We were recently reviewing our investment options for our next business year. Having been lean enough to come through the crunch much better than many of our larger competitors, the discussion was proceeding along the lines of how to balance new spending on expanded development resource and expanded marketing and lead generation. Another option arose, which was to allocate an amount of money to investing in our customers.
Let me back up for a moment and ask “What are customers for”? I read a post on LinkedIn recently that stated the main aims of a software vendor’s license agreement as being to generate revenue and protect intellectual property, and minimize the customer’s rights. You could extend that attitude to saying that customers exist to create revenues and profit for our shareholders. Well, yes they do, if you boil it right down. And many organizations don’t take it much further than that. How many of us have had some savings tucked away in an account with an organization that has meanwhile created new savings offerings with better rates; did the organization take the trouble to let us know there was now a better option? No, that would have meant increasing what they were paying on the account, depressing revenues and shareholder return. So it’s up to customers to take care of their own interests, right? Which I did by withdrawing my savings and taking them somewhere else, having warned all my friends about the poor treatment. Not sure how much benefit that was to the organization’s shareholders…
So, back to investing in customers. It’s a simple concept. Allocate a pot of money that is going to be spent in helping our customers to get the most out of what they have already bought. Go beyond the standard support they are entitled to under their maintenance agreements. Stuff some of our money back into their businesses and help them succeed.
Is this totally altruistic? Of course not. Some customers will take the added help and it wont make the slightest difference to the relationship. But for some, this will strengthen the relationship, extend its duration, create fresh opportunities for business. It’s a gamble, and my contention is that if you place your bets intelligently, you’ll come out a winner.
Help Desks: much more than mopping up customer dissatisfaction
The help desk is a great resource to help plan and optimize this activity, to make sure that the money is spent to maximum effect. So, rather than just blowing the pot of money on the top twenty accounts, try using the help desk issue archives to identify areas of concern shared across multiple customers. What areas of activity might benefit from training or some other form of support? The help desk can get pigeonholed in the role of sweeping up problems caused by poorly developed products sold by an over-eager sales team. But the help desk’s knowledge should be used far more pro-actively; the help desk should be influential in framing campaigns to improve the customer base’s experiences of the products.
Ask the help desk where to invest, before allowing marketing to blow more cash on a focus group project.