As an account manager, customer service is at the core of what I do. So, when I came across this quote from Jerry Gregoire, it resonated:
The customer experience is the next competitive battleground
And, from my perspective and the work I do here at Pulsant, this is certainly true. Yes, the IT industry is moving at a dramatic pace and yes, the sheer choice that customers have is enormous. And while technology does differ according to different suppliers, the customer’s desired outcome does not.
It’s here that customer service or, more succinctly, the customer experience comes into play. Thinking about it from a consumer point of view: If you had the choice of buying one of two similar products — smartphones, for example — both offering the same functionality with similar pricing, what is going to change your mind? For me, it will always be the product from the store that offers the best experience, whether that’s advice while making my decision, in-store assistance or a simplified buying process.
That’s the same philosophy I bring to my job. Except our clients are buying solutions and services a little more substantive than consumer electronics. Ultimately what I do is make sure that the customer is happy. And this extends beyond the solution and the service we offer to support it. A crucial part of my job is ensuring that the customer is gaining value from both the advice we offer and the technology we’re delivering and making sure the solution meets their requirements and maps to their business objectives.
Based on my experience with Pulsant — which is well over eight years now — I’ve been thinking about the most important elements of account management, elements that could be applied, regardless of industry, that would help companies on the competitive battlefield. These are some of my thoughts:
While a certain level of diplomacy is critical to what I do, being up front with customers can only strengthen the relationship you have with them. Ultimately, as an account manager my job is about building and sustaining that relationship — which, in my experience, isn’t quite the same as asking your significant other if your vegan chicken korma tastes okay. It’s about educating them along the way on the solutions, the anticipated benefits and if things are likely to change.
As an account manager my role is sustaining the customer relationship. By understanding the client and their business risks/issues, I can suggest and advise on new products and technologies and it is ultimately much more about helping them. It is no longer just about yelling and selling. If you help, people will like you!
Passion gets a bad rap and is often over-used when it comes to talking about careers. But I think passion, firstly for what you do and secondly for the company you work for, is essential. It opens doors, gives you confidence and ties back to honesty. If you believe in what you do and what you can do for your customers, pretty soon your customers will believe it, too. And when you deliver, that’s how trust is built and you become their trusted advisor.
Expanding a little on the idea of passion, it really helps if you’re confident in what you do. And by this I mean knowing what you’re good at, the skills you’ve accumulated throughout your career, and playing to your strengths. You are in a position where you’re seen as the expert, the trusted advisor, so be confident in your role. I should mention that there is a distinction between confident and arrogance — and here confidence is about having the knowledge and capabilities to ultimately help your customer.
Account managers are effectively problem solvers or, more accurately problem solving conduits. As a result you need to be on top of things, from reacting to unscheduled downtime to sitting in on customer business strategy meetings. The proactive bit comes in when you need to inform customers or make them aware of issues. It also comes in when you have to go back to your team, when necessary, and follow up (nag!) to get things sorted out. Proactivity also plays a huge part in account development — that is taking your knowledge of the client, their short-term and long-term objectives, their technology requirements and mapping those to their future plans.
So, what’s next?
Dealing with customers and ensuring their needs are met is not always easy or smooth sailing. But when done properly, as part of building long-term relationships with them, it is rewarding; and one of the best parts of my job.
Keep your eyes open for my next blog on the value of advice.