According to a report from Gallup, only around 29% of B2B customers are actively engaged with their sellers. An enormous 71% of customers are either indifferent (60%) or actively disengaged (11%). This is a reality check for B2B companies looking to form partnerships or gain a competitive in their industries. The same Gallup report showed that B2B companies with engaged customers had 34% higher profitability, making it an issue that’s worth looking into.
What is Client Apathy?
Client apathy can quickly lead to higher customer churn or below average customer spending. Apathy doesn’t mean that the customer doesn’t like what they’re getting from you or your company in general. Instead, client apathy is when your customers are not excited about your brand and do not care about who’s providing them the service. Apathetic customers are more than willing to move to a competing brand if the offer is better and the switching costs are low enough.
Loyalty and apathy are not compatible. It is impossible for customers to stay loyal to your business if they are apathetic, indifferent, or disengaged from you and your brand. Customers that feel like your product, service, or company are easily replaceable are not the kind of customers you want to have. Nipping customer apathy in the bud can help you build a better reputation for your business, long-term customer relationships, and strong partnership ties with key accounts.
Warning Signs of an Apathetic Client
How can you tell which clients of yours may be engaged and which ones are apathetic? Most clients will show signs one way or the other. It’s important to note that indifferent or apathetic clients are not quite the same as fully disengaged clients. Disengaged clients may be actively looking for other options or disconnecting from your company, or they may be too far gone to bring back with reasonable effort. Most disengaged customers have already made up their minds.
Apathetic customers are likely not to have a solidly negative or positive opinion of your company at that moment. You can notice this by how they interact with you, the depth of communication, and the energy they are willing to put into the deal.
Most apathetic clients will not have solidly formed answers to opinion-based questions, or they will respond with simplified answers to open-ended questions about their experience. Having and expressing a well-formed opinion shows that the client is not apathetic, although they may have some other problem instead. Short, nondescript answers or repetitive answers (either negative or positive) can be a strong sign of apathy.
Similarly, the depth to which the client is willing to discuss the partnership may be a sign of the presence of apathy. Clients who do not prioritize meeting with you to discuss progress or who seem content to only discuss base-level information may not be well engaged with your company. A client that is engaged in the partnership will want more details, frequent communication, and more collaboration.
Effort is a good sign of how engaged or disengaged a client is. If they are not willing to do more than the bare minimum, they are constantly slacking in one way or another, or if they’re not motivated to do what you agreed on, these are all signs of apathy.
6 Things to Do to Overcome Client Apathy
What do you do when you notice a client seems apathetic? You need to act quickly to keep things from getting any worse. Apathy can easily lead to churn unless you put in the effort to reverse it. Action is the opposite of apathy, which makes it the best option for you. Here are 6 things you can do to try to overcome your B2B client’s apathy:
- Check Your Value Proposition
Your client’s need or pain points may shift over time. If you’re not on top of those changes and aware of them, it’s easy to keep offering the same services you always have, even though they don’t meet the newly changed needs of the customer. It’s wise to keep up to date on the needs of your top customers so you can make sure you’re always meeting or exceeding them.
Examining your value proposition will take honesty on your part. You need to take a hard look at what you’re offering and honestly compare it to what your customer needs at that time. Sometimes you may have to go deeper into your research to see what they actually need versus what some of your contacts may tell you that they need.
Actual needs can sometimes vary from perceived needs. In some cases, your solutions may not be fit for their actual needs even though they fit the perceived needs of the customer. You may want to look further into the customer’s company to find out if what’s needed from you is changing, and how you can adjust your inputs into their company to give them better outputs.
It’s vital to keep your value relevant to the customer and fresh to meet their current and future needs. If value continues to decrease over time, they may look for a new value creator altogether.
- Reassess Your Communication Strategy
Are you approaching your clients correctly? Most people prepare extensively to make a good first impression on new clients, but that effort tends to fade over time if you’re not careful to nurture it and maintain excellent communication. You may think everything’s good in the partnership, but there may be problems with how you’re communicating with your clients.
