Maximising account management through customer feedback

Introduction

Within a business to business (B2B) environment the role of account management is a vital component of not only keeping the customer or client, but also growing the value of the business with your organisation. With account management acting as the primary interface with the customer it represents all functions of the business and acts as a conduit for information between both parties. Therefore it is vital that there is an effective flow of customer feedback if all internal functions are to be aligned to support the account manager in his pivotal relationship with the customer. To achieve this, an understanding of successful B2B relationship management is essential.

External perspective

In order to ensure a comprehensive understanding of your customers both now and in the future, as well as how you and your competitors are performing in delivering against these needs, an independent party’s view provides an essential building block for a long term profitable relationship.

Customer segmentation

Although all customers are important there are some who have a much stronger strategic and financial impact upon your business, and others who have less impact. To reflect this, a framework of tools to gather and understand customer feedback that can be fed back into developing a strategic account management approach should be deployed. Although segmentation of customers will vary by business we have outlined below a generic customer segmentation approach and identified an effective tool for each segment.

Each of the following groups is discussed in turn:

  1. Total customer base for an overarching view of customer relationship management
  2. Group of key accounts to give an insight into strategic account management
  3. Individual key accounts to give an insight into key account management
  4. Customers who have been won or lost recently to give an insight on how to retain and win more customers

Feedback tools to support effective account management

Tools to improve relationship management across your total customer base

In order to gain the most comprehensive view of your customer base, and understand your performance in relation to your competitors, a Customer Value Management programme would appear to be the best tool to be utilised. The key benefit of this programme is that the results can be directly linked to the performance of your business and will identify actions to drive retention and growth  and improve relationship management approaches. With account management playing an important supporting role in terms of briefing, customers would be interviewed through a probable combination of telephone and online surveys following a pre agreed questionnaire. Analysis will highlight both strengths and weaknesses at a corporate level and at a specific segment or account structure level. The latter feedback is provided to the account manager in order to support account planning, and the corporate feedback is incorporated into a more strategic view and action plan.

Tools to improve key account management by working with a group of key accounts

Focusing on a small number of highly strategic accounts that have a very significant impact upon your business a much more partnership approach is proposed. A Customer Advisory Council is a tool that is targeted at senior executives of key accounts and requires an important briefing of both your own senior executives and those of your customers. The Customer Advisory Council meeting is typically a full day event and focuses on the sharing of confidential strategic issues. The joint approach looks to share initial thoughts on both sides so that they can be reviewed and amended appropriately in the light of the supplier and customer input. Because of the highly confidential nature of the approach the outputs are circulated to a strictly controlled group. The result is almost invariably a keener understanding of this key group and improved strategic account management.

Tools to provide insight into Individual key accounts

Executive or Senior decision maker interviews

As part of a key account management programme it is important to not only understand the views and thoughts of your day to day operational contacts but vitally those of the senior executives who will hold a decision making role. A senior decision maker interview programme is a series of in depth face to face interviews that follow a structure agreed with the client. It is however important to allow a degree of flexibility to ensure that the customer is also given the opportunity to discuss what is important to them.

The output of the Executive / Senior decision maker interview is a written report that includes customer quotes. The report is usually offered to the customer for their approval / editing before it is issued to the client. The report can then be acted upon on an individual basis and form part of an account plan, as well as the overall feedback being utilised in more corporate orientated action planning and key account management improvements.

Total account team involvement

For large complex customer relationships it is important to not only understand all of the interfaces and issues from both the customers’ and suppliers’ perspectives, but vitally that everyone acts as a single team with a common goal. A day-long Shared Expectations workshop identifies the issues from both supplier and customer and creates a framework where joint ownership and action planning is developed. It provides the opportunity to consider issues from your own perspective and provides the opportunity to place both parties firmly “in the shoes of the other party” to support a full 360 degrees review and appraisal.

The output is a jointly agreed action plan with an agreed approach of how the momentum created from the day will be carried forward to improve service and inform key account management approaches.

Won / Lost customers

Often overlooked is the value to be gained from reviewing and learning lessons from both a contract win and contract loss. In terms of format they would be similar to the Executive interviews described earlier. The key benefit from these would be an improved win: loss ratio for our client.

Right tool for the right contact

As all businesses have an array of customers that vary both in terms of the contact they have with them, and the value of that customer to their business it is important that a customer feedback programme is able to reflect that range and variety. The diagram below shows generically where each tool would provide the greatest value to both the supplier, and customer.

Right tool for the right contact

Take the next step

If you would like to discuss any of the above approaches and how they may be appropriate for either your total customer base, or particular key segments please do get in touch.

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