What’s the difference between a traditional customer and a customer as a partner? About five times the business.
“Partnerships are the way of 21st century customer service. Just treating the customer well isn’t enough.” says Chip Bell, author of the book, Customers as Partners, “Customer delight is a dead end street.”
Chip Bell should know. He has served as a service quality consultant for such companies as GTE, Shell Oil, IBM and Nabisco. As an author of ten books, including one entitled Managing Knock Your Socks Off Service, which he cowrote with Ron Zemke, Bell has spent twenty years and traveled more than a million miles speaking on the subject of customer service to Fortune 500 companies around the world.
“Customers as Partners crushes a lot of myths about customer service,” said Bell, “This book creates a whole new set of challenges to keep your relationships as solid as you think they are. Partners are more than customers. Customers have a stake in your success, the same way that you have a stake in theirs.”
In our meeting before his Charlotte book signing, I wanted to get some specific examples of “partnership attitudes” from Bell.
“The best example is when you compare one (short term) transactional cost to the (long term) relational value of the customer.” Said Bell. “If a Cadillac customer is worth $350,000 over a lifetime, why does the service department argue over a $25.00 part? Why argue at all? Seems illogical but they do. Just give me a quarter for every time a service manager argued with a customer. Short term win, long term suicide.”
Attributes of customers as partners begin with the principle that when relationships are long term they are value based not value added.
The primary values associated with customer partnerships are…
- Generosity – The spirit of giving (get others business).
- Honesty – Truth makes a clean relationship (even if it hurts temporarily).
- Trust – Assurances that preclude me from having to look over my shoulder or look for ulterior motives.
- Comfort – Familiarity, no surprises.
- Reciprocity – The balance of the deeds over time (not measured deeds, but gifts without expectation). If you measure you lose. Have you ever done someone a favor and say to yourself, “He owes me one.” If you think someone “owes you one,” one is all you’ll get.
Want to give it a try? Start by looking for these five attributes inside you and your own company first. The best way to begin this process is to build a partnership environment in your own organization.
- Treating your employees as partners.
- Speaking nicely about your customers behind their backs (they are your paycheck, you know).
- Showing a spirit of cooperation and teamwork among coworkers. Especially in the traditional rival areas of sales and production, or sales and the service department.
- Accepting responsibility when a customer calls even if it isn’t your specific job.
It is your inside partnership philosophy that permits the outside partnerships to take place with your customers. You can’t have internal chaos and outside harmony. Partnership attitudes are bred from within.
Think about this: What message do you want to give your customers when they view your actions as a business? Are those actions congruent with the message carried today by your sales force to your customers and prospects about your product or service? If not, you will be seen as having two faces and be perceived as insincere.
There are four prime payback’s for partnerships…beyond the economics:
1. Partnerships are more mature in their expectations – (realistic) less fluff and dazzle. More meat and potatoes (if you’re a vegetarian, more tomatoes and potatoes).
2. While partnerships tend to be more demanding, they are more forgiving of error. Everyone makes mistakes. Partnerships will allow you the benefit of positive recovery.
3. Partnerships are more apt to give candid feedback. This helps you improve the quality of service, thereby the quality of the relationship.
4. Partnerships are more apt to champion you in the marketplace. They become apostles on your behalf. Street ambassadors. They tell love stories about you. I wouldn’t go anywhere else.
Partnerships with customers don’t just happen. It starts with a game plan and a commitment. It takes an investment of time and resources to reap the dividends. Is it worth it? Your competition hopes you don’t think so.
Want to develop partnerships with your customers? I’ll send you Chip Bell’s six rules for establishing and maintaining a partnership attitude free. Just go to www.gitomer.com, click Access GitBit, register if you’re a first time user and enter the secret word, PARTNER, in the search box.