The following remarks were made by Bob Protzman, Vice President of Marketing, Schneider National, the world’s largest transportation company, at The Conference Board’s Conference on Relationship Management, May 12-13, 1998, held at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
Bob Protzman: "First, you will get dispassionate, objective observers who are well-trained and seasoned interviewers. They know what questions to ask and, sometimes more important, how to ask them. And they’re not inclined to start disagreeing with the customer, by defending themselves when the customer begins to criticize us. That’s very hard for your own people to refrain from doing. Remember, you need to define reality on the basis of the customer’s perceptions—not your own.
Second, a customer is much more likely to be up front and honest with an information broker than they are with you. We continually get information from these interviews that we have never heard before, and we’re talking to these people all the time! Believe it or not, even dissatisfied customers don’t want to hurt your feelings. So the honesty and quality of information you get through professional management consultants is far and away above what you could get on your own, in most cases.
Third, the customer is really impressed when you call in consultants to get to the bottom of a relationship problem. Clearly, it nails one problem that is almost always at the heart of troubled relationships—the perception that you don’t care. When our consultants have asked customers what Schneider National could do to serve them better, several of them have said, “Well, sending your consultants in here is a good start. It’s really impressive that Schneider National would do this.” One of those was one of the largest home center retailers, and this intervention by outside professionals was necessary to get a meaningful dialogue going with them. When you take the time and expense to send in professionals, they know you really must care after all.
Finally, the information is not only gathered and assembled but put into context and delivered with step-by-step suggestions on how you go about solving the problems that have been identified. S4 Consulting was there with us to provide that service. So you get data with analysis and the “so whats.”
I still remember the Key Account Assessment report on the paper manufacturer after S4 Consulting finished its customer interview process. On the very first page, we got a list of four things we should do right away, along with four things we should not do after reading the information in the report. It reminded us not to get defensive and prioritized for us the customer’s concerns….
Although the numerics on satisfaction weren’t terrible, the qualitative feedback was a wake-up call regarding many of the soft issues. Advice and contextual information like this is vitally important, and there is no way we could have come up with most of this on our own."