All four words of Principle Four: Continuously Delight Each Customer are significant. They are especially significant to startup or small, private companies that are just beginning to develop a loyal customer following. Large companies with proven track records can maintain customers if they keep them satisfied. That level of satisfaction works most of the time and is based on the natural resistance to change. The axiom of “good enough is good enough” historically has provided customer stability. However, customer loyalty appears to be slipping in many business segments. Perhaps it is caused by some combination of the lack of customer service responsiveness exhibited by many companies with their highly automated, rigid impersonal systems, the rapid obsolescence of products, more intense advertising, poor quality, or greater competition. The Internet, with its ability to identify suppliers on a global basis, also allows customers to consider more alternatives as well.
In any event, previously satisfied and loyal customers can quickly abandon ship if a disruptive alternative comes along. Focusing on delighting, not merely satisfying each customer, every time, has become the new table stakes for continued business success. The same mindset needs to be applied to internal customers, colleagues, and partners, as well as billing-paying customers. Everyone has choices of where and when to spend their money and energy. Building a bond to increase the resilience of the relationship is now essential.
There is no question that the initial customer experience with the product or service is critical. Many companies have now focused on providing an excellent, so-called out-of-box experience for the customer. The once dreaded “some assembly required” cryptic instruction manuals have been replaced with more clear instructions and, in some cases, instructions that consist of easy to understand pictures only with no text. Some manuals now include QR codes associated with each step in the written instructions. If a user has difficulty, they can scan the QR code with their smartphone and be connected to a person or shown a video that includes more detailed instructions. In other cases, live, 24 by 7 customer service personnel are standing by ready to assist customers with their initial product or service experience. However, focusing on only the initial experience is not enough. Companies need to be ready to continuously provide outstanding service to their customers throughout the life of a product. Even when new products or services are released, existing customers with older or obsolete products usually expect continued support. With product life cycles shrinking and new software releases being created at seemingly ever-increasing rates, supporting older products or service versions becomes more problematic. Companies need to carefully consider the consequences of terminating support for older versions of products that customers feel are still meeting their needs. If customers feel forced to upgrade, they may decide to consider other competing products. Companies need to carefully consider the costs of older product support versus the cost of losing customers.
The article in this series “Customer Satisfaction Levels” covers the spectrum of potential customer feelings regarding their level of satisfaction with a company’s products or services. As previously discussed, established companies can maintain their market share by merely satisfying customers. New entrants must strive for a higher level of satisfaction referred to as delighting a customer. In some rare instances, some companies are able to reach an even high level of customer satisfaction, referred to as amazing customers, with their goods or services.
To delight customers, companies need to exceed the customer’s expectations in all aspects of their experience. The fundamental approach needs to meet the often-used axiom of “under promise and over perform.” The over performance needs to be unexpectedly experienced by the customer instead of being part of the company’s promotional activities. Delighted customers will be loyal and, most important, willing to share their experience with others.
To amaze customers, companies need to provide capabilities that their customers do not even know exist or may not need for some time. Further, these additional capabilities must not be accompanied by more complex operations or learning. Instead, when the need arises at some point in the future, amazed customers discover that the desired capability already exists. This sequence of events allows customers to be continuously positively surprised as more capabilities are discovered. Two examples of amazing products are Microsoft’s Excel™ spreadsheet program and Apple’s iPhone.
Excel, for example, can be used to simply add up a column of numbers or can be used to develop an advanced technical model using many of the hundreds of built-in functions. If the built-in functions are not sufficient, a user can extend the program’s capabilities by writing custom software within the product’s standard environment. All of this capability can be easily accessed if and when required, but basic users are not burdened with learning any of these capabilities.
The iPhone was certainly not the first smartphone on the market. However, with its incredibly intuitive user interface, novice users could easily learn how to place and receive phone calls and ignore the dozens of other features available on the phone. Exploring the other capabilities within the phone is incredibly easy, and with the ability to download applications for free or modest charges, the phone seems to have no limits.
In both examples described above, amazed customers remain incredibly loyal to both products.
Many companies refer to “the” customer. Principle Four refers to “each” customer. This difference may seem minor, but it is intended to drive home the point that delighting customers is a personal issue that occurs one customer at a time. The key to the personal touch is to humanize the experience as much as possible. The goal is to form a personal bond between the company and the customer. In many transactions, the prospect makes the decision to purchase the product or service. It is a personal commitment and may occur without the company even knowing that the decision was made. Companies that are able to establish the reciprocal one-to-one relationship can further deepen the relationship. One simple but uncommon method would be to acknowledge the fact that a customer has registered a product with a company. Instead, the often-automated registering process consists of the company merely saving the received information with nothing more than a simplistic message at the end of the registration process. Companies need to make their customers feel special.
The term “customer” is usually intended to identify the purchaser of the product or service. Principle Four: Continuously Delight Each Customer is meant to apply to far more individuals than just the purchaser. Every person involved with a company’s product or service has customers. There can be far more internal customers and external individuals involved before the order is fulfilled, during the fulfillment process, and the actual use of the product. By focusing on continuously delighting each of these individuals, they all can become loyal advocates. The process of focusing on delighting others in every interaction or transaction can create a positive culture and reputation that will continuously provide positive return to everyone involved.