If you were to survey any group of CEOs or other company leaders about the importance of customer relationships, most would agree that building these relationships measurable impact on retention and income. However, too few executives know how to fuel the flames of these relationships once they have been ignited. Considering the challenges of transferring heat and empathy in a remote environment – and with increased concern for impending recession It’s time for company leaders to start thinking more strategically not only about developing new relationships, but also about working to maintain existing ones.

Will Erlandson, director of development at Meaning, a growth marketing company based in Columbia, Missouri, has spent a lot of time thinking about this challenge. In a recent interview, one of his clients complained that the service provider was constantly changing its metric reports to show anything that looked good, which made it difficult for a client to compare the same metrics month to month.

The customer, Erlandson explains, carefully looked through the supplier’s gambit. This struck them as a blatant attempt to select data and highlight only what worked successfully. For Erlandson, this conversation strengthened one of his foundational principles in maintaining customer relationships. “I think to be a good partner you have to be willing to look at inconvenient truths together, to solve problems,” he says.

Erlandson is quick to point out that it’s easy to see why a company can only show wins, not losses. After all, everyone wants their customers to be happy. One useful strategy, especially in the agency’s environment, is to define expectations as clearly as possible. This helps to avoid such selection. “A lot of risk management is done up front as you go through the deal,” he says. “The key question to ask is,” What happens if we don’t get the results you say we have? ” One of the things I do with each of our contracts is set the goal in detail. Then I describe, or at least verbally, describe some common barriers to this – some of which are under our control.

Erlandson tends to be careful when giving estimates to clients, carefully setting expectations so as not to overdo it. “I want us to have a high probability of success – like more than a 90% chance – but I’d rather provide more. So if there is only a 50/50 chance, either because it’s a very ambitious target or because resources are not in line with how ambitious the target is, I’ll just be honest with them. I’ll say, “Hey, we’re working here on a more tight budget. And we can still go for what we want, but we are counting on about 50/50 chances. ” Erlandson also tries to avoid the word “guarantee” and says that if you are going to use that word, be very careful.

These kinds of “awkward” conversations – ones that openly answer questions such as what happens if the strategy doesn’t work or what next steps should be taken if goals are not met – are helpful in encouraging both supplier and customer to team work. the same page. “We both have to respond to each other,” says Erlandson. It also emphasizes the importance of recognizing not only routine, common failures, but also the risks of “Act of God” events such as the destructive arrival of a giant like Amazon into the industry. These events should be discussed initially as hypothetical and again if they do occur. “You have to be ready to confront what is happening,” he says. “You have to be able to face it realistically and then work together to overcome anything you can overcome. Change your strategy. If it looks like you won’t be able to overcome it, you need to discuss it directly with the client instead of just trying to stretch the relationship with the client and charge you for the next six months. “

Erlandson says companies should ultimately aim to be a “pioneer” for customers by helping them create long-term strategies to ultimately own their industry. Part of this, in the current landscape, is managing customers’ uncertainty about global events, fear of recession and changes in their competitive environment. It’s important to realize that this uncertainty can cause stress even in strong customer relationships. “In my company, we focused on having these conversations, being a good partner,” he says.

Recently, customers have come to Erlandson concerned that other suppliers are charging up costs on them; understandably, they wonder if they need to work on leaner margins, including potentially curtailing working with agencies like Relevance. To this end, Erlandson offers a compromise. “I will say,” Hey, since you have to make some tough calls now and you look at vendors limiting vendors, what if we look at scoping down from now until the end of the year? Then let’s evaluate the progress and decide what to do next, ”he says. “The wrong way to do this would be if they came and said,“ Hey, I have to make some tough calls. I’m thinking of shutting down your agency, “and then that agency says,” What? No, you can not. Of course they can. But trying to empathize and see things from their perspective – I think that’s part of the confrontation with the truth.

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