Accountability and Agreements

While was working on these content and experience videos, I realized that I needed to create a video about the role of accountability and agreements in conversations and building relationships. It’s so important to understand the impact of accountability, expectations, and agreements when we are creating customer experiences to support the customer relationship lifecycle. In fact, whenever you talk about customers in your company, accountability should be front of mind.

I see at least 5 outcomes from a business: engagement, accountability, loyalty, the brand, and revenue.  Engagement represents the interaction and conversations between customers and companies themselves. Accountability are the agreements made. Loyalty is a result of these conversations and agreements. The brand is the company’s essence, who it is. And revenue indicates how well you do all of this. 

So accountability is a key element in the revenue equation and an outcome of the brand and values and conversations. 

Now to get started on this video, what is accountability and why should we care? Today, I’ll be using the definitions my book, Revenue or Relationships: Win Both to answer that question. I’ll also be sharing the types of agreements customers have to companies and companies have to customer and defining what explicit and implicit agreements are beyond being legal and contractual agreements. And after much thought…rather than reading to you from the book, which may be boring to watch, I’m going to present the excerpt as I would if it were a video talk. I hope you enjoy! 

"Accountability runs deeper than responsibility. Being responsible means that you will personally complete an activity. Being accountable means that you are responsible for achieving a specific outcome. Typically accountability is associated with the ultimate decision-maker and authority for an organization, but anyone in a team could be held responsible to achieve an outcome. This is why accountability is closely related to leadership. Leaders are focused on achieving specific results (or outcomes). The individuals responsible for activities may or may not succeed contributing to the result, but that’s not necessarily their job. Their job is to get to the work done. Leaders are empowered to achieve a successful outcome in the best way possible, including changing the course of action and activities if the original action plan isn’t effective.

Accountability means that you will achieve what you say you’ll achieve—and take responsibility if you don’t. It’s not about the work done. It’s about achieving a goal. 

Being accountable also means that you are responsible for upholding an agreement. Employees may be responsible for upholding agreements with customers in their day-to-day work, but the company and its leadership are ultimately responsible for these customer agreements, even if a customer is already part of the company community. No matter how close a customer is to the company (even if they are perceived to be “family”), how involved they are in company activities, or how they provide input, that is not an excuse to take a customer for granted. Each customer interaction is an unexpected gift. But this means that a customer has accountability too. Although a customer owes your company nothing, that doesn’t mean that customers can’t be held accountable for its success or failure. A customer is just as accountable for a company’s success as its employees and leadership because they are members of the company ecosystem and community. They aren’t responsible to directly provide the input or take action (it is the job of employees to gather that information), but they are minimally accountable to provide feedback to the company upon request. They also provide input and feedback through their actions, digital footprint, expressed preferences, and direct comments. This feedback is vital to keep a company in business and understand who its customers are. 

However, for a company to expect customer accountability, it needs to be held accountable by customers to meet their expectations as well. To me, there are five customer expectations for a company that will help build trust and encourage engagement: 

1. The customer expects that the company cares to build a product that will solve their problems. A company needs to be vulnerable and open to listening to what the customer needs and expects from their solution. Companies can’t assume that they know exactly what their customer wants. They don’t. They don’t live their lives and they don’t know what they think, even if they feel they are empathetic to their customers’ challenges. Research is required to understand them. Such research can include metrics and statistics collected from their digital footprint. In business today, customers expect that companies will do this on their own. And companies that don’t won’t be able to connect with their customers to create an experience that builds trust, encourages engagement, and creates this environment of accountability. 

2. The customer expects that the company cares to get to know them. Every interaction is an opportunity for the company to get to know the customer. Customers today know that companies gather data about them and are comfortable with that, even if the company is slightly intrusive regarding privacy issues. If that information gathered will create a better product and experience for customers, they generally accept and approve of it. However, this comes with an implied agreement that a company will also protect their data. We may think that customers are clueless about the use or misuse of their data in business, but that’s not true. Most people understand and are sensitive to hacking issues in their digital lives and the implication of identity theft. However, they also understand that companies track their purchases and know how good of a customer they are. So customers today expect that this information is taken into consideration during every customer experience. If not, a customer may be disappointed by assuming that the company “knew” who they were and didn’t provide any indication of that. Some example of customers assuming that a company knows who they are include: Customers calling a company on their cell phone and the company validating who the customer is (not asking who they are). 

  • A company merchandising products to you based on past purchases and browsing history. 
  • A company not asking you why you don’t have cable at home because you gave the same reasons the previous 49 calls. 

3. The customer expects the company to be able to solve their problems. Customers often don’t know how to describe their challenges and how to solve their problems by identifying requirements. And they shouldn’t need to do that; that’s not their job. The company has professional researchers who can guide them through the requirements gathering process and find ways to help the customer best. However, for requirement-gathering activities and for research, the customer needs to be available to participate and provide those insights. Customers generally want to participate and be part of the company’s community and this activity is a great way to do that. Most customers don’t know how to create a solution for their problem in the way a company and its employees can. Requirements gathering events with customers can be inclusive, engaging, and fun! They have a great time sharing their thoughts and ideas. 

4. When a customer purchases a product, they expect it to work as advertised. That is part of the agreement they make with the company when they purchase it: The product works as promised and meets the marketing promises it made. That’s what sets customer expectations. Products and solutions should work as the customers expect it to work. 

