Do you know if your customers care about you or your company? Do you know what they really think about your service? And, do you know what is going on with them that could impact your relationship with them?
These are the questions I asked myself when I was president of Roth Bros., Inc. I wanted to turn our customers into super customers, and these questions were necessary to figure out how to make that happen.
What is a “super customer” you ask? My definition of a super customer is a customer who views you as an extension of their team, can’t think of working without you, refers business to you, and volunteers to be a referral for other potential new customers.
If you’d like to turn your customers into super customers, consider implementing these practices that I instituted during my tenure at Roth:
1. Give Customer Account Management Responsibility to Your Operators.
As president, I required all the operators, including myself, to have client responsibility. I would even consider extending this to the CFO and HR director. Getting out of the office and into a customer setting is invaluable. As you know, this is where the rubber meets the road in terms of the reality of your service product and your customer experience with your front line. It gave me great insights into what we needed to do better and where we needed to invest to enhance our systems.
When I joined Roth, we were just on-boarding a major national retail customer and the sales team over sold what we could deliver. As a result, the customer was threatening to kick us out. I’m a big believer in under selling and over delivering. I decided to be the account executive for this one. I established trust with the customer by sharing the facts on what we could deliver and what I would commit resources to for expanding the delivery capabilities. We met weekly with our teams and worked the project plan. I made sure my team delivered and we started to rebuild trust with the customer.
2. Require Face-to-Face Meetings.
I met with this customer every month face-to-face and talked about what was going well and what needed to be improved. These monthly meetings prevented small things from growing into big ones and getting out of hand.
3. Practice New Idea Generation Once a Quarter.
I required my team to come up with a recommendation once a quarter for this client that would save them money or enhance their customers or employees’ experience. Often, these ideas required the customer to hire us to do project work like integrating the store’s security system with the EMS to save energy, or integrating the EMS with a demand-response provider’s system so the customer could take advantage of demand-response payment opportunities. Millions of dollars of work came out of this process. We did a return on investment on each idea and then benchmarked the results. They never asked, “What have you done for me lately?” because we were always presenting new things they could do to save money.
4. Do Not Make Excuses! Take Responsibility When You Screw Up, and Then Apologize.
One Thanksgiving, I got a call from the customer with a concern that we may not have adjusted the lighting schedule for the holiday. That day, my team indeed verified that we screwed up. It was fixed immediately, but the customer incurred about $27,000 of additional electric costs. I apologized verbally on Thanksgiving but then I did more: On Monday, I bought them a check for $27,000 and apologized to the SVP personally and told him what we put in place so that it would never happen again. He was floored.
5. Survey Customers.
Every year, I sent out a survey to a cross section of customers and had them rank us on a number of service measures. I would also ask them what else we could do for them and introduced new services to them. The survey results for the largest service customer came back poor and I was able to engage with them to help prevent this from turning into a loss of revenue. Getting feedback from customers on a regular basis is critical.
We held technical training sessions for our customers with various aspects of HVAC, EMS, roofing, electrical and lighting. This not only built teamwork among the customers and our people, but also demonstrated our expertise.
I also held an Energy Summit each February during which our top customers and prospects would come and get educated on the latest in demand-side energy saving ideas. I partnered with big companies like GE, Enernoc, EY and Schneider Electric, to name a few, who paid to be sponsors and presenters at the summit. Our customers then viewed us as bigger than we actually were, in addition to enjoying the summit. The two and half days of education and bonding led to deeper relationships and expanding business with current customers and new business with most of the prospects. It was a first-class event with first-class partners and that made the customers think we were first-class too. Plus, an educated customer is a better customer, in my opinion.
Each baseball season, I would get a louge for an evening at the local minor league stadium to catch a game with my customers’ key people and our key people who interacted on a daily basis. This was an inexpensive way for the front line people to get to know each other and develop a relationship. It was a feel good experience by all and helped create goodwill.
The result of all of these practices was I turned a customer into a super customer. Our contract was bid out 7 times over the 15-year period I was the executive account manager and we retained it every time. We were named vendor of the year the last 8 years running. This customer’s revenues with us grew from $2 million to $8 million annually. The customer referred prospective customers to us and acted as a referral for RFPs which led to countless other millions of dollars in revenue for us. Taking the time to turn a customer into a super customer really paid off, in more ways than one.
How many super customers do you have? How many super customers could you have? Put these proven practices to work and find out!