We have turned the topic of key account management inside out, upside down, and backwards, trying to understand exactly what it takes to be an effective key account manager. We’ve discussed the importance of account planning, proactive strategizing, goal tracking, and Voice of Customer. However, we have rarely discussed the underlying interactions that drive a successful and solid key account relationship.
As with any customer-facing role, there is so much more to building relationships than strategic planning and proactive account management. Although those aspects are critically important to managing key accounts, the long-term success of a key account relationship often boils down to the rapport felt between the key account manager and their contacts.
So, what’s the key to building a stronger rapport with your customers? Empathy.
The Empathy Index
Recently, we ran across a news piece on the Harvard Business Review blog that suggests the importance of empathy in the workplace. The article ranks companies by their score on the Empathy Index, which measures a brand’s ability to understand its emotional impact on others and make changes accordingly.
The top five most empathetic companies included Facebook, Alphabet (Google), LinkedIn, Netflix, and Unilever—all leaders in their respective industries. The five least empathetic companies were Bharat Petroleum, Sun Pharmaceutical Industries, ICICI Bank, Severn Trent, and Bharti Airtel.
This study used different metrics across the categories of ethics, leadership, company culture, brand perception, and public messaging through social media. Interestingly, the authors found a direct link between the Empathy Index, as calculated in the study, and a company’s profitability.
According to the article, “The top 10 companies in the Global Empathy Index 2015 increased in value more than twice as much as the bottom 10, and generated 50% more earnings (defined by market capitalization).”
As intangible as it may be, empathy can and does have an impact on the success of a business. As a key account manager on the front lines of your organization, empathy could be the secret ingredient that enables you to build stronger and more successful relationships with your most valuable customers.
Key Account Management and the Link to Empathy
Though key account management and business branding are two very different things, this concept of using empathy to build trust and strengthen relationships applies to nearly every aspect of a business. Key account customers want to feel like you are their ally, someone on their side, listening to their concerns and advocating for their needs. And this is where empathy comes in.
One of the most important parts of building and sustaining long-term relationships with key accounts is good communication, rooted in empathy. This means actively listening, thoughtfully answering, and considering the emotional context of your conversations with your customers.
Did they seem agitated when talking to you about missed goals? Did they seem hesitant to switch strategies or test a new product? Or, perhaps, did the news of a new feature leave them excited and grateful for your help? Looking beyond a customer’s words and focusing on their emotional cues can give you deeper insight into your key account relationships and enable you to change your strategy accordingly.
Empathic communication allows you to demonstrate to your key account contacts that you genuinely care about their business and its success. This type of communication makes your customers feel heard and demonstrates that you’ve gone out of your way to understand things from their perspective.
Key account managers are in a unique position to positively (or negatively) affect customers’ perceptions of your company. Therefore, key account managers need to be excellent listeners; they should be models of empathy and responsiveness. They should take pride in easing customers’ pain points and working to find solutions to their problems. By taking a more empathetic approach to KAM, key account managers will foster more meaningful and trusting relationships with their customers.