How Satisfied Are Your Customers?

Posted on 12/01/2007 in Customer Service & Support

"Your customers are only satisfied because their expectations are so low and because no one else is doing better."

 -Ken Blanchard (from Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service)

So why is customer service so important? Because outstanding customer service builds loyalty and customer retention, and will improve your bottom line.

The Service Expectations Zone

The backbone of your customer service strategy and culture consists of three zones, namely the Service Surprises, Service Expectations and Service Recovery zones. Last month’s newsletter focused on the Service Surprise Zone, and summarized tips and techniques on how to "wow” your customers. This month we will focus on the Service Expectations Zone, with emphasis on ensuring that your customer’s expectations are being met and the importance of doing a better job than your competition. The Service Expectations Zone is when you meet your customer’s expectations. At a minimum, your organization needs to identify and then meet the critical needs and expectations of your customers. As such, the ability to ask questions and listen for the customer’s concerns and issues are critical skills.

What Do Customers Expect (the "Three R’s”)?

Let’s start with the obvious. Customers decide to buy from your organization because they have a need for your particular product or service, and they have assessed that your company provides them the best value for that particular product or service. This can mean many things, depending on the industry that you are in, such as: willingness to customize, reasonable price, highest quality, increased productivity, convenience, improved ROI, and so on. 

Based on STAR’s experience with a wide range of clients from diverse industries, customers expect more than just the product or service by itself.  To take an extreme example: Suppose that you provide a widget that contains all the technical features that the customer is looking for, but the customer is treated rudely during each interaction with your firm. Or, the customer calls post-sale with a problem or question about your widget, and is transferred several times without a resolution to his or her problem. Would you say that you have met your customer’s expectations in these two situations? 

How you sell and service a customer is often more important than what you sell. All customers expect Responsiveness, Respect, and Reliability — we call this the "Three R’s”, for short:

  • Responsiveness: answer the phone promptly and/or greet the customer immediately if in-person; don’t leave the customer on hold too long; take ownership of the problem and be solution-oriented.
  • Respect: use the customer’s name instead of treating him or her as a number; be attentive; be personable.
  • Reliability: if you cannot fix the situation immediately, give the customer a specific and realistic completion date and then be sure to follow through on the promise. It infuriates customers to be told that a problem will be fixed and then find out on that date that nothing has been done.  

Ensuring Customer’s Expectations are Met

There are several skills and techniques to ensure that your customer’s expectations are being met:

  1. Follow the "Three R’s” mentioned above. Managers should set clear expectations that every employee who interacts with customers should treat all customers with respect, and be responsive and reliable. Your performance appraisal, hiring and compensation systems should be designed to include these desired behaviors. 
  2. Ask questions and listen for the customer’s needs and critical expectations. If we were limited to teaching one set of skills in our Exceptional Customer Service and Support workshop, we would select questioning and listening skills. After all, you cannot meet or exceed the customer’s expectations if you don’t know what is most important to each customer.
  3. Follow-up with the customer, especially if he or she doesn’t expect you to do so. The follow-up action can be a telephone call, an email, or sometimes a special activity such as a thank you note. Rather than waiting for the customer to call you if he or she has a question or problem, be pro-active and contact the customer yourself. This can be especially valuable with new customers, or when existing customers purchase a new product.
  4. Use a team approach to customer service. This is the most recent trend that STAR has observed with many clients. Selling has become a team sport for many of our clients. Who else besides your sales and customer service team comes into contact with your customers? Every person who interacts with customers needs to adopt a customer service-oriented approach. A common mistake is to overlook the potential contribution of your technical service, back-office and production personnel to making the overall customer experience a positive one.