You’ve been there, your company has a crisis, your technology breaks, the client is negatively impacted, damage is done and now you must recover. How do you recover as fast as possible? How do you get the client back quickly? The answer lies in building up a runway of trust and good will, long before the crisis happens, that you can fall back on when needed. Realize that every single touch point you have with a client contributes to your runway. These touch points go beyond the highly visible sales meetings or regular communication between your account executive and the clients’ main business contact. Other touch points that contribute to runway are also things like the technical help you administer, calls taken from their finance department on billing, emails sent from your product team to their development team, the online help chat you offer etc. All of these little things have a place in how the client views your company, which builds their level of trust and ultimately makes up your runway. The only guarantee we have in building technology is that it will eventually break. When it does break, everything you have done for the last many months/years will dictate how fast you recover.
The trick about all these little things is that you can’t cram them in on short notice. Good, strong runway has to be built over time by paying close attention to the little things. This is easy to write, but hard to execute. Paying attention to little things has to be a mantra that is identified and practiced by the employees who are leading the account in sales, business development or account management. When is the last time your business development lead publicly praised a junior accounting assistant for promptly responding to an inquiry from the client’s finance department? Many business teams focus on the clients’ main business point of contact, which is absolutely the right thing to do. However, the strongest runway comes from also paying attention to other departments at the client who interface with your company. Business teams often overlook the benefit of creating positive inter-departmental chatter at the client. Different departments routinely talk with each other about which vendors are easy to work with, who can be trusted, who listens to issues, responds quickly, who they actually have met etc. When a client has a crisis with you, interdepartmental communication about your company will instantly start. When this happens, having cross department support gives your main point on contact comfort in a decision to restore your service back. In contrast, if cross department chatter is negative about your company, the client can delay or cancel restoration for not wanting to extend the risk beyond the crisis at hand. The best way to ensure positive cross-departmental support for your company is to pay attention to the little things.
The only way to get a team to start paying attention to the little things is to model and call out the behavior internally. This is not intuitive. For example, when someone executes a little task well, account leads should publicly praise the behavior. This shows others in the organization that their touch point, no matter how small, is highly valued and does matter. Without this constant attention, the little things fade into the background and by default become undervalued over time. Employees don’t see or feel the importance and this is opportunity lost, which translates over time into a shorter runway.
The best time to build runway is when things are smooth and uneventful. I encourage you to think proactively and pay close attention to details, when things are going great. Many companies do the exact opposite and pull back when things are running smoothly. Small touch points can turn into big wins down the road. Challenge all levels of your company to add as much value as possible when it comes to touch points, and to recognize that little things carry much weight. Many people ask me what am I most proud of at Outbrain, and the answer is always “our team and reputation in the market.” A sterling reputation is built on little things, and if you pay close attention to maximizing them, the runway will be there when you need it next.