What Do Your Customers Think of You and How Do You Know?

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March 6, 2011

Most of us probably think we know our customers pretty well. But do we?

At a recent meeting that I attended, the President announced that their best client had taken their business to a competitor. The president explained that with our increased reliance on E-mails, faxes and computer to computer technology to do business, the customer’s perception was that we viewed him as just another account. With this, he was ‘wooed’ to change to another supplier.

His solution was for his managers to get reacquainted with their customers in person. Not a bad idea for any company. Assuming that we know their ongoing needs and satisfaction with our products and services is dangerous because customer needs and satisfaction change over time – sometimes in a very short time.

What We See May Not Be

It is getting harder to believe our own eyes and ears. We daily see where a picture of someone is dubbed over another or animation is used to create something very lifelike.

Seeing is no longer believing. Which of these horizontal lines appears to be longer?

While the line on the left appears to be longer because of the position of the intersecting diagonal lines both horizontal lines are exactly the same length.

The point of this example is that it is increasingly important to go beyond the obvious, the assumed, the presumed and the superficial to continually attempt to understand the evolving needs of customers both today and tomorrow. Business success is built on customer satisfaction.

Another factor is the importance of your core competencies. The more closely a company’s core competency is aligned with the key drivers of customer satisfaction for its customer, the more successful that firm will be.

Identifying and then measuring changes in these customer satisfaction drivers over time can help assure a company will not find itself road kill on the highway of competition.

How To Identify And Measure Changes

Three proven methods to learn who your customers are and what they think

1. ASK

2.ASK often

3. LISTEN carefully& intently

Many of us learned early in life that those who ask shall receive. But sometimes we are reluctant to ask because of what we might hear. Perhaps we will hear criticism and complaints. Maybe our questions will be ignored.

It is not comfortable to seek out criticism or suggestions. But if we are determined to achieve outstanding customer satisfaction, encouraging complaints is an early warning system to help assure we are fully meeting customer expectations.

Many of you have simplified customer feedback systems through toll-free numbers and retail service counters. Some of you encourage feedback through incentives and coupons and now many have setup web pages designed to handle customers concerns.

However, we think these ‘passive’ approaches are not enough and need to be enhanced by proactive listening programs to more fully understand customers and their ongoing opinions.

It is still very true that for every unhappy customer who voluntarily complains, there may be as many as 30+ others who don’t even bother. They may just go to a competitor.

Yes, there are still companies that say ‘we listen’, but are the same companies that hide behind lease agreement, warranty handled remotely and overseas manned call centers that handle complaints. So what we know without a proactive asking and listening program may just represent the tip of the iceberg regarding true customer feelings.

Research also suggests that the average dissatisfied customer will tell 8 to 16 other people about their unpleasant experience: the multiplier effect. All of us can probably recall personal situations where we ‘spread the word’.

When asked, customers are surprisingly willing to recommend how to improve products and services. And why not? Who is in a better position to know? And aren’t we all interested in improving the value in our lives?

How many times have companies gotten into trouble for failure to focus on their customers. We continually see subject matter for the agendas of the weekly or monthly management reviews, focused upon financial results, share value, EBITDA, budget forecasts and little time spent on the customer and what they are selling. Yes, keeping track of the ‘beans’ is important as well as speculating on what we will do in the next quarter, but more attention needs to look at how and who will be buying our products and services.

If sales are falling and financial results are not what we were expecting, how often do we hear the words – it is the economy; the competition is cutting prices. Perhaps the real answer might be more closely related to our customer and our knowledge about what they think about us, our service and our products.

In this age of electronics, the internet, e-mail, blogs, Google, social networks etc, it is often easy to say we are using all the new techniques. A suggestion might be simply get out and talk to people (your customers) face to face. Internet communications can often be incorrect. Remember people on the internet are anonymous – faceless- you never really see who is doing this. Face to face contact will never be substituted by electronic technology. This is only a means of moving data –a cost effective route. Data is not information – it needs to be understood, interpreted and acted upon. You / humans undertake this sort of activity.

Get out and see your customers – your employees (they are customers too). Do this regularly, not simply when you think you have a problem. Only consistency can provide for ongoing success.

Customer needs and satisfaction change over time. A proactive asking and listening program can assure that your business continually improves to keep you customers satisfied.


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