Looking to get your greatest process improvement tools return? Read on.
Is customer satisfaction woven into the fabric of your business culture or do you pay lip service to your customers while placing little real value in their satisfaction? In an era of social media, high speed internet and mobile computing where information about your business, products and services are literally at people’s fingertips, your reputation may be only a “Tweet” away from being ruined. No business can afford to treat customer satisfaction as an ad hoc operation left to providence. Committing the time and resources to develop a customer satisfaction infrastructure that spans every part of your organization and training your employees about their customer satisfaction role (which should be to avoid not just resolve customer problems) may be the best return on your process improvement dollars.
All businesses need to integrate a customer satisfaction infrastructure into their operations. This infrastructure should cross all organizational boundaries making each employee aware of the contribution they make to the experience customers have with the business and how each employee benefits when customer satisfaction is increased. The sales group may be the “tip of the spear” that first touches your customers but your product delivery and support groups can have a greater impact on recurring sales and sales referrals than the sales group ever could. The way your bookkeeping department operates will tell your customers more about how professional your business is compared to its competition and when the product development and delivery teams closely match the customers’ requirements the customer is eager to tell their friends about the product and the business. Customer satisfaction drives the success of all businesses… but some businesses just don’t seem to get it.
It doesn’t matter what type of business you operate. Whether it is a product development or services business or a franchise, customer satisfaction is driven by three key factors; the life cycle cost, utility, and reliability of your product or service.
Life Cycle Cost: The original price of your product or service isn’t your customers only expense. They will also consider what it will cost them to use the product or service beyond the initial price they pay. Customers are smart these days and do a lot of research both consciously and sub-consciously. I liked that SUV but I couldn’t afford the maintenance or gas to run it! I hired them to paint my house but they didn’t tell me ahead of time that I had to rent the scaffolding! Their software was cheaper but I had to renew it every year. Their product did far more than the competitions but I had to pay for training for all my employees before they could use it. All businesses like to find a way to up-sell their customers but your customer satisfaction infrastructure needs to manage the way your customers view these “piled on” expenses because that small up-sell revenue you get might cost you a sale to the next customer who sees a tweet saying “these guys ripped me off”.
Utility: How easy is it for your customer to use your product or service? When a customer buys a product or service they place a value on the utility it provides them. The product or service has to solve a problem for them or make their life easier. If the product or service creates new problems for them lower the value and recalculate the lower value when it comes to recurring sales from the same business. “I bought one of their leaf blowers but it is always so hard to start I just use the rake most of the time!” “I know they make lawn mowers but I’m afraid I’ll have the same problems if I buy from them.” “We took the kids in there to eat once but the lines were so long it took forever to get seated and by then the kids were going wild!” Nothing could be more important to businesses that rely on recurring business than the value their customers place on their first purchase. The generation of revenue from recurring sales must be a requirement driving the design of your customer satisfaction infrastructure.
Reliability: It goes without saying, once a customer buys a product they want it to work and when they purchase a service they want it to make their lives easier. Reliability isn’t limited to the product or service itself though. Customers also want the business that sold the product or service to them to be reliable. “I took the day off from work but the cable guy never showed up and when I tried to call them no one answered the phone.” “We trained our employees to use their software but after the new version came out they had changed it so much we had to train them all over again.” Particularly in the case of business to business sales, the customer wants their vendor to be a reliable partner that they can depend on. When a customer has to tell their customers they failed to deliver because a vendor interrupted their business they will not be back again. The customer satisfaction infrastructure you put in place has to deal with where, why, when and how customers will come in contact with your business and you have to design all of these interactions to produce satisfied customers. Customers accept that things can go wrong. Products break and service providers make mistakes. What you do when things go wrong says a lot about your business. “My car broke down but the shop gave me a loaner, that’s why I buy from them.” “There were long lines but the clown entertained the kids while we were waiting.”
Realistically, in all businesses things can and do go awry. By designing your customer satisfaction infrastructure into your operations rather than leaving it to providence, you have a great opportunity to “make lemonade out of lemons” and to turn problems into opportunities. What is the problem and how do we solve it… and how do we design the solution into the way we operate our business. If you’re trying to decide how to get the best return on your limited process improvement resources, consider formalizing your customer satisfaction infrastructure.