Customer success is an often-overlooked business objective. Most companies would say it is important, but have no plan in place to see it through. They create no metrics, no benchmarks, no best practices. They assume that if they end the year in the black, their customer is feeling good as well. In a world where managed services providers (including within the ag tech vertical market) are a dime a dozen, the importance you place on your customer succeeding, and the lengths you are willing to go to help them meet their mark, becomes an unbeatable value proposition.
Where do you start to ensure your customer succeeds? Begin with questioning how well you know your customer’s business. Do you understand their vision, their growth strategy, their pain? Can you identify their target customers and what’s affecting them? Within the agriculture industry, input providers face different challenges than growers and producers, who are facing different challenges than processors, and so on. Providers at any stage must keep a close watch on the supply chain as a whole in order to become a trusted advisor to their customer. By taking the time to truly understand your customer’s situation, you are in a position to help them grow faster – and ideally boost your ROI at the same time. Too often, we get caught up in a simple transaction without looking at the bigger picture. If you can learn the business and can mitigate their pain, you become a part of the long-term strategy, rather than a means to an end.
Relationships are one of the most elusive aspects aiding in customer success. We tend to make a habit of climbing the org chart to reach the C-suite, while neglecting the relationships we already have within our customer’s organization. The C-suite may be the gatekeepers to the checkbook, but they are not always in touch with the day-to-day demands facing their employees. Who do you know in the business that is directly impacted by the service you provide? What insight can they give into what you are doing well, what you need to improve, and what would really help their business succeed? Who can validate that a pain truly exists? Sometimes it’s the end user at a grain handling site; sometimes is the business unit president. Look within your own organization. Every employee is both necessary and has a unique perspective. Every relationship is significant, regardless of the job title.
Early in life, you learned the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you’d wish to be treated. In business, this means doing what you say you are going to do; more specifically in technology, delivering on time and on budget. Your customer cannot be successful when they are left hanging. Margins in agriculture are exceptionally slim, and every day and dollar can have lasting effects on the business, and on the customer’s perception of you. Once that perception is jaded, it becomes an uphill battle to repair. By keeping your word, you are enabling your customer to keep their word to their stakeholders.
As service providers, we must view our customer’s success as our own. Were we able to make a process more efficient? Did we free up your resources to focus on other things? Did our solution change the way you interact with your own customer? What did that mean for your business and your bottom line?
The relationships we have with our customers are worth their weight in gold (or grain) because they enable us to continue customer engagement beyond a single product suite. They allow us to be innovators, and to innovate with a real-world application in mind. They push us to think outside of the box to solve their challenges, in turn helping us grow and develop our own capabilities and make us stronger. Your business is only as valuable as your customer believes it to be. Keeping your customer’s success at the top of your priorities will prove to have a greater value than any dollar amount could ever say.
By Michelle Howard, Solentra – a Cultura company, Brand Strategy Manager