Turn the world and change. However, there are some things that remain like the desire – almost the need – of companies to maintain long-term relationships with their customers and suppliers. Regardless of the company's activity, being able to establish a link that is maintained over time is a value on the rise.
In times of uncertainty, when various problems arise, long-term relationships are a guarantee to face specific difficulties and direct the company's progress towards the future on the right path. However, it is not easy to have the ability to build customer loyalty, nor is it easy to build long-term relationships with strategic suppliers. To try to discover the keys to this ongoing process, four experts from various companies and sectors participated in the Future Banco Sabadell Dialogues session with La Vanguardia.
Luisa Masuet, General Counsel
Continuing with the essence of the loyalty process, Carlos Torrecilla, professor of Strategic Marketing at Esade, considers that it is not only necessary to know "what our customers want and provide it over the years, but also to understand why they want it". Answering this question could be thought to require having experts capable of doing magic in the structure of companies, but common sense appeals to measures based on observation, analysis, the ability to measure behavior and success in identifying the future trends.
Joan Tristany, general director of AMEC, a business association that brings together internationalized industrial companies, adds the need for companies to combine the short and long term. The executive affirms that it is “one of the most difficult elements in the world of business management”. Even more so in times like the ones we live in, “with a very changing environment, full of unknowns that affect the evolution of consumer tastes and also the way in which we relate to each other”. How to overcome this situation? Tristany is committed to "establishing a certain agreement, some lines of consensus, both with clients and with suppliers, especially the most strategic ones, such as banks, in which communication is fundamental".
"The average relationship we have with SMEs is 13 years," explains Albert Figueras Moreno, deputy general manager of Banco Sabadell and director of Companies, Businesses and the Self-Employed. A fact that “we can consider to be long-term, because in those 13 years a lot of things happen to a company and it must make many decisive decisions for its future”, clarifies Figueras. The bank executive assures that "we make an effort to try to find out what the client values in the relationship and makes him want to continue working with us." A process that "allows us to accumulate a lot of information and identify many reasons, but there is always one that weighs more than the rest: the manager", he clarifies.
Figueras certifies that “the human factor, the ability for someone to understand you, listen to you and find out how they can add value to you manages to generate trust”. Working to increase that level of trust is decisive for the client to maintain the relationship over time and even deepen it. “The life cycle of companies changes, new needs, new concerns and also opportunities arise, as is happening now with sustainability or Next Generation funds, and we must be able to make the client identify that we adapt to respond to what it happens at every moment”, concludes Figueras.
Luisa Masuet agrees that trust is key to being able to build relationships that are sustained over time. McDonald's management ensures that "it is key to have a manager who knows your business model, your history and culture well; that he understands you, that he knows what you need at all times.” For this executive, “this is how good long-term relationships and, above all, trust are built”.
Masuet mentions that technology also plays a relevant role, although in this matter he places it one step below the human factor. "It is the combination of both factors that makes the difference when it comes to generating a unique experience between the consumer and the brand." McDonald's management thinks that "technology contributes to making processes more agile, but the human factor is what provides the differential value that allows building long-term relationships of trust".
"It's about the grandfather's store that knew everything about the customers," intervenes Torrecilla. "Time passes, the company grows and the son no longer knows all the clients." For the marketing expert, market studies cannot resolve all knowledge gaps, "because they often focus on short-term aspects." The Esade professor considers that in the process of growth of many companies "something of that most abstract part of the knowledge of the reasons and motivations of the clients can be lost, which must be recovered".
For the participants in the session, one of the defining moments that helps consolidate long-term relationships occurs when difficulties arise. And in these circumstances the human factor is crucial. "If there is a problem, that is the time to put all the resources in the world because that is when the client decides whether to leave or continue," says Torrecilla.
Technology can be the best ally to enhance and make this human talent accessible. The head of companies at Banco Sabadell points out that when building long-term relationships, the needs of companies evolve "and the manager does not always have the in-depth knowledge to be able to advise the client, even if he has his trust". The solution is to be able to provide the client with the advice of an expert, "but face-to-face presence makes it very difficult to have the right person at the moment, and yet a video call makes it feasible."
For Torrecilla, in a relationship with a client "there will come a time when you will say no to one of their requests." The teacher assures that this circumstance is the prelude to consolidate the bond. "Let's say that satisfaction is the management of the yes, but loyalty is the management of the no". If this process is done well, with solid, sincere arguments, "it is when the client understands that we advise him, we accompany him and that is when the company has him for life", he concludes.
The general director of AMEC points out that a change is taking place in companies that favors a new vision of relationships with customers and suppliers. The starting point of this new paradigm “was already seen in August 2019 when the CEOs and presidents of the main North American companies that participated in the Business Roundtable made a declaration assuring that apart from being committed to the shareholder, they committed to working for the rest of the stakeholders of their companies, and customers are also included there”, says Tristany. For this manager "now there is a general attitude in companies to take maximum care of the client, because it cannot be that a client leaves upset because of something we have done wrong".
Along the same lines, Luisa Masuet highlights that "now in companies not only look at financial results, which continue to be important, shareholders also look at other aspects such as sustainability, labor relations, equality, diversity, sustainability strategy and the impact that the company can generate as an agent of change”. This evolution that can be seen in the business world gives even more value to the customer and the ability to build loyalty. And it is that "at the moment in which a client loses trust in you, it is very difficult for you to recover it, so the key is not to fail", she points out.
This new business vision, in a context of transformation of the economy and society, "also requires new talent with other skills to be able to respond to the needs that arise", says Tristany. The reality is that these professional profiles are in many cases scarce and the competition to attract and retain them “is not local, it is global”, clarifies the representative of the industrial companies. “This type of talent will want to work in companies where there is no gender or generation wage gap; that is to say, where there are people who are over 50 years old with spectacular salaries and those who enter with many capacities work for a quarter”. For Tristany, the fight to attract and retain these professionals "will be another lever of transformation."