Customer's will tell you they want forecasts, they want inventory levels, they want any piece of information you can possibly pull from your systems and spreadsheets.
I'll let you in on a secret, that's not really what they want. Behind every customer entity are people, and people are driven by primal desires. Customer's want attention, not information.
The sooner you realize this, the sooner you change your sales and service models and communication.
The Information Fallacy
Customer's aren't looking for more information. How do I know? They always ask for more. They never have enough.
The more you feed, the more they will ask. I've seen many suppliers (especially smaller ones) get sucked into this, spending 20-40% of their manpower pulling data, creating reports, filling out paperwork, and responding to customer requests for more.
- Shipping confirmation
- Inventory levels
- Open orders
- List of SKUs
and the list goes on.
So what are they really after?
Customer's want attention, and they don't get it, they will request it through information and meeting requests. Customer's want to know that you are watching out for their best interests.
So how do you do this, and satisfy that demand?
You do this through creating touch points.
Touch Points are interactions you have with a customer. They include everything from year end planning to the Christmas card you may send.
Touch Point Playbook
I have been writing a longer form touch point optimization for the newsletter, but I'll share some of the tactical takeaways here quickly
Different touch points have a different time cost. Meetings are expensive while an automated email is not. You have to create a mix of these. Too many high preparation touch points will drain your team (and honestly drown your customer).
The other part of the equation is impact. How impactful is the information you are sending? Inventory may have a large impact on their planning, whereas a generic update on your company will have less of a direct impact. Again, you want a mix here to to build a better relationship. Friendly updates mixed with direct and deeper data builds a relationship with more depth. We aren't machines spitting out data, but we aren't just here for the chats either... we are a company who is paying attention, made up of great people.
Once you list out a number of touch points, create their frequency. Some will be weekly while others should be annually.
As a general rule, the more often it occurs, the more automation it should be.
One of the most important touch points is a quarterly review with customers. This is a great time to get updates, address issues without it being a fire, talk about the future of the relationship, prevent future fires, gain more sales, and integrate yourself with their internal projects, learn where your customers are headed, and gain useful information for industry strategy.
These are expensive in time and resource. For the top 20% of your customers, there should be a number of manually written areas and commentary. However, you can create an automated report that is initially generated and have it auto sent to the bottom 80%. It creates another touch points, gives a conversation piece if there is something to discuss. In this way you scale the applicability as the customer importance scales.