Would your customers say this about you?

Deliberate Strategies provides B2B customer experience research for companies in large-dollar relationships. Here are a few of the astonishing things we’ve heard while talking with companies’ customers. Would your customers say this about you?

Customer was ready to pull the plug

As soon as I can find an alternative, I’m going to fire them. We’ve had nothing but problems. All my other manufacturing vendors have established some type of rapport by their presence out here. The only time we have a rep from (this supplier) out here is to fix something. Their shipments are late, their error rate is high, and they pass blame rather than own up to their mistakes. We’ve paid them a lot of money getting this just-in-time program going, and we’re trying everything we can to make sure it works. That’s why we’ve continued to put up with below-par performance, but I’ve about had it.”

Speaker: Senior Vice President, national high-tech firm

Background: This multi-million-dollar account was on the verge of leaving our client and going elsewhere for their products, yet the president knew nothing about it. He was such a fearsome person the salesman didn’t want to risk getting blamed for problems caused elsewhere in the organization, so he kept silent. As soon as this interview was over we called the president to summarize what we’d just heard. The company immediately isolated and solved the problems and saved this important account. To quote the president after the dust had settled, “We dissected that relationship and put it back together again. Now they are one of our best customers.” The customer backed that up. We interviewed this account again the following year. This same Senior Vice President said in the follow-up interview, “They went from being a nightmare of a vendor to my best over night. They’re perfect now.”

Customer had secretly already pulled the plug

“After that last blown order, we informed our account manager Pat that we were sending out RFQs to do a price comparison. Pat never even indicated that they were going to re-evaluate our pricing. We’ve now selected another vendor based on price and quality. They don’t know I dropped them yet. Let me be the one to tell them.

Speaker: Purchasing Manager, financial services firm

Background: Sometimes we find out in an interview that a supplier’s customer is really a former customer. This surprise loss was a crushing blow to a commodity supplier that, on the whole, was viewed as responsive by most of its customers. Maybe other customers were squeaky wheels. She wasn’t. Lack of responsiveness was both a pattern and the last straw for this customer. The good-natured purchasing manager listed four missteps in quality and communication she’d tolerated before the RFQ she referred to was ignored. A quality control program that tracks rework by customer (thus alerting account managers to accounts that require special attention) might have prevented this loss.

Customer was tired of the foot-dragging

The current contract is at risk, in my opinion. If we don’t redo it, then we’ll have to figure out ways to unwind it. There are obviously ramifications for that, too. I’m not getting the sense that either party wants to do that. I’m just frustrated with what in my opinion is foot-dragging. To put it bluntly, the current relationship as reflected in the current contract is not acceptable to us. If they don’t change it, we would be looking to end the relationship.”

Speaker: Chief Operating Officer, consumer services firm

Background: We were told that our agenda with this COO was to “straighten him out” so the vendor who’d hired us could run billings up to the full $12 million they thought they’d been awarded. The vendor saw the contractual relationship requiring one set of activities from each party, but their customer (the COO quoted above) recognized that circumstances had changed in a fundamental way scaling back the scope of the agreement. The vendor was “in denial” about the changed circumstances. Once we told the vendor of the COO’s willingness to cancel their contract, a new, mutually workable contract was quickly drawn up. The vendor had to scale back their billings expectations to meet a new reality, but they didn’t lose the relationship, and they had been perilously close.

Customer could not be happier

“One of the services they provide us with is weekly sales-activity reports for our business. It would be cheaper to produce the reports in-house. At some point we might be able to handle this kind of sophisticated Information Systems reporting, but Hell will freeze over first!

Speaker: Senior Vice President, Fortune 500 high-tech firm

Background: Not every astonishing quote is negative. A service-bureau client of ours wasn’t willing to push a key customer for an early verdict on whether their existing contract would be renewed four months hence. As a neutral third party, we could weave the question about the contract naturally into the conversation. Our client was overjoyed to hear this lucrative contract was going to be renewed. What a perfect expression of account loyalty!

Supplier dropped the ball on the first play

“My expectations about the timetable weren’t even close to being met. We tried to make contact three or four times after they were first here to find out where we were going next and who was supposed to do what. It was tough to get satisfactory answers. If I were going into it again and I were them, I’d manage the client’s expectations up front, especially on a first engagement.”

Speaker: Senior Vice President, national consumer products firm

Background: This professional services firm was astonished to hear this feedback. In his face-to-face meetings, the Senior Vice President quoted here had given the professional services firm no clear indication he thought they were mishandling his account. Our client took immediate action and turned the relationship around.

Supplier couldn’t repeat great first impression

“We needed a product they offered. I called them up and they shipped it just fine. Then I tried to reorder it. Getting them to do anything was basically impossible. We almost shut down our production line because of their lack of responsiveness. I called, I left messages, I faxed a PO over; I did everything I thought I could do to help them out. That was the first time I ever had to call and ask for someone’s manager to get some help. Since then, we’ve gone elsewhere.”

Speaker: Purchasing Manager, consumer products firm

Background: We’re good, but sometimes we’re brought in too late, as with this account. Our client wasn’t able to win this customer back, but it motivated them to improve their customer-service training. We’ve determined through subsequent engagements that their customer-service training has been effective.

Customer appreciated not feeling stupid

“I am generally skeptical of consulting firms because I think lots of times you have to bring them up the learning curve on your business, and then they don’t add a whole lot of value. [This particular firm] has brought us up the learning curve instead. I’m impressed with their depth of knowledge and experience. Also, they’ve got it packaged up in a way that communicates the information well without making you feel stupid about not already knowing it.”

Speaker: Division Manager, Fortune 500 high-tech firm

Background: Our client in this case is a consulting firm. They incorporate feedback from our interviews with their customers into their marketing material. They compete with much larger firms and use their stellar reputation for delivering value as a way to differentiate themselves from the competition.