Keeping your customer promise is the key to lasting customer relationships

Apr 24, 2024

While many factors play a role in building lasting customer relationships, serving the customer well and earning their trust will continue to be the most important aspect of a successful customer relationship. We interviewed our long-term but now retired Executive Team member, Jari Vähäpesola, to hear his insights and experiences about how to prove your worth and build commitment.


With a career in the paper industry that spanned almost 40 years, Jari Vähäpesola, retired Business Line President, Paper, Valmet, knows better than most what it takes to build lasting customer relationships. “Everything is about trust,” he says. “It’s always a people-to-people business and you have to keep your promises. I will always remember the first deal I made, even though it was a low value deal for a small spare part. What I realized was that when you seal a deal it always shows some kind of trust from customer towards you because they are buying something from you.”

The strongest bonds are quite often built during challenging times

“One of the funny things about customer relationships is that the strongest bonds are quite often built during challenging times, not when things are going so smoothly,” Vähäpesola says. “When there are difficult issues to deal with, then the customer can really see if you are there to support them. That’s when you prove yourself. And behind that is availability, meaning that you pick up the phone and react when they really need it, even outside normal hours. And, of course, you have to be honest.”

“The longest customer relationship I can recall was 25 years – they became my customer when I took over Services. And it was based on trust, knowing the people and working through challenges together. That’s what develops a good interpersonal understanding and, in many cases, also friendship.”

Looking to the horizon together

For a customer relationship to endure, the supplier must adapt with the changing needs of the market and their customers. “When I started, it was typical for customers to make 1-time deals,” he says. “One of the things that has changed is that now both customers and suppliers are more focused on longer-term life cycle cooperation. Customer relationships are now more of a partnership than about sales activities. In addition, on the suppliers’ side, companies have become more connected, which enables customers deal with one point of contact and one organization. For instance at Valmet, the business lines nowadays work closely to provide the full offering of process technology, services and automation for customer projects. It’s always important to find ways to make things more convenient for your customers.”

Dare to say “no” and it might add value

“Customers appreciate it when you’re not a “yes” person,” Vähäpesola says. You have to be able to say “no” and be brave enough to do it. In fact, when I said my farewell to Valmet, a colleague sent me a message saying, ‘You are my benchmark because you can say “no” to customers.’”

Everything is about trust.

“In the old days, there was a “customer is always right” attitude, only doing what was requested. Now, the expectation is to tell them if there is something that should be done in a different way. This is especially important today, when a supplier might be delivering anything from a paper machine to a whole pulp mill. Customers have fewer of their own resources, so there is more emphasis on the expertise suppliers can offer. If you want to be successful, you need to provide the expertise – also being critical when needed.”

experts voice Valmet Jari Vahapesola

Jari Vähäpesola, Business Line President, Paper (retired) built many lasting customer relationships during his long career at Valmet.

Innovating and solving problems together

"Suppliers often work together with customers to develop technologies and solutions, and this kind of cooperation has been changing lately, too,” he says. “There used to be more focus on mechanical design, now design work is much more aimed towards sustainability. It’s a very important aspect these days, in both industry and everyday life. It’s everywhere. So, for example, at Valmet, we’ve been increasingly working on sustainability together with our customers.”

The strongest relationships are quite often built during challenging times; that’s when you prove yourself.

“A modern customer relationship is not only about selling; it must also be about solving problems together and meeting targets. Sustainability will continue to be the main topic in the future because there’s still so much to do. Customers have so many challenges, with their own sustainability targets, as well as different environmental regulations in different parts of the world. We must be able to help them with these things.”

Nothing beats meeting in person

“Another thing that is changing relationships is digitalization. The pandemic definitely drove things forward because there was no alternative to doing things remotely. However, face-to-face contact will always be needed. In the future there will be more remote meetings and less traveling. But you have to remember that relationships are between people. It’s a people-to-people business, so personal contacts will still be important. I don’t believe that we can do everything remotely.”

“I can finish with a good story,” Vähäpesola concludes. “During pandemic, I was working remotely but closely with a customer. And although we had never met in real life, we became friends. In the end, we met for the first-time last fall, when I was meeting customers for last time and introducing my successor. While we had already built a good relationship, there was nothing like finally meeting in person.” 

Text Peter Cura


Valmet’s customer promise is ‘Forward’. This reflects our strong commitment to promoting our customers’ success and to developing innovative solutions for the future. For us moving forward means renewal and that our business operations promote sustainable results.

Jari Vähäpesola, Business Line President, Paper, Valmet, retired

Jari Vähäpesola studied Mechanical Engineering, majoring in Paper Machine Design. He joined Valmet in 1987, working with rolls and materials in R&D before switching to product sales for rolls in Services. He continued in Services for 15 years, working in the US, the UK and Finland, eventually becoming President of the Service Business Line. He then served as President of the Paper Business Line from 2011 until he retired in 2023. 

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