I can NOT survive without my smartphone. It holds all my contacts, I can access all my work emails, I can navigate the internet, have access to really useful apps and ofcourse – make (and receive) all those important business phone calls.
Everything is just so accessible via my smartphone and personally, reminiscing on how life was before the smartphone is not a distant memory I care much for. I’m a 100% positive that I’m a much better Key Account Manager because of the instantaneous responses I can give my customers; ensuring that they get the best service possible.
But when is a response time too prolonged? Just how long is a response to an email or a voice-mail message just unacceptably too long?
According to a report in the Harvard Business Review, in regards to customer response timeliness, outlines that companies that respond within an hour of the initial enquiry gain nearly 7 times as likely of successful conversation with key decision makers than companies that do not respond within that hour.
One hour? Geez – that’s a pretty tight timeframe! As many sales reps know – we’re expected to make a certain number of proactive visits to key accounts per day, come up with valuable strategies, be firefighters and solve technical issues, do the numerous quotations that are demanded of us and ofcourse, try to convert those quotes into actual sales. So just when are we supposed to have the time to answer an enquiry from a customer within an hour of their initial contact with all of this happening?
In my early years of being an account manager, I used to fret over every new email that ‘pinged’ my smartphone where I would stop whatever I was doing – check the email message and reply accordingly. Hey this tactic was great for that particular customer – they were getting a response in a flash. But as we all know – sometimes customer enquiries are just not that easy to respond to. You might need to wait on product managers or supply planners to provide the relevant information to the customer which can turn into an event that takes half a day. Not exactly the value-add response time of an hour huh? And because I was relying on other people for responses to provide a customer and not being able to give it within an hour – I would stress out. And I mean majorly STRESS out. There obviously was no point in stressing, and by maturing in my role – I gained a pretty solid process that I follow:
So what’s the biggest lesson that I’ve learnt about customer responsiveness? It’s the ability to understand how to prioritise each enquiry to gain the most benefit. That does not neccessarily mean that I only concentrate on the customers that usually provide the biggest sales, but more in regards to actually listening to what requires the utmost urgency and just plain old common sense. When you’re relying on other sources, this then becomes something out of your control – but what you can control is the communication to your customer. So if you still haven’t obtained the information that you need from that other source (person) within a timely manner, then let your customer know for goodness sake! The worst thing is to leave your customer hangin and thinking “Is my sales rep ever gonna get back to me?”.
An addition to handling customer enquiries and the response times to those enquiries is the understanding of when to utilise the resources around you. For example – my current role as a Key Account Manager is to primarily create strategies to grow with my aligned customers and to ofcourse, gain profit margin for the company I work for. So when a customer has a stock standard enquiry on standard pricing, or stock levels or even a simple question on leadtimes on delivery of stock – I’m not going to waste valuable time on responding to these enquiries. Why? Because these are tasks that the internal sales or the customer service desk can answer for me. It’s not a case of handballing the enquiry off to the internal team – instead, it allows me to empower their position to my customer, emphasising to my customer that they are just as valuable as I am to them, for they have the information they require.
It isn’t too difficult to correlate that the rate of a response time to a customer can determine the success of your relationship with them. But it is the skill of identifying which enquiries require an immediate response or whether a delayed response is acceptable. Many customers will usually highlight that every enquiry is highly urgent – but if a customer is honestly provided with realistic and accurate response times due to good communication, they will usually let you know if their enquiry is urgent or not.