Article summary

The Account Manager who leads a Global Mobility Vendor’s client service should be a key talent for the Customer. This is not only a question of chemistry with the Customer’s Global Mobility team. Good Account Managers display 16 competencies, which are described in this Article. Customers can assess incoming Account Managers according to these criteria and may regularly evaluate each Vendor’s Account team with the same methodology. The result should be improved service and value-add.

Context

Global Mobility is a growth business on potentially treacherous terrain. For Organizations, increased mobility helps to seize and develop business opportunities in unfamiliar markets, to deploy scarce expertise and develop high performers. Employees demand mobility just like companies: talented, exacting individuals expect an international assignment as part of their development. Expansion, haste and precious talent puts Global Mobility teams into an exposed position. The environment is fast paced yet requires consistent first-class service, serving managers and talent who are often not educated in the intricacies of cross-border deployment. One Head of HR, who previously led their organization’s supply chain, has remarked on a similarity between his former supply chain role and current HR responsibilities: flawless service is rarely noticed, while a single defect escalates to the top of the Company.

In this relentless internal service business, a good team of external Global Mobility vendors can magnify the Mobility program’s internal reputation; a poor vendor can blight it. The Vendor’s decision-maker, team leader and spokesperson is the Account Manager. For this reason, Global Mobility teams require, and good Vendor will always suggest, that the Customer interviews prospective Account Managers or two candidates for that position.

From the Customer’s perspective, this interview is an opportunity to think through the business partner behaviors that will make the most difference to the Customer’s own performance in Global Mobility. Selecting the best vendor organization is one thing; a good Account Manager individually can add qualities of drive, seasoned knowledge and planning, that will embellish Global Mobility’s own performance and reputation.

The issue

The characteristics of good Account Managers are sometimes better understood by Global Mobility customers than by Vendors. If a Customer could provide a more pointed job description to Vendors, all parties could save time and avoid disappointments. This article suggests sixteen qualities, across three categories: Operational Management, Knowledge and Expertise and, finally, Value-Add.

Aside from the initial Customer interview, the 16 criteria or similar requirements can also be built into an Account Manager assessment form – a twenty-minute annual questionnaire, with “radio button” answers from “Never” to “Always” next to each question. Vendor Managers in the Global Mobility team or Procurement team can have Customers complete an annual questionnaire and agree a review and action plan with the Vendor organization. The results of such a survey, anonymized if necessary, are also a valuable development tool for the Account Manager and essential commercial intelligence for the Vendor.

Characteristics of good Account Managers – and additional remarks

Operational management

A good Account Manager…

  1. Is a true single point of contact, always taking ownership. And clearly, to achieve this goal, the Account Manager needs to be visible, experienced and knowledgeable about the Customer’s business and their own organization’s services.
  2. Communicates pro-actively and avoids surprises. Meaning that the Account Manager displays the energy to reach deep into their own organization’s daily service in order to find out what’s going on, has the standing to ensure their network will keep them informed and feels sufficient customer empathy to know how it feels to be taken by surprise.
  3. Responds swiftly to requests and to escalations. This is not just customer service ethic; the Account Manager needs to know how to resource and plan a responsive team.
  4. Always suggests solutions to resolve problems and complaints. Since there will always be a percentage of service errors and defects, a non-defensive, constructive attitude and an ability to learn from mistakes are two crucial behaviors.
  5. Always sets SMART goals, manages expectations, meets deadlines and has few pending actions. A good Account Manager keeps the ball rolling. Customers need not experience the uneasy feeling that an action was agreed but nothing has been reported for a while.
  6. Understands the scope of the contract. Meaning also: defends that scope convincingly when speaking with Assignees and especially with business customers.
  7. Is always prepared for meetings and calls. Sounds obvious, but extremely irritating when it does not happen! Meetings need agendas, minutes, the necessary advance information and agreed next steps.

Knowledge and expertise

A good Account Manager…

  1. Understands the Customer’s policies in detail. Not just the Global Mobility policies, but, as appropriate, corporate tax policies, reward programs, expense regulations and so on.
  2. Has a very good technical understanding of their own field. Some customers differ on this point, believing that an understanding of global mobility is more important. It is certainly true that being a deep technical expert has nothing to do with account management. But expertise certainly speeds up business. Depending on the service type, the Account Manager will know the various traps and pitfalls of immigration in the Customer’s locations, can give a first reaction to a question about the tax impact of a potential move or can estimate when a shipment should start in order to arrive before the expiry of temporary accommodation.
  3. Knows which solutions are likely to be acceptable to the Customer, avoiding recommendations that are unsuitable for that organization. On one level, this means proposing reasonable solutions to all “Exception requests” from Assignees. More generally, though, a good Account Manager understands the technical constraints of the Customer’s organization (such as payroll capabilities and employment structures) and the Customer’s culture (including themes such as special treatment for senior executives).
  4. Is aware of all the capabilities and offerings of the Vendor organization. In particular, how to bring to bear disparate skills and experience deep within the Vendor organization to help the Customer with a unique problem.
  5. Thoroughly understands the Customer’s International Assignment program. Obviously!

Value-Add

A good Account Manager…

  1. Makes pro-active suggestions to improve the Customer’s International Assignments program. These can fall into the categories of improved customer satisfaction, reduced cost and absorbing external best practice. These are generally far more interesting topics for a vendor “annual report meeting” than look-back statistical reports, since such suggestions are forward-looking and create a productive dialogue. Vendors are often unaware of how much they know and the insights they have about the Customer’s organization.
  2. Brings innovative ideas and helps to keep the Customer’s policies relevant. Linked to number 13, an innovative idea might be a way to demand less initiation data directly from Assignees, or a way to reduce the number of Tax returns in certain jurisdictions or a way to speed up medical claims by creating a discretionary fund within the insurer.
  3. Helps the Customer define objectives for the Vendor that supports the Customer’s own goals. In other words, a good Account Manager not only manages current services and scope. If the Customer is being challenged by their own organization to provide better data, for example, then the Account Manager will look for ways to tailor a solution – including challenging their own vendor organization to show flexibility and initiative.
  4. Helps the Customer to report up to their management regarding achievements, risks and strategic goals. Account Managers have special insights into the Customer’s Global Mobility program. They should be more aware of individual success stories and systematic issues. They can support business cases with statistics from the program and comparable programs.

Summary

When Customers think of a Vendor, it is frequently not the organization itself that comes to mind, but the two or three valued relationships that they hold with that Vendor. The Customer has a sense of ease of doing business through an Account Manager who masterminds daily operations but also is truly a single point of contact into the Vendor’s organization and understands how that organization can help the Customer. The Customer also receives business insights through ongoing discussions that help to clarify the Customer’s ideas, bring additional market knowledge and reflect a good understanding of the Customer’s business. A good Account Manager has the organizational skills and motivation to allocate enough time to building that customer relationship, separate from managing the day-to-day challenges of service delivery and escalations. There is no reason why such a role should not be subject to formal appraisal. On the contrary, all three parties – Customer, Vendor and Account Manager – benefit from the appraisal process.