For years, I have used a simple diagram to assess customer relationships while generating meaningful and actionable customer discussion. How do you start to improve customer relationships?
A simple stair-step picture shows relationship types progressing from simple “supplier” to “partner.” At each step, mutual benefit increases.
The idea is to poll the room (virtual room/conference call) and ask each person 3 questions:
- How would you assess our current relationship status?
- Where would you like it to be?
- What would have to change to attain that level of relationship?
If you’d like a more detailed view of the diagram, message me on LinkedIn.
Customer responses to these questions open up many avenues of discussion. (Some are appropriate for customer consumption, and others more appropriate in private.) For example:
- What is the customer’s perception of us?
- Do different stakeholders have different perceptions of us? Why?
- Do we see the relationship in the same way? What type of relationship dissonance exists?
- How closely aligned are we OR is there a severe disconnect?
- How must our company change to attain the customer-desired state?
- How would the customer need to change?
- Is the customer willing to change? Are we?
- Do the customer’s answers match their behavior? Do they say they want a partnership, but behave in a way that actually seeks low cost first (and only)?
- Given the customer’s assessment, do we want to invest to achieve their desired state? Just because a customer wants a partnership, does not mean we have to pursue one. Nor does it mean such a change is valuable to your company. Relationships are two-sided and sometimes it makes sense to amicably part ways.
One time, as I lead this discussion, the client responded by saying that they wanted us to behave more like a partner. When we asked about gaining insights into their planning process and strategic goals, they responded that they were too busy to share them with us. What kind of “partnership” is that?!
The pivot point is that improving customer relationships requires an initial assessment of the current state and then mutual commitment to change. Attaining higher levels of alignment requires both parties moving towards the same goal. Now that you know where your customer wants to go, what are you doing to achieve it?