Some examples of ways you can mess up your communication are by failing to explain the problems you solve well enough, being too technical, or assuming that you understand each other. Clients may not want to make decisions that they won’t feel the effects of by either avoiding pain or making gains. If you’re not communicating a problem well enough, they may not know what they will be avoiding or what they’ll be gaining by following through with your proposal.
Technical speech can impede communication when a client does not really get what you’re saying. If you are used to speaking with technical people, it’s easy to carry that over to other clients, but not all client contacts will understand the technical side of things. On that same note, it can be detrimental to client relations if you simply assume you’ve been understood all the time.
Your contacts may not ask for clarification or voice their confusion. Assuming you’ve been understood, especially when you’re covering a fairly complex topic, may lead to more misunderstandings and confusion than your partnership can handle.
- Meet New Client Contacts
Your list of client contacts may not be the best you can work with at all times. It may happen that some of your contacts themselves are feeling apathetic about your partnership, not the company as a whole. If this is the case, meeting and connecting with new individuals in the client’s company may help you get things back on track.
This is a good strategy to help with apathy, because there may be issues with your partnership that your current contacts are not letting you in on. They may be trying to spare you the trouble or trying to make a decision about you without your input. Either way, it can spell out trouble for the partnership if you don’t know what’s going on. A fresh face inside the client’s company can let you in on a new side of things that you may not have gotten from your existing client contacts.
- Refresh Your VOC
There is no better way to know how your customer is feeling about your partnership and progress than to ask them. Keeping your voice of customer (VOC) up to date can save you from an apathetic client situation by alerting you that something is wrong or helping you find the problem itself.
Some apathy problems can be fully discovered through an updated VOC. Clients may be willing to discuss the issues with you if you show interest and intent to find a solution. Even if they don’t tell you outright where the apathy is coming from, there are often clues in the communication that will help you discover the nature of the problem.
Speaking to your clients about VOC means talking to your contacts again about the company’s objectives, goals, and challenges. Some of these may have changed over time, even if just slightly. Changes to what’s expected and desired by the company or a shift in the challenges facing a client can raise the bar you have to reach to stay above the status quo. If you don’t want to fall below your competition, you need to change your standard of service to match your clients perfectly.
- Go Over Your Account Plan Again
Clients may grow apathetic if they lose sight of the mission. Account plans are supposed to be living documents that get discussed often and are adjusted as needed. It can be useful to help remind your clients of the goals you set together, the progress you’ve made towards the goals, and the steps needed to complete them.
Apathy is sometimes due to not knowing where you are or what’s going on with a partnership, so the account plan can be a great tool to help you get your clients engaged in the work again. When you’re looking it over with your clients, refresh it as you’re going. If the goals are outdated or inaccurate, they will not motivate you or your clients to do what’s necessary. Keep your account plan in the forefront and keep it updated to match your client’s needs as closely as possible.
- Don’t Assume Silence Is a Good Thing
The adage “no news is good news” does not apply to key account management! Not hearing from your clients is generally a bad sign. The worst thing about this apparent lack of updates is that it can lull you into a false sense of security. Some clients are not in need and will not have issues to approach you with, while others may have problems that they are not bringing forward.
Do not expect your clients to be the ones bring up their concerns all the time, especially if you’re not hearing from them regularly as it is. You should make it a regular part of your strategy to try to extract information about potential problems before they come to fruition. Approach your clients on your own accord to seek out any potential issues or challenges they may be facing. Learning about problems on your own is an easier and more reliable way to stay on top of the account.
Apathetic clients may not come to you with their problems or even mention their own apathy about the project. This is something you may have to dig up for yourself. If you start to assume there’s no problem simply because they are not mentioning anything, you risk losing a client over something that you may not even see coming because you didn’t seek out the information for yourself.
Key Account Managers are all about customer focus and growth. If what you’ve been doing up until now is not working to keep your clients engaged, you need to act quickly to combat apathy. It doesn’t matter if you caused it or not; it’s your responsibility to overcome client apathy if you want to maintain healthy partnerships with your key accounts.