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A Dozen Ways to Cultivate Customer Relationships

Over the past decade or so, ICMI has studied, codified and periodically published a summary of the most important principles behind building strong, profitable customer relationships. But have evolving customer expectations, developments in social media, new communication channels, or other developments, changed the fundamentals?

Fortunately, no. In fact, today’s ultra-connected environment seems to amplify them. The principles behind building profitable customer relationships, it seems, will never go out of style. From the days of the corner store to today’s most agile enterprises, the following 12 principles remain the backbone of cultivating successful relationships.

1. Continuously Learn About Your Customers. This is the first principle of managing customer relationships because it is the most fundamental. From this everything else follows. When you know your customers, you can make sound business decisions about how to develop your relationships with them. Maintain your knowledge in customer profiles that are available to all who need them.

2. Anticipate Customer Needs. Knowledge of your customers presents new opportunities for making the right offer or delivering the right service to the right person at the right time. Analysis of customer profiles, especially using today’s analytics tools, can provide powerful insight about needs and how to best serve them.

3. Handle Different Customers Differently. The power of this principle lies in the potential for optimizing the value of each customer relationship through differential treatment. Based on customer segmentation, contact centers can provide user-appropriate Web and IVR interfaces, routing routines, the best-suited agents, and appropriate content.

4. Interact With Customers. No matter how sophisticated the technology that organizations and customers use to communicate, your customers are human, and people appreciate being recognized, listened to and understood. Relationships tend to develop when you interact.

5. Focus on revenue and retention more than on reducing costs. Yes, a renewed focus on building relationships can require so many organizationwide process changes that operational cost savings may well be realized. But keep your eyes on value, overall revenue and retention first.

6. Increase value for your customers and of your customers. It is precisely because building customer relationships increases value both for customers and the organization that it is such a compelling strategy. When executed properly, the focus on building relationships and brand loyalty is a win-win for customers and the organization alike.

7. Present a single face to your customers to make their experiences with your organization seamless. Seek to simplify the experience for your customers. Take a holistic view of your customers and consolidate information from across the organization, regardless of geography, department, function, contact channel, social community, or product line.

8. Enable information sharing and interaction across the organization. It is both a requirement and a benefit of customer relationship management that organizations improve their internal communication processes. The only way to develop a comprehensive view of each customer’s relationship with the organization is with the full participation of every functional part of the company.
9. Create business rules to drive all customer relationship management decisions and automation. Business rules codify and automate processes, specifying what should happen in specific situations, thus enabling both differentiated customer treatment and automation.

10. Empower agents with information and training. Just as the cockpit of an airplane displays all the information a pilot needs to fly in any conditions, the contact management screen should pull together cleanly and clearly all that the organization knows about its relationship with that customer. Empowerment is a complementary principle because no set of business rules can or should fully anticipate every conceivable situation.

11. Retain the right customers. Customer knowledge and the capability for differentiated customer treatment significantly improve many organizations’ capabilities to retain customers.

12. Remember that the effective management of customer relationships is a way of doing business. Technology is an important enabler, but as these 12 key principles demonstrate, cultivating customer relationships requires much more. Customer strategy must be a way of doing business.