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Managing Change
With Your Customers in Mind

By Craig Harrison

One surefire way to lose customers occurs during transitional periods. Any time there is a disruption in service, a change of personnel, a relocation, or even a major policy change, customers may opt out. Sadly, they don't always announce their defection...they just leave. By the time you realize they've gone it is likely too late.

Customer allegiance to your organization may be based on many factors, from price or convenience to tradition or personal relationships established with you or others in your firm. Do you know why your customers prefer you? I recommend asking. You may be surprised to find they're customers for reasons other than you assumed.

Recently, I changed two longtime professional relationships due to miscommunication. I left an accounting firm because my accountant of many years had retired and neglected to tell me. I only learned that my account had been passed along to a new associate when I happened to call to report a problem with a past tax return. My surprise quickly turned to anger at not being valued enough to be informed of this change at the time. Shortly thereafter when I called the main switchboard to inform the firm I'd be transferring my account elsewhere their interest was suddenly piqued. They asked me who they should route my call to. "Precisely!" I replied, for therein lay the problem.

How are you communicating changes in account management? Are you keeping your customers "in the loop" about who their point of contact is? Are your changes designed to better serve you or the customer? When in doubt, consider asking the customer what he or she would prefer.

That same month my money manager at another institution met an untimely death. Shortly thereafter I received a form letter telling me I had been reassigned to another manager. There was never a phone call or any direct contact to consider my needs and whether I would accept this blind assignation to a stranger. There wasn't even a mention of this person's credentials or qualifications. Their system had determined how best to pass along my account management. There was never any place for my input…to learn whether I'd rather work with a woman or a man, a younger or older professional, one who knows technology or foreign markets.

Business is built on relationships. My previous money manager had taken the time to get to know me, understand my needs and wants, and had learned how best to communicate with me. Her company didn't understand that my allegiance was to her, the one who listened, rather than to them, the parent company. Their disinterest in developing a new relationship is why I left that firm.

Assets come in many forms: buildings, fleets, hardware and software, and personnel. Don’t' forget your customers. They are a primary asset, a key part of your equation for success. Don't take their business for granted. Communicate with them regularly, and not just when there's a problem. Be sure to keep them informed of changes that will have an effect on them.

I recommend learning more about your customers' needs, desires and preferred styles of interaction. Listen closely to them and become partners in their success. And don't forget to care for them during times of transition. Any time there's a change that affects your customers, alert them, forewarn them or in other ways make sure that they aren't unpleasantly surprised. Remember, without attentive customer care you'll soon be asking "customer where?"

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