Time and time again, business executives and key account managers read statistics about how important customer retention is versus customer acquisition. This is why it’s important to understand the differences between key account management and customer support because retention is largely due to the work of KAMs, especially in companies where these particular accounts are a huge portion of your organization’s revenue.
Proactive vs. Reactive Approaches
The relationship between KAMs and their clients begins immediately. The key idea here is that it is a relationship, not a one-and-done interaction between them, as is often the case with customer support. In some organizations, the KAM is responsible for getting the client up to speed on the product, which may often include intensive initial training and ongoing education. The KAM must anticipate these needs and gauge how much or how little support to offer in different areas. They will also be much more likely, than your average customer support specialist, to already know the nuances of their client – quirks, communication style, and their all-important lists of do’s and don’ts.
Communications between KAMs and their clients are far more regular, and obtain specific objectives. While customer service tickets can often contain an objective, it’s not as strategic as those involved with KAM and client interactions. Communication is often, but not always, initiated by the KAM.
Customer Support tends to be a more reactive role, mostly responding to inquiries and quickly applying solutions or passing off to other departments to address. Key account management issues will arise, and good KAMs will be able to detect problems before the client notices. They will also be better equipped–with good insights and information about the client–to react according to the client’s expectations.
High-touch vs. Low-touch Relationships
This is exactly as it sounds. High-touch relationships involve a strong human presence, whereas a low-touch means it’s practically on autopilot. You might say, high-touch is simply more personal, and your KAM is obviously dedicated to you. Unless it is a very small company, even if I contact them five times in one week I am likely going to be answered by different people.
Customer support specialists have virtually no relationship with clients. They rarely if ever have each other’s contact information and certainly neither of them is on the other’s calendar for meetings. Traditional customer service relies on technology and automated processes to make it a low-touch relationship. There may be instances where a customer support specialist develops relationships with clients over time, but this is the exception, not the rule.
Strategy vs. Status Quo
KAMs have a much more defined picture of their clients, and thus they can come up with ways to keep their competition at bay. This does not happen by sitting back and performing the, often times, more repetitive customer support functions. Most customer support issues can be resolved quickly and with a solution that is generally applied across many other customers. However, for key accounts, the strategy has to constantly be reviewed and changed as need to adapt to clients’ needs.
Developing a strategy for key accounts is crucial, and often times these strategies are reviewed with upper-level management. It’s not to say that everyday customer support issues are not also covered in meetings, but their tend to be more overarching themes in customer service. If KAMs approached their accounts in this manner–not treating them individually–they might eventually lose the account, because the client will know when the KAM has invested time or applied a one-size-fits-all solution.
Key account management and customer support have only one thing in common – they both serve customers and clients on behalf of an organization. But, that’s where the similarities end. Existing key account clients already have a working knowledge of your products and presumably find value in your services. This is why the KAM approach has to be more proactive versus reactive, because retention is the end goal. Customer support has its place in a company, but it’s vital for your organization to understand that KAMs and customer support specialists are not interchangeable.