Is what you see what you really get?
Sunday mornings in my youth – thinking back now, I can still clearly recall how excited I would get when I’d riffle through the thick Sunday newspaper and pull out the COLOR COMICS! And there was one thing I liked most – the color optical illusion on the back page. How fun it was to see what would emerge from those illusions – a 3D picture? Movement where there should be none? Two pictures in one? And, if you were really good at these (as I was, of course), your mind could flip back and forth between images without much effort.
In one of my previous roles, I ran a large-scale customer satisfaction/voice-of-customer program. The complexity of this program required strong vendor support. Because of this, I led several RFPs and had the opportunity to engage with numerous vendors. I all too often found myself in situations that remind me of these optical illusions. Was I seeing what I wanted to see, or what was really there? Was I being told the truth, or a version of the truth to get me to buy something? Was what I was seeing too good to be true? I often wished I could peek behind the closed door and get a “fly-on-the-wall” understanding of how my vendors worked and what their culture was like. I felt that with this transparency and insight, I might be able to more effectively communicate with them to get the results I needed – and more likely avoid the inevitable disconnects somewhere along the relationship path.
During my time on the buying side of things, I developed what I fondly refer to as my “Client Wish List,” a collection of qualities and attitudes I wished every vendor would bring to the table. Now that I’ve recently made the leap from the client side to the supplier side, I’m getting to see how important the things on my wish list actually are – for both vendors and clients. The interesting thing is, I’ve also gotten the opportunity to see things from a new and completely opposite perspective. And so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned with you.
If you’re a client, I hope that you’ll learn something about what vendors truly are capable of offering, and you’ll keep your expectations high. If you’re a vendor, I hope that you will learn something about what your clients really want – and what you are capable of offering by working to make your organization more customer-centric. And, of course, because I am part of the team at MaritzCX, I hope you’ll come to us the next time you want a CX vendor who will hit all the points on your own client wish list – or the next time you need help checking off points on your clients’ wish lists.
Wish #1: My vendors would truly be my “partners,” and have a stake in my desired outcomes.
As a client, specifically working in CX, I didn’t want to work with vendors who would just throw software specifications, consulting services, or any other solution at me and quote the company line. I wanted to work with someone who believed in the value of the company’s products and services, for both me and my company’s customers. I wanted them to seek to understand my business objectives so that they could truly match up my needs with the right solutions. I wanted to work with people who were passionate and knowledgeable, who would do their best for me and treat me and my account as more than a number. I wanted access to the knowledge base of the company, not just that of my account manager.
At MaritzCX, I have been asked to take part in several calls in my short tenure because of unique industry or functional insight I can bring to clients. These are not clients I am working with directly – rather, those who ARE working on the project have asked me to partner with them to ensure they have a crystal-clear understanding about what the client wanted, or about what they are asking, because they believe so strongly in delivering value to that client. This is the kind of support I was looking for during my time as a client – vendors who really care about my company’s success.
Wish #2: My vendors would seek to add value to our partnership, not just delivering on the line items in the contract.
As a client, I fully respected scope creep, particularly when it relates to a contract, such as a statement of work. But I also often struggled with the RFP process, as it allows for limited client-vendor discovery processes before things get formalized in a contract. And the reality was, only once that contract was signed did the true relationship building – and trust, required for the candid dialogue necessary in building an effective program – begin. Which meant that there were inevitably things (which, if we had known them ahead of time, might have affected what we wrote in the contract) that neither of us told the other. As the daughter of an attorney, and the sister of two more, I fully understand the necessity for and function of a contract. But there were times when, had a vendor asked a key question or offered to take the analysis one step further, it would have not only benefitted my business, it would have led to increased loyalty to that “partner” on my part.
As a vendor, I’ve learned that developing the research methodology, gathering data, and deriving insights is only the starting point. Top leadership at vendor organizations needs to provide the frontline with a framework for success. And included within that framework need to be questions such as, “Do I understand my client’s business?” “Do I understand the business value my clients are trying to drive with their program?” “Do I understand what I need to deliver to enable them to meet their goals?” And this isn’t just some nice “framework” leaders should use at employee rallies; this attitude and approach needs to be pervasive throughout the culture of vendor organizations.
