We’re going to do something a bit different with this month’s blog. We’d like to take a look at Account Management, both from Merkle RMG’s perspective and from that of one of our clients, Operation Smile. Please enjoy the conversation between, Kent Grove, Merkle RMG’s Director of Client Engagement, and Libby Czerlinsky, Director, Donor Services with Operation Smile, as they consider what is fundamental to this important function. Currently the Director of Donor Services for Operation Smile, Libby works to ensure that the experience for all donors is positive and as rewarding as the act of giving. Donor satisfaction, loyalty and retention are key focus. With over 25 years of Customer Service experience and management, she works with her Donor Relations team, Direct Response, the Web team, the Major Gifts team and outside sources to ensure quality interactions.
What is your definition of an effective Account Manager?
Kent: ;Effective Account Managers are knowledgeable, customer service oriented, fun, personable and passionate about taking care of their clients.
Libby: I agree with Kent and I would add that the best Account Managers are trustworthy and always tell the truth, even if it might be hard to hear. They are mindful of what other clients are doing and proactive about making suggestions about what works for them and may work for us. They are responsive, letting the client know what actions they are taking and how the client will benefit.
What is the number one most important skill for Account Managers to have?
Libby: Great contact management skill is hugely important, as well as the ability to stay on top of new initiatives. Accounts can be complex with a lot of different caging rules as well as data file exchanges – both captured data to upload into our donor management system, and outputs for acknowledgment and premium fulfillment – so Account Managers need to be able to keep track of a lot of moving pieces.
Kent: I agree, and related to that is a robust multitasking capability regarding personnel – being able to interact with people at different levels within the client organization from interns all the way up to CEOs.
You look to your donation processor Account Managers to go above and beyond in their service to you. What are some of the more unusual benefits/services Account Managers have delivered for you?
Libby: My Account Manager puts together an inventory sheet to make things easy to find and includes a photograph of each inventory item so I can easily see all of them at a glance.
Alternatively, what are some practices that you would prefer Account Managers not handle?
Libby: None! Seriously, anything Account Managers can do to help our operation is valued.
Is formal training a part of becoming an excellent Account Manager? And, if so, where can Account Managers get this training?
Kent: Yes, we do have a formal three month International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certified training program at Merkle RMG. We start by hiring people with great customer service skills. They learn about every part of our operation so they can speak knowledgeably about what we offer to clients. Our employees participate in webinars throughout the year and take advantage of off-site seminars as well. Our service offering is always evolving, so we offer training to learn new and different ways of bringing value to our customers.
Beyond general training for the Account Management role, how do your Account Managers gain the necessary information about clients – their respective issues, strengths, weaknesses and competitors – to deliver the best service?
Kent: At Merkle RMG, we do this in two ways. First, our Account Managers communicate with their counterparts on the client side on a daily basis. They learn about their goals and understand their strengths and weaknesses. Second, we generate dashboard reports every week to show results and offer additional advice to enhance service based on those reports.
What kinds of results do your Account Managers measure to ensure that they are doing the best job possible?
Libby: Our Account Manager tracks deadlines to make sure they are met and notifies us about delays. She keeps projects on course with reminders to our team and generates multiple reports including snapshots of transactions by type per year, which is very helpful in terms of the budgeting cycle.
Kent: We measure our Account Managers based on independent results for each client. Senior managers have quarterly meetings to assess performance ratings and client feedback. We coach employees on the specifics they need to improve and recognize where they are doing well and how they can continue to do better.
How do effective Account Managers earn their clients trust, which in turn, enables them to have clients’ best interests at heart?
Libby: Through honesty and responsiveness, mainly. We really value that our Account Manager lets us know when things aren’t going well, and tells us what actions she is taking to turn things around.
Kent: Our Account Mangers build trust by communicating on a daily basis, understanding the clients’ needs and following up to make sure they’re being met. We make it a priority to deliver on the promises made during the sales process.
How important is it that Account Managers be flexible and able to quickly change gears based on client’s direction? Do you rely on your Account Managers for a degree of pushback and/or a gut check when changing approaches or strategy?
Libby: Flexibility is key. Sometimes internal developments will dictate changes in direction. Account Managers need to be able to quickly pivot and do so cheerfully! We do rely on Account Managers to push back if necessary – we value their insight and experience, and appreciate that they have our best interests at heart.
How do you prefer to interact with your Account Manager? Phone, e-mail, in person occasionally if possible? And is any approach better than others in particular situations?
Libby: It really depends on what’s being discussed. E-mail works for simple matters and phone conversations are better for more complex issues. We do meet in person a minimum of four times a year, both at our offices and at the Merkle facility.
Do you know something about great Account Management that isn’t included here? Please join the conversation and share it now.
Is your non profit receiving the Account Management support you should be? Take our assessment to find out at http://merkleresponse.com/accountmanagement/