To say today's startup lives or dies by the customer experience it delivers is almost an understatement. In fact, according to a Gartner survey, the number of companies that say they'll compete primarily based on customer service has jumped from just 36 percent in 2010 to 89 percent.
Related: Match the Rewards to the Results
Look no further than the phenomenal success of Amazon Prime to see a company that's betting on a differentiated, mutually beneficial experience to create loyal, lifelong and lucrative customer relationships.
The company's strategy focuses on cumulative net gains rather than transaction-by-transaction gains, which means the company may not make money on every interaction, but in the long term, the product is a win-win for Amazon and its customers.
So far, the bet is paying off. The number of Prime subscribers is fast approaching half of the U.S. population, and they're driving 80 percent higher profits than non-Prime customers. Companies should take note: With clients and vendors, simply establishing transactional relationships in which each side gets what it expects is no longer enough.
Moving beyond aspiration
Companies want to build collaborations in which the vendor becomes invested in a client's long-term success. Consequently, the vendor's business benefits from the deepening relationships that result when longstanding clients become the vendor's biggest advocates.
So, if everyone wins, why are such mutually successful relationships so difficult to achieve? The answer is that mutual client-vendor success sometimes requires fighting basic human nature. "What's in it for me?" people tend to ask as the natural default.
Instead, shifting to a mindset of "What's in it for the company or client?" takes practice. Without a strong commitment, it's easy to lose sight of the bigger shared vision. Startups and early stage companies -- whether vendors or clients in any given equation -- have a unique opportunity to define mutual success and create a culture that puts a day-to-day emphasis on keeping shared goals top of mind.
And if: 1) vendors don't fall back into selling mode with their clients, and 2) clients consistently involve their vendors in the development of their strategic vision, both parties can achieve mutually beneficial partnerships that transcend the traditional transactional model.
With so much on the line for both, here are three steps to take to make mutual success more than an aspiration:
1. Talk less. Reward action.
Mutual success is easy to talk about but difficult to achieve. Workplace culture shifts are destined to fail when they're all about words, with no incentive to change behavior. One of the most foundational ways to drive change throughout your organization is to structure compensation, to reward desired behavior.
Here, it's important to know that employee compensation accounts for up to 70 percent of a company's operating budget. So this expenditure must be carefully calibrated to generate the best return on investment. The overnight shipping industry offers a classic example of the role compensation can play in inspiring employees to work toward the right objectives.
Let's say that an express delivery carrier pays its package handlers by the hour. This only incentivizes them to take longer to do their jobs, because natural human selfishness has come into play. That, in turn, leads to delays, and disappoints the clients awaiting their packages. Basing compensation on planes getting loaded up and taking off on time would not only better align employee incentives with the carrier's vision, but also define what shared success looks like.
2. Differentiate on the basis of reciprocity.
Standing out in a crowded field is a challenge for any company, as a recent survey showed, when 86 percent of B2B buyers surveyed said they saw no significant difference among competing products.
The key is to identify standard practices in your industry and determine whether they serve the goal of mutual client-vendor success. Start by asking yourself, "Do these practices align with advocating for mutual success?" and, "Is there an opportunity to create new practices that align better with that strategy?"
Take my software design company, for example, which is in a space that requires innovation. To align our clients' desire for innovative solutions with our internal practices, we assign developers to a project from start to finish rather than have them work by the hour on different client accounts. Dedicated teams not only distinguish Clevertech as a choice vendor, but also promote collaboration.
Developers gain insights into our clients' challenges, and clients can contribute to the solutions.
3. Reinforce the concept regularly.
Achieving long-term mutual success across all your teams requires constant follow-up and reassessment to maintain the behaviors you create to support it. In fact, research shows that 90 percent of new skills are lost within one year if they're not rewarded and reinforced. The day-to-day grind is distracting, and people are forgetful creatures, by design. So, if you don't review by highlighting stories of mutual success, you'll find that that focus will be easily forgotten.
Creating a culture in which desired actions and successful outcomes are celebrated helps keep shared client-company goals top of mind for employees. At Clevertech, we reward those who go the extra mile -- such as the developer who worked all night to deliver for a client -- by sharing their victories with the whole team, via a nicely designed newsletter.
Broadcasting such real, replicable stories of teammates going over and above translates those efforts into high-level goals for employees' peers. Moreover, it combats forgetfulness and ensures that a mutual-success mindset remains a hallmark of your company's identity.
On the surface, everyone believes in the principle of mutual success. But taking that concept from aspiration to standard operating procedure is both incredibly simple and incredibly difficult. Your diligence will be well worth it, though.
When you make mutual success your No. 1 priority, your company will naturally rise to the top of its field.