Fighting Complacency in Customer Relationships

The scene was a focus group interview with sales representatives. These men – and they were all men – sold high tech, back office solutions for financial institutions. Contracts were large and often negotiated for terms of five to seven years.

What might make a customer to go with another vendor instead of you, when the current contract runs out? The moderator asked.

“I’d have to be hit by a car somehow not on the scene, because they love me”, replied one. The others laughed and nodded their heads.

‘My customers are loyal to me, explained another. I’m their knight in shining armor. Something goes wrong they call me and I get it fixed’.

‘Smug’ begins to describe the attitude in the room. It sounded like business was good, even great. With all those loyal customers, why was a consultant called in and taking up valuable selling time conducting focus groups? Because a large number of those supposedly very loyal customers had left, or were thinking about leaving, were already talking with the competition.

There was a real and dangerous disconnect between how these sales professionals viewed the customer relationship and what actual customer buying behavior showed. Why didn’t the sales team see it? And how can customer relationship management help you prevent it, whatever team you’re on?

The sales reps in the focus group pointed to the most recent customer satisfaction survey as evidence of their strong bond with their customers. Many customers had included glowing remarks about their sales representative. The verbatim comments from those customers confirmed that there was a sincere and heartfelt belief that the sales representative cared and worked hard on the customers’ behalf. Yet, those results didn’t explain the trend in contract renewal, or lack thereof.

The group had theories: It’s the economy. What can you do? It’s all these mergers and acquisitions. They want to stay with me — with us – but they just can’t because they have to go with the new owner’s vendor. ‘I’m doing everything I can; it’s those product developers that are to blame. I’m working on the relationship, but they are not delivering on the product. Every theory contained some truth – the economy the buyouts, “vaporware” products. But even more, every single theory let the sales representatives off the hook. What more could they do?

Ask the right Questions:

Customer satisfaction surveys only give you answers to the questions you ask. Review the survey you use. What is missing? What question aren’t you asking? Here are two key questions that should be included:

Would you recommend Acme products and services? Why or why not?

Have you recommended Acme product and services within the last three months? Why or why not?

Customers, who say that they are satisfied or very satisfied with you, but who aren’t motivated to recommend you, are relationships at risk.

This company had fallen under the allure of complacency. In the context of CRM, complacency is the self satisfied taking it for granted belief that your customers are your customers. It is believing that because, you’ve done the hard work of listening and learning, you now know them they love you, and so the rest will be cake.

The Illusion of Complacency:

The movie, The Seen Year Itch, rests on the premise that complacency is an illusion. George Axelrod’s delightful farce shows that even a sensible man with a good marriage will begin to yearn for what he doesn’t have. While his wife is at the seashore in Maine, Richard Sherman (Tom well) sees is daydreams begin to take form with his new neighbor Marilyn Monroe. It’s a pleasant fantasy – till that his wife Helen (Evelyn Keyes) may have yearnings of her own. In the end, complacent no more, Richard rushes off to Maine to shore up the most important relationship in his life. All of us, and especially the sales representative in our focus group, can learn three lesions for Richard Sherman’s experience.

Lesson 1: Everyone looks
Lesson 2: Don’t expect them to let on that they’re looking
Lesson 3: If you don’t take actions to keep them, they may well wander.