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Article -> For Complete Customer Satisfaction: Ask, Listen & Learn

This article also has an attached file, you may read it by clicking here. PDF

Date Added: February 2005

Customer satisfaction: The ability to satisfy a customer’s needs.
This is something that almost every company says they strive for. While some companies have methods to measure customer satisfaction, it is still a reactive process. Companies need to be proactive by actually asking customers what their needs truly are.
 
A case in point. Company A supplies products to its customer, Company B. At the end of the year, Company A uses its detailed customer satisfaction process to ask Company B how service has been. Company B responds that service has been fine, but not outstanding, and that several packages have been delivered damaged throughout the year. Because of this, they are choosing to do business with another supplier.
 
While this is an extreme example, it stresses that despite a detailed customer satisfaction process, the process is reactive. It is too late for Company A to respond.
 
A company can become proactive by asking customers to define satisfaction in their terms. Satisfied customers may leave for another company up to 67 percent of the time, while completely satisfied customers remain with a company 93 percent of the time. Only by asking customers to define their needs, can they be completely satisfied.
 
The Road to Complete Satisfaction
Having a proactive process to gain a clear understanding of customers’ needs is the first step to complete satisfaction. Using the example above, this would involve asking the customer questions such as: How do you define outstanding service? What measures would you like us to meet to achieve outstanding service? What is your expectation regarding damaged packages? How will this be measured?
 
The right questions must be asked to achieve complete satisfaction. A proactive process becomes a clear competitive advantage in a world of commoditized products and services. This translates to increased revenues and profitability because a stronger partnership develops.
Companies that reactively measure customer satisfaction may have good relationships with customers; however, a proactive understanding of customers’ needs gains alignment with the customers and the relationship becomes a partnership.
 
Assuming customers’ expectations and listening to what they actually are can be two entirely different things.
 
Voice of the Customer
To gain a competitive advantage and true partnership, Unique Business Solutions, a business consulting organization, has created an innovative Voice of the Customer process.
 
The process combines best practices of customer satisfaction and customer service, with qualitative and quantitative analyses.
 
Several aspects should be considered during a process like this, including:
  •  Engaging several contacts within the customer organization – not just one person
  •  Engaging several employees, as the customer interacts with more than just sales
  •  Engaging an external partner to facilitate the process, as this increases its success
  • Acting on the information and following up with the customer on a timely basis
 
Involving as many people from each customer as possible, as well as employees, is important. A supplier shouldn’t base expectations on one person. Engaging employees generates buy-in to the process and allows the customer to place a face with a name to create a more personalized experience.
 
The real value of gaining the Voice of the Customer comes from an open and honest dialogue. This is not always possible because some individuals are concerned about hurting a supplier’s feelings, such as a long-time personal contact, rather than delivering constructive feedback on areas to improve. Customers are more likely to state objectives to a third party with no direct ties to the supplier.
 
If a supplier takes the time to be proactive and ask for the Voice of the Customer, it must be acted upon, or credibility will be lost (and possibly the business).
 
While supplier performance is critical, the topic of importance also should be discussed. Another case in point. A supplier believes its competitive advantage is speed of delivery. Customers pay a premium for this service. During a Voice of the Customer process, the customer says that while they are completely satisfied with speed of delivery, it’s not that important to them when considering the premium price.
 
By proactively asking about importance, the supplier discovers this issue. Knowing this, the supplier can meet the customer’s expectations regarding delivery and price, thereby strengthening the supplier-customer partnership.
 
Ongoing Success
This process is best conducted on an annual basis as customers’ needs are ever-changing, although quarterly and/or monthly customer communication should occur as part of a personalized customer action plan. One supplier that followed this process experienced a record earnings year and its shareholder value increased by more than 23 percent.
 
Gaining a competitive advantage. Increasing revenues and profitability. Achieving complete customer satisfaction. Ask for the Voice of the Customer, listen to it and act on it. The results will follow.
 
This article was also feature in Marketplace Magazine on February 22, 2005. S:\Knowledge Center\Articles on website\Customers\Ask. Listen. LearnMarketplace_VOC_0205.pdf
 
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