Solutions Success Story: Driving Client Loyalty through Dimension Data’s Client Advocacy Program
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By definition, technology-based solutions require the integration of products, services, and unique IP to address and resolve the complex business problems large corporations face today. While most solution implementations are ultimately successful, they are rarely easy for all of the typical reasons—the requirement to integrate with legacy IT systems, the reluctance to change management processes, the challenges surrounding collaboration and internal communications, to name just a few. Maintaining high client satisfaction and driving loyalty has always been a challenge.
Dimension Data is a global company specializing in IT and networking infrastructure solutions. Dimension Data Americas, one of five regional entities within this global company, is leading the way as the company establishes itself as a services-led organization. To accomplish this take more than words. It requires alignment, commitment and focus.
Dimension Data Americas has placed the client experience front and center by establishing its Client Advocacy Program. The focus of this program is to make sure that Dimension Data always provide its most strategic, operationally-oriented accounts with the best possible client experience.
Why a Client Advocacy Program Was Needed
In the past, the company’s sales representatives, in collaboration with its delivery teams, were directly responsible for “ensuring” client satisfaction. Given the pressures that both groups faced on a daily basis—and the sometimes conflicting perspectives they held between the “care and feeding” that the client required and growing the business through upselling or more efficient delivery—the Dimension Data team knew they needed a new approach. The solution: A group of professionals whose sole job was to engage with, and advocate on behalf of, their key clients.
How the Client Advocacy Program Works
Today, all of Dimension Data’s top North American clients are assigned a Client Advocate. These clients can contact their Client Advocate at any time to ask questions, express concerns or escalate issues. These Client Advocates are accountable for the delivery of all Dimension Data services for these clients—multi-vendor procurement, professional services and managed services. They work very closely with the assigned Account Executives to devise comprehensive support strategies (addressing all aspects of the clients’ operations). These strategies include an agreed upon commitment and approach to build upon client satisfaction to drive loyalty and advocacy. These also include documented processes to address and resolve issues…before they occur. The Advocates make it clear, however, that as long as the client has reasonable concerns, their first responsibility is to support the client’s agenda.
The Client Advocate is the day-to-day operational management leader for Dimension Data’s delivery teams. While there are operational leaders in each service area, the Client Advocates perform the over-arching service management function, acting as the primary escalation point between the client and Dimension Data. They also own the overall accountability for the successful delivery of our services, profitability of the accounts, and contributions to the growth of the business. They are also tasked with identifying any complex business processes within Dimension Data that negatively impact their clients, and driving required changes to ensure clients find it easier to do business with the company.
While this program is a relatively new facet of the Dimension Data engagement model, the company is very pleased with the initial results. “While we don’t yet have enough empirical data to measure success, we’re already getting very positive feedback from our clients that our Client Advocacy Program has been effective in helping us get closer to our clients and resolve core service delivery challenges more quickly,” said Brian Dowey, West Coast Operations Director. ”We have consistently resolved issues faster. More importantly, we have deepened our relationships and improved customer loyalty and advocacy across the board, simply by adding a Dimension Data advocate who is independent from our sales and delivery teams.”
While the initial indicators and anecdotal feedback have been positive, Dimension Data is taking its program measurement a step further with the development of a “Client Advocacy Matrix.” The Client Advocacy Matrix builds upon the concept of a Client Loyalty Matrix, as popularized by Walker Information, Jill Griffin and others. Walker’s version of a Client Loyalty Matrix is shown in figure 1, below for reference.
Figure 1: Client Loyalty Matrix
Source: Walker Information
Alan Sunners, East Coast Operations Director, and Brian Dowey created the Dimension Data Client Advocacy Matrix to further segment the upper right quadrant of the Customer Loyalty Matrix. This customization is based on the addition of objective and subjective measures of their clients’ ongoing relationship, as well as the client’s “attachment” to Dimension Data.
By mapping Client Advocacy in this way, Dimension Data can manage the progression of clients from Satisfaction to Loyalty to Advocacy, driving specific actions for each client (based upon where they fall in the Dimension Data Matrix).
Key Success Factors
For anyone looking to establish a similar program, Dowey and Sunners have the following recommendations:
- Invest adequate time to educate your company’s operational and functional leaders so they appreciate the value of a Client Advocacy Program. This is a key success factor so collaboration occurs and this results in a partnership rather than an adversarial relationship. It may take time for some leaders to understand that a Client Advocate is there to “advocate” on behalf of their client(s) to the point of potentially making life more difficult for operational and functional leaders.
- Take the time to align with Sales and all Account Executives within your company. In order for this program to succeed, Account Executives must see the value that Client Advocates provide. This may take time, but is essential so that both groups work to build a solid partnership, fully understanding each other’s roles and responsibilities.
- Make sure that the goals are understood by everyone as “long-term client loyalty” rather than “short-term revenue generation or profitability protection.”
- Don’t compromise in terms of the skills and experience that are required to be a Client Advocate. A person in this position needs to be well rounded—have a very tactful approach, a strong knowledge of your company’s business, and be able to get internal roadblocks cleared away in their quest to resolve and prevent client problems.
- Make sure the Client Advocate has deep operational experience. The right mix of experience and knowledge is critical to help drive change—both within the client and service provider organizations.
Improving the Experience
The fact that the implementation of complex, technology-based solutions is fraught with challenges and difficulties is a given. While the technologies and systems that are implemented typically end up working well in the end, sometimes a lot of “eggs get broken” in the process. Having a strong Client Advocacy program in place can ensure that the client enjoys and benefits from both the journey and arrival at the final destination.
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As companies begin to offer solutions and needs of customer for such increases, competition in effect heightened as well. Switching costs of customers are therefore dictated not only by the value of solutions but also of the service attached to it as well. In this regard, it is important to maintain a strong relationship with clients to ensure the company's hold of them. This can be done through post-implementation service of the solutions where in the company applies metrics to ensure the effectiveness of the offering and get feedback from client themselves. A Client Advocacy Program is therefore important because it not only emphasizes focus on their existing accounts but also provides an avenue to tap more opportunities to address within those accounts. Aside from consistent communication and relationship management, the program should also look into taking inputs and even collaborate with their clients as to areas of improvement and capabilities to leverage on. Doing this will not only build loyalty and trust but also foster innovation. In an industry where one's offering is almost the same as the other, it is in client services that one can compete in. If supported and leveraged on by Dimensions Data, it is possible that Client Advocacy Program will be the source of their competitive advantage.
I found this article really detailed and insightful. It is completely true that nowadays it is not enough to offer a product or a service, because there are other million companies that are offering the same product or service. These Client Advocate could definitely be the differentiator from others, creating a deep and personal relationship with the client. This would add a value to the company's offering.