This week is Cisco’s Live event for media and analysts, and, as usual, it is a very different event than staged by most companies. Much of the keynote, led by much of Cisco’s leadership, focused on creating a better future for all. The team spoke to the vulnerable, had videos with disabled people showcasing accessibility, and spoke of the period we are currently in as the most significant intersection of opportunity and potential the world has ever seen.
While Cisco’s team eventually got to products and services, the effort was to showcase how they could improve the world. Cisco’s approach to showcasing their heart is a better approach than other companies, who focused on products, had this week.
When you meet someone you eventually want to keep in your life, do you focus solely on aesthetics or do you focus more on the kind of person they are?Many of us go by looks, but those who zero in on personality, empathy, loyalty, and trustworthiness have a better set of friends.
I believe this should be true of how we approach vendors as well. Products come and go, and a product that is competitive one quarter may not be in another. Vendors who focus tightly on products also tend to focus tightly on closing sales, but they may not be interested in you after the sale. Vendors that are more relationship-focused tend to work to have your back and understand your unique problems. They also work to craft solutions that meet your needs rather than convince you to change to match their offerings better.
Empathy in a vendor is underrated because if the vendor cares about you, the relationship has legs. Still, if they only care about the sale, they probably won’t care about you once the sale is made until you want to buy again.
Why Empathy is Important
Corporations are driven hard by a preponderance of hedge fund managers who are tactically focused on short-term gains. This focus tends to make companies seem heartless because revenue and margins drive behavior. The behavior it drives is an excessive focus on sales and little focus on assuring the related deployment’s success. When you have a problem, you want a vendor who will work with you to diagnose it and then favor solutions that minimize the related cost to fix the problem. You don’t want a generic response that always seems to result in a recommendation to replace your aging infrastructure.
Cisco’s unique empathetic theme that increasingly permeates their events suggest a company that cares about the problems around them and their customers’ unique problems and crafting unique solutions to address those problems. Even when talking about partners, they were more about helping partners create unique, differentiated offerings that would ensure their relationships with their customers over just pushing products.
This behavior also showcases they care about their partners’ success, further supporting the view that Cisco is thinking strategically about partner relationships and reducing partner churn. This strategy has, in the past, proven more profitable because partner churn can result in a lack of loyalty in downstream relationships; customers perceive the brand through those that sell the products. By assuring the partners’ success, Cisco is also better at assuring customer satisfaction and loyalty. The old saying, “what comes around, goes around”, is valid here. Assure the sales channel, and you also assure the customer experience.
Benefits of Vendor Empathy
Cisco at Cisco Live once again reminded me that empathy is essential in a vendor. If they genuinely care about your experience, you should have a better one. Back when I was doing more surveys, one of the clear things was that vendors who cared about their direct and indirect relationships enjoyed far higher customer loyalty and far more stable revenue streams. These benefits were the direct result of empathy — caring more for the customer and their experience than churning their customer base.
In the end, I think empathy, whether it is in a manager, CEO, or vendor, is essential to the success of the related project and your satisfaction with the overall experience. Sadly we seldom put this into an RFP, but it should be part of any vendor selection process.