No matter how much you want to please your customers, you will not please every one. That’s not news to anyone out there (I hope). While customer satisfaction is extremely important, pleasing customers is especially difficult when there is no dialogue.
Again, not a breathtaking revelation. It’s just that when I was recently given a rare opportunity by a customer, I wondered, among many things:
This particular customer — who I’ll call “Hans” (not his/her real name) — did not like that our policies and procedures manual did not contain a complete, up-to-date listing of every national law affecting or related to the subject matter of the manual. He asked when our product had last been updated. I replied that it was less than two years ago.
To Hans, this was unacceptable. For what he paid, he should have received much more than he got, in his estimation. If new laws were enacted in the last year and a half or so that could impact the way he does business, he needs to know about this.
While I agree in principle with his last statement, I pointed out several things working against us in that regard. We have an international audience; the number of laws on any given subject must be in the thousands, if not millions, and countries are adding new laws all the time.
(NOTE: This is one reason why we feel international standards — like ISO 9001 — are critically important. Every market you can think of (but especially food and health care) is heavily regulated in most countries. ISO standards do a very good job of harmonizing laws around the world: that is, if a company complies with international standards like ISO 9001, it will very likely comply with relevant regulations, too.)
It is not possible for us to keep up with all the regulatory changes that go on around the world, so we defer to established authority. And, we’re continually getting better with regard to international coverage. For instance, in the Finance Policies and Procedures Manual, we don’t just mention GAAP and leave it at that. We also include reference to IFSB and explain its importance. Rather than restate the applicable rules, regulations, guidelines, etc., we include links to some web sites. (I invite you to check out a few legislative web sites. If we tried to be all-inclusive, we might never get a product to market and if we did…imagine the shipping charges!)
We can’t possibly include everything on every subject covered in our manuals. In fact, we caution purchasers in our manuals against assuming that our P&P manuals have everything they could possibly need. That, and we caution them to have qualified legal counsel check their work prior to implementing and distributing it.
Finally, I told Hans we design our products to provide the greatest good for the greatest number. It might be prohibitively expensive for many of our customers if we were to tailor the P&P manuals to their unique circumstances. We can do that — and have done it — for companies on a for-hire basis. Still, many companies, I suspect, purchase our products because they are a low-cost alternative and provide a solid framework for their unique circumstances and documentation requirements. I closed by apologizing to Hans that our product could not meet all of his needs.
Seen hanging on an office wall:
Rule 1: Customer is always right.
Rule 2: If you think the customer is wrong, refer to rule 1.
In essence, this is not that different from what McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc said – “if you work just for money, you’ll never make it, but if you love what you’re doing and you always put the customer first, success will be yours.”
Some might argue that not all customers have high integrity and they will take advantage of your customer-centric attitudes. That may be true in rare instances, but if you have a product that the customer needs or wants, and if you have a business culture that focuses on maximizing customer satisfaction, the benefits far surpass any of the small disadvantages.
In 2013, GM learned a hard lesson in customer satisfaction. They officially declared what many of us had known for decades: it is unable to compete in the global marketplace. The fact that it can’t even compete in the US market, where it got its start a century ago, shows how far the mighty can fall when they’re not paying attention.
There are many reasons for GM’s failure, including:
But perhaps most importantly:
ISO/TS 16949, the automotive quality standard similar to ISO 9001 and based in part on QS9000 — a standard developed in part by GM — places a great emphasis on satisfying customer requirements.
Customer requirements are often fact-based (e.g., safety standards, legislation) but just as often, they’re based on perceptions. A company can compile the most lengthy, detailed checklist of customer requirements yet miss a lot of important information when that checklist is not reexamined on an ongoing basis. If that checklist becomes the “Commandments of Manufacturing?”, the company using it runs the greatest risk of all. Ask GM.
This is a lesson every remaining business must take to heart. So, ask yourself: When did you last have an open, honest discussion with your customers (maybe not all, but certainly your best ones) to see how they feel about your goods and services? Do your customers consider your product – your company – useful and relevant?
When did you last reevaluate your definition of your target customer? Do you use the “best” tools for getting and evaluating your customers’ perceptions? Are you doing all you can to cultivate customer relationships? To maintain them? Are you making an effort to anticipate customers’ needs? Are you listening?
Taking care of your customer, listening to them and acting on their best interest pays off. After all, the primary goal of any business is to provide goods or services to its customers. So why not treat such an important component with utmost priority?
Most customers will walk away from you without complaining. They don’t announce that they’re taking their business elsewhere: they just do it. They don’t give you a chance to explain yourself because they feel like they’ve been let down all along.
Dissatisfaction isn’t the result of a one-time occurrence. It happens over a period of time. If, from the outset, communication is poor or nonexistent, the foundation for customer dissatisfaction is being laid. If you don’t continue to make your customer feel valued and welcome, the relationship that might have been never is.