Lessons From a Customer-Centric Partnership - Tungsten and IOFM

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As a volunteer usher at local theaters, I am often being advised to always smile, be helpful and provide information when asked. "You're the face of our theater," a house manager will tell us. "You're the ones interacting with our customers."

That's all true but then there's a missing link in that process. I'm not being encouraged or told to report back what I hear.

This occurred to me this morning while reading a Q&A on Ad Age with Connie O'Brien, chief marketing officer at U.K.-based Tungsten Network. They've partnered with the Institute of Finance & Management (IOFM)—a division of SIPA member Diversified Communications—to "develop a diagnostic tool called FrictionFinder.com, a 20-question survey around the whole cycle of the e-invoicing process."

Asked about the lessons she's learned from this partnership, O'Brien says, "The primary lesson throughout my whole career is to just listen, because not only is there great information with long-term resident knowledge that we've never captured in other places, but the storytellers are in our office—the people who are on the sales front line, the people who are talking to the customer on a regular basis. So really being sure to listen and make sure that those nuances are getting picked up."

That seems like great advice. Talking to the customer is one thing, but truly listening to her or him can be quite another.

"We talked to our customers," O'Brien said. "We have a lot of data that's at our fingertips based on various research companies, but we needed to hear more unfiltered data around what our customers were looking for. Fielding a survey online and at industry trade shows, we were able to gather data on the biggest causes of friction in the procure-to-pay process, research that yielded the Friction Index... It is also giving us real voice-of-the-customer data that can help inform our product roadmap."

FrictionFinder.com is actually a very cool site. The survey sits on the homepage and is warmly recommended: "In less than 2 minutes, you can assess the extent of the problem AND gain actionable insights that can help you achieve a frictionless future saving you time, money and countless headaches. Answer the first five questions below to get started."

On this same microsite, visitors can also find blog posts and entertaining videos. The first video features a 2½-minute experiment with a host and a pseudo physics professor to show what a frictionless encounter truly means. Who knew that the subject of removing friction from the supply chain could be so entertaining?

At BIMS earlier this month, listening to the customer and frictionless customer experiences provided a major theme. According to Robyn Duda, VP of brand strategy & experience design for UBM, 86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience. And by 2020, customer experience will overtake price as the biggest driver for event attendance. (I will definitely be writing more about Duda's eye-opening events session.)

Debra Walton, global managing director, customer proposition, financial & risk, Thomson Reuters, agreed. She said that focusing on the customer has literally meant the world to the global company. "What we find from customer satisfaction ratings is that the ease of doing business is the greatest driver we have for their reasons to recommend us." In other words, yes, you did a good job on delivering the product but the ease of doing business and getting contracts done has even more value. Apparently, frictionless processes are universally valued.

"We can't wake up on any given morning without seeing a new competitor," said Ethan Eisner, vice president and managing director global commercial markets, ReedTech. "[And usually they're] well-funded and can operate at a loss. But because of that, we focus less on news of the day, and more on what does our customer need, what are their real challenges, and how can we help them be successful?

"Focus on the customer and everything will work out in the end."

Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…