Human Resources – Customer satisfaction must be top priority

Question:

I appreciated the “Dare to face the future” column in the May 30 issue of Small Business Times. Rather than sit around and hope things are going to get better, I’m like you, I think we need to take action. You had a lot to say in that column to the point where I got to thinking, “this is overwhelming.” If you had to suggest one area for a company to focus on during this period of economic uncertainty, what would it be?

Answer:

Thanks for the feedback. I’m glad the column connected.

What’s one place to start? That’s a tough one to answer without knowing the particular circumstances of your organization. On the other hand, my own feeling is that most organizations could benefit from spending time making sure they are securing their “gold,” the precious asset they possess that the competition is trying to steal – their customers.

Let me set some context for this observation. Let’s turn back to the 1980s for a moment. As you might recall, the early 80s were a time of economic uncertainty. We were dealing with the “misery index.” It was during this decade that a “disease” called “quality’ was unleashed. This was the kind of disease that if the organization didn’t catch it, it became increasingly ill. Some didn’t catch the disease. As a result, they didn’t survive. 

The 80s and the 90s that followed were decades in which the internal process model of management thrived. Total quality management, continuous improvement, reengineering, Six Sigma, etc. pervaded. The emphasis was on developing dependable processes that predictably yielded stable results.

We are now in the 21st century. The Information Age that is unfolding before us is characterized by rapid change, heightened competition that is global in nature, and another “killer disease.” This time, though, the disease has to do with people, not processes. The disease I am talking about is, of course, customer satisfaction. 

A quick side note: I’m sure no one is surprised when I say this. Every organization seems to be talking “customer satisfaction.” But, how many of them, in your personal experience, are really practicing it? Think about it.

Getting back to the primary discussion, let me observe that in the 00s a different kind of management model has emerged, an open systems approach. The emphasis is on adaptability, differentiation, and innovation. After all, today it’s not the big who eat the small, it’s the fast who eat the slow.

So, to truly stand out in the marketplace today, an organization needs to offer both really, really effective products or services and also position and support those products or services in ways that help the clients/customers solve their problems, address their concerns, etc. “Customer as partner” has emerged as the path to be pursued.

In short, while the 80s and 90s were decades where a focus on high technology (HT) flourished, another HT, high touch, is needed to stand out in today.

Therefore, my suggestion for moving forward is to build upon an emphasis on doing things efficiently and effectively by adopting equally vigorous practices in the area of customer satisfaction. In doing so, you will become an HT2 organization.

The key in all of this is to develop a culture in which one precious asset, your employees, learns to take pride and become passionate about the customers, a precious asset that I referred to earlier as the organization’s gold.

How to go about doing this? A framework originally offered by Kano, a well-regarded customer satisfaction researcher, is instructive in this regard. 

Kano identifies three elements that combine to define how well an organization plays the customer satisfaction game. Brief descriptions of these elements follow:

Basic factors

These are factors that are related to the absolute minimum requirements. They will cause dissatisfaction if they are not fulfilled, but do not cause satisfaction if they are met or exceeded. For example, for a restaurant, dissatisfiers might be the cleanliness of the place, the extent to which it is noisy, cramped, etc.

Performance factors

These are factors that cause satisfaction if the performance is high and dissatisfaction if the performance is low. Again, using the restaurant example, performance factors might include a tasty, well-prepared meal at a reasonable price.

Excitement factors

These are factors that increase customer satisfaction if they are delivered but do not cause dissatisfaction if they are not delivered. These factors surprise the customer and generate excitement or delight. In the restaurant example, excitement factors might have to do with being greeted by name, being seated at your table, or having the ability to select your favorite dish, even when it is not on the menu.
A graduated hierarchy of customer satisfaction emerges by making use of Kano’s elements, as follows:

Dissatisfied

This is the zone of customer satisfaction when only dissatisfiers are present. This is almost a certain losing proposition for an organization. After all, how can any organization hope to succeed when it is dissatisfying its customers?

Expected

This is the zone in which many organizations seem to be operating these days. They are taking care to avoid dissatisfying their customers, but they are not doing much with the performance factors. Excitement is not even on the radar screen. This is the status quo, going through the motions, etc. Goods or services are offered to customers in exchange for payment and that’s about it.

Desired

In this zone, performance factors have been considered and the organization has begun to pay attention to what the customer seeks. One way to think about this is to look at it in terms of the golden rule. Customers are treated the way the employees who are offering the product or service would like to be treated themselves. A reciprocal relationship has been forged and there is feedback that is acted upon.

Excited

In this high performance zone, both performance and excitement factors have been pursued. Dissatisfiers have been rendered non-existent. The customer’s point of view has been adopted throughout the process of preparing and delivering the product or service.  Customers feel like they are getting what they need on their terms. This is, indeed, high touch service. In such a symbiotic relationship, excited customers honestly and energetically declare, “I can’t imagine a world without (your company)!”

Note that as one moves up the hierarchy, the level of investment the company makes in customer satisfaction increases. The outcomes of this include increased understanding and responsiveness to the needs of the customer.

 Think about how your customers and prospective customers truly feel about your company and what they hope for from it in the future. Probing into this area is one of the keys to exciting them.

 

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