One morning, as I was going through the usual ritual of working through my
e-mails to see what might change my planned schedule for the day, Larissa put her face around my office door that I had closed a few minutes before.
“Brian from EMI is on the phone. I think you had better take it.” She said. So I did.
I had known Brian for a couple of years and had been his Account Manager before being promoted. I would still see him occasionally, but we had assigned a new Account Manager, Linda, to his business about 6 months ago, who reported to me and he understood all this.
He was not happy. It appeared that Linda had not returned his calls promptly and deadlines had been missed. He felt that he was not being listened to and reading between the lines, I could tell he seemed to be feeling uncared for and unloved.
I knew Linda was swamped and I also knew she was one of my best and this was not about deliberate negligence or laziness. I listened to Brian’s beefs and said I would look into it and get back to him.
Linda and I met and what transpired was that Linda felt she had indeed not reacted quickly enough or been as attentive as he probably deserved as her workload had increased.
We needed to do something, as not only did I like Brian and he had been good to us, but also his company was a very key customer and this was now a watershed for Linda’s relationship with him. We needed to manage his expectations. If we did not, then Linda would lose his trust and he would start wanting me to be involved again, or even worse, our business could be put in jeopardy.
As we discussed this it became more apparent that Linda was letting internal tasks take precedence over the customer. So easy to do, but, as a result, we had a major problem to deal with.
Clearly, Linda was reacting to things coming at her, rather than being focused and in control of dealing with what really mattered. So we put a plan together which was as follows:
1. Allocate time every day to deal with customer e-mails
Linda had no scheduled time on her calendar for Admin, and e-mails. Like most of us, she just dealt with them as she got to them. So we scheduled 1-hour blocks to deal only with Customer e-mails, every day.
2. Ensure e-mail inbox prioritized customer e-mails
Most e-mail systems have the facility to flag or filter e-mails so that we can prioritize and sort our in-boxes. We set filters that ensured the customer e-mails were always at the top of Linda’s in-box when she opened her mail and so forced them to being attended to first.
3. Allow time to make customer calls
When we looked at how Linda was communicating with Brian, unless she was meeting with him, nearly all her contact was via e-mail. So we blocked time for making calls to check in and see if everything was okay and update each other on anything outstanding or in progress.
4. Set up special events and birthdays in the calendar
Linda was focused strictly on the business side of her customers. That is fine, but while relationships are built on trust and respect, the little things sometimes make people feel valued as much as the big ones. She had birthdays and anniversaries logged in the CRM system, but she had not done anything with them. We put the dates on her calendar and set a 2-day alarm to go off before the event, so she could mention them or drop a card or note.
5. Ensure the Admin was aware that customer calls and meetings took priority
Sometimes we do not make it clear to our Admin (if we are fortunate to have one) that customer messages and meetings take precedence. We marked it as an action for Linda.
6. Call the customer and tell them about the new priorities
Lastly, we agreed that instead of me calling Brian back and apologizing, that Linda do that and take the opportunity to tell him openly what challenges she had faced and what she was doing about them.
She did call him and he really appreciated it and things improved vastly, to the point where I felt an intruder when I joined Linda for a meeting with Brian.
Linda and I reviewed her progress for a quarter and when we saw the positive changes, I implemented the same things across our account team. None of them individually were big changes, but together they shifted our focus and attentiveness to our customers, without whom we cease to exist.
Could these things help you and your team prioritize better?