you score well on all three, you have an offering that can help your clients compete in the marketplace in a way that none of your competitors can do. When we talk about ‘Solution’ we’re not just talking ‘Product’. It’s as much about how the account managers, sales and delivery teams position your company’s product or service, as it is about the product or service itself.
     

    The Service Level

    Service covers three separate elements: Reliability, Responsiveness and Customer Care. Reliability measures whether or not you do what you say you do. Do you walk the talk? Do you do what you promise? Essentially, can your clients rely on you (and the ‘you’ refers to both the brand and the individuals working with the client). Responsiveness measures whether or not you react quickly to issues that arise. Better, still, are you proactive in anticipating customers’ needs or issues. Customer Care is all about making the customer feel valued.
     

    Are you interested in building Trust and Commitment with your key clients? Would you like to find out more about our Customer Relationship Quality (CRQ) model? If the answer to either question is yes, contact us today.
     
     
     

    Does your Net Promoter Score (NPS) matter?

    DOES YOUR NET PROMOTER SCORE (NPS) REALLY MATTER? To answer this it is important to really understand what we asking our customers when we use NPS

    Recently, after a perfectly OK meal in a restaurant, someone asked me this question: Would I recommend the restaurant to friends or family? Without hesitation, I said ‘N0’. Queue shock and gasps. The meal was ok, the service was fine, the atmosphere was nice. How could I be so mean?

    I didn’t think I was being mean. It was all fine but a recommendation from me is a reflection on me, it is saying something about me and my standards – for food of all things. I certainly wouldn’t recommend a food experience that was a bit, well, “meh

    In the professional B2B world the stakes are a lot higher. Social Media – yes that includes LinkedIn – has created a whole business out of self-promotion. Recommending or promoting someone else’s business is an easy way to do this with little effort. It is the ultimate win/win. A recommendation from a customer is the most effective sales tool you can have and in turn, the recommend-er gets to add value to their brand. But this delicate equilibrium can only exist if your customers trust that recommending your business, and your company’s hard work, will reflect well on them.

    So, how do you find out if your customers trust you enough to recommend you? Enter Net Promoter Score or NPS. A clever, albeit obvious, idea –ask them!

    And we have been asking, NPS is everywhere and we are obsessed. It can influence the whole mood of an organisation. But can you confidently say that that all of your promoters really are recommending your company? Not until you answer at least the following questions:

    Are your Senior Leaders driving a culture of valuing the feedback, not the score?

    We are often asked: ‘Do you measure NPS? Head Office needs us to provide an NPS number’.

    One does not need a doctorate in psychology to know that if there is motivation, implied gain or actual gain, to reach a target number, then that will drive certain behaviors to reach that number. A commitment to consistently gathering the data with integrity needs to come from the leadership team, visibly and regularly. Helping our clients get this engagement from their leadership team is the first thing we do in any CX project, see how we do it here.

    Is your organisation measuring it with integrity, or are you chasing a number?

    Teams are often trained to find clever ways of making sure that NPS moves in the right direction. A new and improved NPS score is then announced and celebrated. NPS is very useful but only if the culture and approach for gathering it ensure that it is done with the intention of really understand the customer. It’s crucial that organisations do not distract by chasing and competing for a number. This is about the customer after all.

    Is Transactional NPS concealing the truth?

    Yes, in the last 5 minutes I had a great experience with your customer service team member. But will I recommend your business just based on this? No, of course not. But I will answer 10 because I am a nice person and I don’t want the individual who just really helped me to suffer. This use of NPS is manipulative and gives you absolutely no insight into your customers’ intentions for recommending you.

    So, does your NPS score matter?

    Does it reflect if your customers are actually recommending you in the marketplace, or has your organisation become better at understanding how and when to gather the responses in order to ensure a score is achieved?

    Only when you can answer that should anyone care what the score is.

     
    Does NPS Work for B2B Companies
     

    * Net Promoter® and NPS® are registered trademarks and Net Promoter SystemSM and Net Promoter ScoreSM are trademarks of Bain & Company, Satmetrix Systems and Fred Reichheld