I hear these questions being asked daily in calls with client teams. This philosophy can drive the development of new products – here at MaritzCX, it has been the driving force behind the creation of CXEvolution and upcoming PredictionCX and SocialCX; our client teams listened to what their customers were saying, then collaborated with product development teams to design, develop, test (with customers!) and launch products which would fill the gaps our clients were saying existed in their CX programs. If every vendor offered this level of collaboration and customer centricity, I would have been a much happier client. Now that I’m on the other side, I want to make sure that I’m offering this kind of service to my clients.
Wish #3: My vendor understood what “employee engagement” really is – because only then would my client support team truly be able to reflect a customer-centric philosophy.
Many years ago, I was interviewing for the role of a CX Program Manager. The last question in the interview was “What do you think the company needs to do to become top in the industry in customer satisfaction, and why?” My response was that “first, the company needed to focus on employee engagement, since we can’t truly reflect a customer-focused attitude and approach outwardly to our customers unless we first feel the same from our internal partners/providers. If we don’t naturally behave this way internally, why would we reflect it externally?” I wanted vendor partners who reflected this externally, toward me, their client. (On a side note, the “second” part of my answer had to do with leveraging leadership in educating the organization about what “customer satisfaction” really meant – and what it would really take to achieve.)
I’ve noticed that great vendors sincerely value concepts such as critical thinking, collaboration, employee development, empowerment, test-and-learn, teamwork, and innovation – all contributors to employee engagement. In my current role, not a single day passes
…without my insight being verbally complimented or requested;
…without me feeling comfortable asking “sensitive” questions;
…without me knowing that all I need to do is ask and I have whatever team support I need in meeting a client need;
…without me hearing that my role is to ensure I help clients drive business results.
As a vendor partner, I am empowered with the freedom and authority I need to do my job in a way that best helps my clients. I am encouraged to spend time and engage with clients to truly understand their business need – and then to work with them to jointly develop the solutions that will best meet that need. It is expected that I am NOT to be a “yes woman,” and to simply give them what they are asking for, but to truly develop a strategic partnership with them. I have the tools, resources, and partnerships across MaritzCX to then meet these client needs and help them drive true business impact. I am proud and thankful to work for a company that enables me to do my best every day for my clients – and this is why my engagement as an employee matters to my clients. I wish more of the vendors I’ve worked with had enjoyed similar organizational support.
Wish #4: I wish they’d be “human” and act like people, so I can relate to them and feel comfortable partnering with them in my daily work.
I might be what some people call “old school:” I believe in asking how someone’s weekend was before diving into a Monday morning meeting. I believe that knowing my co-workers kids’ names and upcoming vacation plans helps us work together better – because we can better relate to each other. And I believe that authenticity and sincerity are fundamental to successful collaboration in a business environment. As a client, I was far more forth-coming with my vendors when they made an effort to know me as a person, rather than just another faceless client.
Vendors need to employ empathetic human beings. As a client, I would much rather have worked with a passionate account manager – someone that may err on the side of enthusiasm – even if that could be perceived as “strong influence.” Although that vendor may appear overly curious or nosy in questioning my business, I would know that it’s because of the desire to drive value for me and my company. I’ve observed, as both a client and a vendor, that good vendors feel a sense of ownership in their work because they are empowered. Each will offer a slightly different perspective on client questions – but their insights will be aligned, and complementary.
We vendors are human. We enjoy making personal connections with our clients. We are truly interested in how your daughter’s soccer tournament went last weekend, or how you enjoyed your well-deserved vacation to your family’s cottage.
My Inside Insight
Most of my professional career, I have worked for a values-based organization. In making the leap to the supplier side, it was non-negotiable for me that I continue working for a values-based organization. MaritzCX had a high bar to live up to in meeting my expectations – and has been under the microscope in my early days as I evaluate how they measure up. As your “fly on the wall,” I can confidently say that I am thrilled with the way I see my peers and my leaders living our values each and every day.
We don’t have all the answers (which frankly is not something you’re going to hear from your vendors unless they are truly “partners.”). It can be hard as a client to acknowledge this – after all, you pay good money for guidance, answers and results! But we are solution- versus problem-oriented. We have over 40 years of research and experience partnering with customers to dig, discover, and leverage data and insights to drive your results; to get you your answers and your results.
So I ask you, who would YOU rather have as your partner in designing your customers’ experiences?