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Telephone Account Management: Gain, Sustain, Retain

In Part I of this series, we looked at how the move towards servicing ever greater numbers of ‘long tail’ customers purely through digital engagement is rapidly falling out of favour as companies realise the hidden cost of this approach.

In this second part, we look at how companies are responding to the challenge of the ‘non stop customer’ and returning to a new, smarter, telephone account management model that delivers genuine value back into the business.

The way an organisation engages and influences its “long tail” of customers will always be subject to the realities of the business in question. For high volume transactional sales an omnichannel approach will almost certainly make sense. While other companies, particularly those in the high tech sector, may use a traditional distribution channel to reach a portion of their customers at a lower cost, and with lower risk. Whatever the approach, the undeniable truth is that customers want experiences that cover both digital and traditional channels.

According to Forrester, for B2B enterprises to be successful in their future digital commerce endeavours they need to rethink their approach to customer engagement and how they invest in people, processes, and technology to power that engagement across all channels.

It’s time to challenge the acquired wisdom that digital-only is the most efficient way to manage lower spend customers, and the notion that human account management just adds cost.

In our previous article, we discussed what the long tail customer segment really represents to a business and what a company risks in failing to engage and speak with this significant customer group.

In this article, we illustrate a methodology for telephone account management for this segment that can:

a. reverse churn and loss of clients
b. create a step change in sales performance and drive incremental revenue
c. deliver a rich seam of business intelligence and insight
d. And, crucially deliver a return on investment.

Smarter Telephone Account Management

At The Telemarketing Company, we have conceived a framework for managing accounts to extract maximum value. It combines a structured programme of calling and digital touch points using CRM data, sales enablement tools and visibility of spend and purchase history. At its heart, it is not a sales technique; rather it is a different way of thinking about and relating to your customers and of managing them through their lifecycle.

Throughout the process, our aim is to use the unique qualities of human interaction to gain insight around the customer in four primary areas of change. Changes in any of these categories can present either an opportunity or a threat and will require a course of action.

We call these the 4Cs:

  • The Customer – what is the status quo, what is changing within the customer’s business (e.g. changes in personnel, budgets, or requirements)

  • Your Company – what is happening in your business that could potentially impact the customer (e.g. changes to your value proposition or your pricing)

  • The Competition – what your competitors are doing (e.g. offers, marketing, new features)

  • Culture – All other external factors that could impacting the relationship with the customer (e.g. changes to the law or technology)using a Steeple / Pestle analysis

Gain, Sustain, Retain

We break the customer lifecycle into three key stages. 

 


The first stage in the journey is called 'gain':

 

Stage 1 – Gain

Gain is not simply getting a customer to place their first order; it’s the whole phase during which a customer goes from first time buyer to a sustainable and loyal customer.

In this phase, we take a snapshot of the customer at the point of acquisition; a baseline health check. At the on-boarding stage we look at what promises have been made in the sale and what expectations the customer might have of you as a company. Further calls and touch points build on this and help to nurture and fully activate the client.

It goes without saying that the style of these calls is conversational, natural and intuitive and not scripted or forced. It’s essential to establish trust and a rapport that can be nurtured and strengthened over time. We select carefully the agents who work on these campaigns, and we know the profile and style of the caller which best suits this type of work.

All of the information we acquire through every call from the very earliest engagement is captured and codified across the 4 categories outlined above, giving structure to the intelligence gathered.

Stage 2 – Sustain

A customer moves to sustain once they score sufficiently highly to be considered ‘non risk’. The score is obtained through continual tracking and rating of the 4Cs as part of our account management delivery.

Customers in the sustain phase are in a stable state; ripe for growth. They are intelligently targeted using voice and digital channels with cross sell and up sell opportunities, personalised for their business based on the acquired insight and any purchase or spend intelligence available . The aim is to continually increase revenue, share of wallet and loyalty.

Stage 3 – Retain

A customer moves into the ‘retain’ segment when it is identified that something significant has changed in any of the 4Cs that may materially impact the customer’s relationship with you. This ‘warning ’ system allows us to identify customers at risk and work with you to agree actions to bring them back to sustain.

As the model suggests, customers can move between sustain and retain. However, having this robust framework for capturing and codifying intelligence about your customers allows us to quickly and efficiently identify and respond to threats and opportunities as they arise.

Being Customer Centric

The model we have developed to support our telephone account management engagements is not meant to be prescriptive. If a company already has a methodology in place then we will adopt and optimise it. However, we will always recommend deploying the service in such a way as to extract maximum intelligence.

The simple fact is B2B buyers, influenced by their experience in the consumer world, expect an ever more personalised purchasing experience at every stage of the customer journey. The more transparent and engaged you can be as a company, the higher the quality of service you can deliver and the more you can personalise your offers and pricing, the stronger your customer relationships will become. In turn this will inspire greater loyalty and increase the probability that the buyer will make repeat or cross sell purchases.

That said, personalisation is not easy in the B2B space. It’s particularly difficult in the early stages of the buyer journey, when little is known of the customer. If a company relies purely on digital for on-going engagement, it will remain a challenge. Conversely, with the addition of telephone account management you are well placed to capture the insight required to keep customers engaged, increase their level of spend and deliver the level of personalisation they have come to expect.

If you are still not convinced of the need for a return to a smart model of telephone account management, then consider this.


Digital, can never be as persuasive as an effective person on the end of the phone. It’s not well suited to picking up on and solving problems, resolving queries and identifying opportunities to introduce new products or services. Because it’s generally a one way channel. If you rely exclusively on digital to service customers you will be unable to challenge, or even capture and analyse, critical defection signals.

As we said in Part I, a lack of regular contact with any customer group, large or small in an intuitive ‘human’ way will erode your knowledge and ability to manage those customers and that damage is likely to be permanent after a prolonged hiatus. If you can afford to lose these customers and the growth potential they may offer, reliance on a channel that cannot possibly stem that loss may be acceptable.

However, if you want to move your organisation in a direction that grows revenue by putting your customers’ preferences above digital dogma, then you need look no further than your competition. Simply by speaking and listening to your neglected customers they are probably winning business right now. 

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