5. If the product doesn’t work as expected, the customer expects the company to fix it. This is also part of the unspoken agreement made during the purchase, or an explicit agreement in a warranty or guarantee. A customer often doesn’t care how the company fixes it or how many people it contacts or calls to do it. The process is less important than the action."

As mentioned earlier, this idea works the other way, too: a customer should be accountable to help a company. This excerpt is taken from later in the book, but for the purpose of this video, I decided to move it here. So what exactly should a company expect of a customer, besides purchasing a product? 

"1. Provide open and honest feedback about products and operations. Customers must provide this feedback so the company can improve. If a company doesn’t understand the challenges and problems of its product, it can’t adequately help customers solve their problems. There needs to be some type of feedback loop available for success. 

2. Pay a fair price for the product. Sometimes customers want to pay close to nothing for a quality product. This isn’t fair to the company—or the customer. Expecting products to be free isn’t helpful for a company to continue being in business. And it doesn’t help a customer. People tend to value what they pay for regarding products and services. So if they value and prioritize your goods, they should pay something. 

3. Choose whether they purchase or not. High-pressure sales doesn’t help anyone. It also doesn’t help how people see your company. The decision to purchase needs to be with the customer. They could be encouraged to purchase during the relationship-building process in the buyer’s journey, but ultimately a customer decides if they want to purchase a product or not. 

4. Be an honest champion. This can’t be stressed enough. In a world in which companies push multiple messages at customers, we listen to our peers. And if a peer is giving you information that isn’t true, that doesn’t help you or the company. People need to share their experiences honestly. It helps everyone in the process. 

Now, to be fully accountable, a company needs to build a two-way communication channel with the customer to accept feedback and insights, which will help establish an emotional connection. This can start by tracking a customer’s digital footprint using metrics from a product, marketing, or support. If a customer is able to use this company’s product to solve a problem that is important to them, that person may write review content with more information that extends their relationship with that company and may create a deeper connection or relationship with the company or its readers. Purchasing a product cements the relationship through a type of commitment. A feedback loop with the customer or prospect provides the company with direct insight for how its product can help them better strengthen their connection. Activities that support this process include surveys, support calls, feedback emails, or even comments on social media. That’s one way that a company can be held accountable— and be vulnerable. The company can then understand what’s working well and what needs improvement. They are open to critique. Even if the company doesn’t have all of the answers, that’s okay. They understand the customer’s needs so they can solve them in the future.

A transparency mindset is important among employees to reduce blame and improve communications.  Encouraging employees to work more openly with each other, focused on what needs to be done and why it needs to happen, will help them be more productive. When a team is focused on who is doing what in a specific way, they are not as effective or innovative as simply making sure that the feature is built. Focusing on who, what, and how when a team is executing a plan subconsciously limits the number of available solutions to a problem because it is focused on considering only the approaches that include those parameters. Focusing on the why for a project redirects your team’s focus to achieve a business goal rather than complete a task and allows them to freely determine which activities will achieve that. This idea can extend to customers. Customers want to understand that key features are being implemented or their issues are being fixed. They are less concerned about who is doing the work or how they are doing it or what exactly is being done. They simply want it done. This is why customers may seem to have more creative ideas. They are not limited by organization structures that may dictate which team is responsible for completing a task with a specific approach. They just want their work done to achieve their own goals. 

Without customers included in the process to be held accountable to voice their concerns and needs, a company can’t be held accountable to deliver a valuable solution. A dependency between a customer and the company needs to exist in order for the company to be successful. If one side drops its accountability, then the company is doomed for failure."

Now, from another section of the book, I define what explicit and implicit agreements are and why they are important. Here’s the excerpt:

"As previously discussed, a company should be accountable to its customers to create a great product, and customers should be accountable to the company to provide input and feedback. In companies, we often forget that we work for our customers. Customers are the people to whom CEOs are really accountable—not the shareholders. The shareholders would be more upset if the customers are unhappy and leave than if they missed receiving stock dividends. Shareholders know that they won’t get any dividends if you have no customers. Customers pay our paycheck, pay the rent, keep the lights on, and pay the dividends. Their happiness is vital to any company’s success. Without great customer relationships, many companies would need to close. 

Accountability plays a key role in any customer experience. Successful transactions require agreements. The customer agrees to pay a company or complete some activity, and the company agrees to deliver products or services. That’s an explicit agreement, which includes all of the traditional legalities such as terms and conditions, purchase agreements, warranties, guarantees, service-level agreements, and related legal documents. Agreements cover the legal side of the customer experience for service delivery. 

There are also the explicit agreements a company makes through sales and marketing messaging when it communicates the problem it solves and the solution it offers. Marketing and sales messages outline a type of contract, setting customer expectations and stating the customer offer. It is up to the customer to inform the company and other prospects and customers whether the company delivered on those assertions and agreements. This usually happens through reviews and word-of-mouth referrals. 

There are also implicit agreements based on a customer’s experience of competitors in the same and different industries. Competitors help define our industries and markets, and without them, we may not have a customer audience to target. They also help shape the expectations customers have for solutions and services through baselines, parity, and best practices. That helps define what’s considered to be a “good” or “bad” customer experience."

In a separate video, I will cover baselines, best practices and parity. There’s a lot there to discuss. But for now, I hope this background about accountability and implicit and explicit agreements is helpful when watching some of the other videos to help you create your plans and have more insights into why your customers do what they do.

Thanks! Hope this was helpful! Have a great day!