In Pursuit Of “Customer Delight”: Getting The Basics Right

A lot of companies have the phrase “delighting our customers” in their well-crafted mission statements and quality policies. I see “customer delight” as a cherry, with the cake being “solving their problems and meeting the expectations” – so when we say “cherry on top of the cake”, the cake has to be right. Customers don’t get delighted by cherries alone, or by cherries on wrong cakes.

Here is the thing. To be able to reach a state where you “delight” your customers, you have to first “know and meet” customer’s basic expectations consistently. That is the core of your business – the reason why your customers come to you. Your products/services have to first meet the basic criteria of delivering the value that client is seeking.

So when you think of delighting your customer, think of the basics first.

  • Does your product/service meet the core expectation of the customer? Does it solve their problems? To what extent?
  • Do you have a method to accurately identify customer’s real/unique expectations? Their unique context?
  • Do you have right set of processes, people and technology that will help you deliver up to customer’s expectations consistently?
  • What is missing and how can you scale up to ensure consistency of delivery? What are the gaps that need to be filled?

Once you have these basics right, your efforts and investment on delighting your customers through various innovative and inclusive programs will yield the right returns. Right cherry on the right kind of cake is a delightful combo! Isn’t it?

Customer’s loyalty and further, advocacy only comes when you know how to deliver the basics right. Merely trying to delight customers when your core offering does not solve their real problems is an effort in vain. It may only help you keep a customer for now, but not on a long run.

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Customer Expectations in Service: Are you Listening?

It is said, whatever business you are into, you are ultimately into customer service business. For service industries (healthcare, education, banking, information technology and so on), the definition of quality is much beyond plain ‘conformance to requirements’.

In order to deliver overall quality of service (and customer experience), businesses have to take a holistic view of customer’s explicit and implicit needs. Explicit needs is every thing that can be specified in form of a contract/SLA. That is easy. Understanding implicit customer needs requires businesses to actively listen, build relationships with customers, understand their unique needs , preempt challenges and map services accordingly.

What do customers generally ask for?

  • I have a problem. Solve it. (Purpose/Scope)
  • Solve it quickly OR Deliver it when I want you to (Schedule/Timeliness/Speed/Time to Market)
  • Save me some money, time or efforts (Cost-Effectiveness)
  • Provide what I exactly want (Accuracy/Conformance/Quality)
  • Deliver something that I didn’t expect, something that delights me (Value-Add/Excellence)
  • Deliver the service wherever I want it (Location/Presence)
  • Deliver services that are usable over a long period of time (Sustainability/Scalability)
  • Understand my business as well as I do (Understanding/Context/Clarity)
  • Make me feel important and valued (Service/Relationship)
  • Involve me in service delivery (Engagement/Involvement)
  • Show me the improvement (Metrics/Continual Improvement)
  • Educate me about service and best ways of solving problems (Education/Consulting)
  • Treat me as a human being who can also make mistakes (Empathy)

Are you listening to these explicit and implicit customer needs?

It is easy to follow processes, meet SLA and stay happy being a ‘vendor’ to the customer. It is difficult to engage the customer and build relationship to become a reliable ‘partner’.

It is your choice as a business that really matters.

3 Lessons in Building Great Relationship with Customers

When you deal with customers in your organization, you can either comply to contractual terms and deliver what is expected. Or you can go a step forward to assess opportunities to add differentiated value (Remember 102%?). When I refer to customer here, it could be an external customer or an internal one (people within your organization to whom you provide your service).

From my recent experiences, I would like to share  3 most important aspects of building great relationships with your customers:

  • Don’t just understand customer’s needs, understand their business: Do you know why a customer wants us to build this software/product/service? How does it fit into the larger picture of customer’s business? How does it generate money for customer? These are important questions for understanding the context. When you serve your customer, you are helping them address at least one of their business objectives. Understanding what works for the customer helps you align your actions to the business objectives. That is a sure way to add value, because customer no longer looks at you as a ‘vendor’ but as a ‘partner’. Most folks in technical areas need to understand this critically.
  • Communicating one-on-one, frequently: Great relationships are built one conversation at a time. Open and transparent conversations are opportunities – to understand and to convey. Iterations of understanding and conveying the right things results in a credible relationship. In an outsourced world, I cannot emphasize more on value of ‘face-time’ with customers. Most customers will not open up when they talk over Skype or a phone. Frequently visiting your customer and understanding changes in their business helps. Emails, newsletters, sharing updates, blog are great tools to ensure continuous communication.
  • Ship Results: All said and done, it all boils down to results. Great results delivered consistently over a period of time is the best strategy to build a strong relationship. Results build long lasting credibility. When you have deeper understanding of client’s ‘business’ and when you have ‘communicated’ frequently to manage expectations, you are in a much better position to deliver meaningful results that delights the customer. Key is to manage expectations, give realistic promises and delivering on them.

You cannot undermine the importance of relationship with your customers and how it directly impacts the quality of overall experience. Especially for folks in sales, if they focus first on being valued by the customer and build a relationship, sales happens as a by-product. The foundation for good engagement is built by bricks of value and cement of trust.

Power question: What are you doing today to develop great relationships with your customers?