Every business needs a certain group of people to focus on looking after customers. Yes, it’s everyone’s job to be customer-centric. What I’m talking about is investing the time to listen, understand and invest in a professional relationship. It’s what business gurus like to call ‘maximising the customer experience’.
That’s my role at Helastel. As Head of Client Services, the buck stops with me as far as customer experience goes. It starts with making a good impression; ensuring we put our best foot forward. Then it’s all about backing that up; being there with the client to solve problems, have difficult conversations, share in the successes.
I am, according to my husband, like Mr Wolf from Pulp Fiction and (latterly) the Direct Line Insurance adverts. I hope that means ‘resourceful and constructive’ rather than ‘armed and dangerous’!
Working closely with customers means you are always learning new ways of dealing with new situations. However, to be successful, the approach itself is really quite simple. Here are some essentials:
1. Have some humanity
There are more than 6,700 people listed as Chief Experience Officers on LinkedIn. There are 460+ Heads of Customer Advocacy. I know that these job titles are trying to earnestly reflect the commitment that a business has towards championing its customers. They just don’t sound very human.
The first step to a good customer relationship is to remove unnecessary barriers, and that could easily include a sanctimonious job title. Another is a reticence to get out from behind your computer and actually go and meet people face to face. I’m a big believer in physically going out to meet and see clients regularly in order to promote a better understanding between people. If clients prefer not to, then that’s fine too.
2. Be a positive presence
Helastel is growing and, as we take on more work, we inevitably need to appoint more Account Managers to handle the day-to-day interface with clients. These are the people who work directly for me. I can’t scale to every customer touch-point, after all.
But by the same token, it would be bad practice to barricade myself in an ivory tower until a problem arises whereupon I get wheeled in to ‘Mr Wolf-it’ back to normality. Suddenly becoming visible, only when something needs fixing, is a shoddy way of standing up for customers’ needs.
3. Show off the talents of the team
It’s a tricky balance to strike with software developers and clients. On the one hand, you want to keep developers behind closed doors so as to prevent them from being distracted from getting on and writing code. On the other, you’d like to have them front-and-centre, staying topped up with an intimate understanding the client’s perspective ‘from the horse’s mouth’.
The way we structure ourselves at Helastel - and the fact that our developers are can ‘talk human’ - enables us to get that balance about right. All joking aside, a lot of developers can struggle in face-to-face meeting situations but we weed this tendency out when hiring people. We also work hard to ensure the client understands team responsibilities, and always know what the next stage in the process is.
4. Speak up for the customer’s needs and represent their opinions
Whether stood in the developers bullpen, or sat around the table making decisions with the rest of the Helastel management team, a major part of my professional purpose is to advocate the interests of our customers. That means seeing the world through their eyes, and sometimes saying “this isn’t right” if the company’s business interests aren’t properly aligned with what customers want.
I guess it’s one thing to listen to customers and understand them, and something else to act upon that. Supporting the software needs and digital business transformations of increasingly large organisations doesn’t leave any room for paying lip-service.
At the end of the day, ‘customer-centricity’ is critically important for Helastel to remain as valuable and relevant as possible in a fast-changing world.