Focusing on Customer Service Consistency

This article explains the role of consistency in boosting customer retention and satisfaction.

Consistency is key

When we aim for consistency in our communications, values, messages, images, offerings, and the customer experiences we create, we take another significant step toward developing long-lasting and meaningful customer relationships that will boost our bottom line.

We know that as consumers, we are able to exercise our choices to achieve the most enjoyable and efficient experiences possible. But whenever we are unhappy consumers, how likely are we to complain about it?

Research shows that only a small fraction of customers will inform a company of what they dislike. The majority of silent, unhappy buyers “vote with their feet” and simply don’t return. Sam Walton, the late Wal Mart founder, said: “There is only one boss: the customer. And he can fire everybody in the company, from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”

So, since buyers are unlikely to complain (unless they’re very unhappy), we must be extremely careful to ensure that they don’t become unhappy about anything in their experiences, or they’re likely to leave without telling us why!

Inventing Your Customer “Secret Sauce”

What recipe makes any relationship with a product or service stand out deliciously from all of the others? Creating consistent customer experiences is the mantra savvy businesses have been chanting to achieve great prosperity. These companies pull out all the stops to ensure that dealing with their products, staff, and services is so consistently pleasant, buyers will want to become loyal customers.

But that’s not all — pleasantness is fast becoming the minimum experience buyers expect. The fierce competition today requires creating raving fans of customers so they cannot stop telling their colleagues, friends, and family about your products or services. This requires raising the bar even further!

What does it take to go from being a silently shunned company to one that creates raving fans?

Assembling the Filling

The success of this recipe comes from paying close attention to key ingredients. These ingredients pertain to quality, business systems, marketing/sales, customer service, and good common sense. They shape the “touch points” that influence our customers’ experiences. For example:

* It’s far more cost effective to keep existing customers than to find new ones. Why? Customer retention research shows that once companies have loyal customers, the cost of keeping them is just one-fifth the cost of attracting new ones. The research also shows that companies can boost results up to 100% just from increasing customer loyalty by only five percent! This means that marketing to existing customers consistently is far more cost-effective.

* It’s critical not to over-promise and under-deliver. Either we can under-promise and over-deliver or over-promise and over-deliver, but, at all costs, we should strive not to under-deliver. One of the situations that will drive everyone crazy is believing that a product is supposed to be released on a certain date, and then it’s not. Or hearing that a service will be rendered per an advertised guaranty, and then it’s not. Credibility and trustworthiness evaporate whenever people make promises they can’t keep.

Baking the Pie

Common sense tells us to find every possible way to keep our existing customers, and instead of ignoring them, we should market to them regularly. Common sense also suggests that if we consistently deliver on time or earlier, or with greater quality than promised, we will delight our customers!

It may mean telling our customers truthfully that we won’t have a product ready to offer until next year (instead of next month). But any momentary disappointment our customers may feel will be relatively minor compared to the confidence they will have in us when we do release on time or earlier.

And it’s nothing like the distrust and scepticism we will earn if we under-deliver by coming back repeatedly to say, “I’m sorry, we were wrong; it’s really going to be next month!” in an endless stream of broken promises.

With just the preceding two principles in mind, we have a better idea of what we can do to become leaders in our industries:

* Retaining existing customers could entail asking customers, in surveys or during customer support calls, “What do you love about our products? What do you hate? What would it take to make you a raving fan of our company?” The answers will reveal what buyers value most, and any pet peeves they’ve been dying to unload.

* Over-delivering on promises could entail ensuring that products and services work even better than advertised, and that interactions with customer support exceed all expectations for problem resolution. Since one unhappy experience can sour all other pleasant ones, strive to ensure that the most memorable interactions – such as the first and last in any series – are especially positive.

On a vacation, if lost luggage, forgotten belongings, or final departure activities are not handled with the utmost care, everything positive that preceded those disappointments may be erased from the vacationer’s memory!

In conclusion, the recipe for positive and rewarding customer relationships includes, but is not limited to, recognizing the value of consistency in customer retention and in over-delivering on promises, both explicit and implied. These two ingredients are a few of the ways to plug the gaps that would cause buyers to “vote with their feet.” Alone, they might not be quite enough to create raving fans, but without them, we won’t create any loyal customers, either.

Consistently pleasant customer experiences produce “raving fans” who spread positive “buzz” about our products and services.

In contrast, even a single unhappy experience can sour a customer, who may then take her business elsewhere.

This customer often doesn’t inform us of the reason — but does tend to rant unhappily to an even wider circle of friends, according to the American Management Association.

In Part 1 of this series, we saw how consumers are able to exercise their choices to achieve the most enjoyable and efficient experiences possible. This article, Part 2, explores four more techniques that can help ensure top-to-bottom consistency in creating positive customer experiences.

Reviewing the First Two Ingredients in the Recipe

The recipe for customer satisfaction contains several key ingredients that pertain to quality, business systems, marketing/sales, customer service, and good common sense. Two of the basic ingredients we covered in Part 1 were:

It’s far more cost effective to keep existing customers than to find new ones. Why? Customer retention research shows that once companies have loyal customers, the cost of keeping them is just one-fifth the cost of attracting new ones. Therefore, it makes sense to continuously and consistently delight them.

It’s critical not to over-promise and under-deliver. Either we can under-promise and over-deliver — or, over-promise and over-deliver — but, at all costs, we should strive not to under-deliver. Our credibility and trustworthiness evaporate whenever we make promises we can’t keep.

Next, let’s look at four additional success criteria.

Prevent Variation in Service and Product Quality

For services, preventing variation means being unfailingly helpful and pleasant in all customer interactions. It means that personnel must be able to satisfy all of the company’s advertised claims. And they’ll also need an understanding of the creative latitude they’ll have to meet customers’ special needs, to offer the greatest possible “quality in perception.” In these ways, personnel will have the means by which to “wow” customers — over-delivering by giving even more than customers expect.

For products, preventing variation means ensuring that every article produced conforms as tightly as possible to the ideal — as close to perfection as you can make it. Unlike what you may have learned about quality decades ago, this requires going beyond merely staying within tolerances, which was the “old school” of quality thinking. The reason is that weaknesses can arise from being “barely within specs” — possibly enough to cause system failure. It’s far more likely when several critical values together are all “barely within specs,” because the effects can accumulate.

Ensure Your Customers’ Downstream Success

Ask yourself: Are you most heavily focused on your own immediate gain — your own business results — or do you express a vested interest in ensuring that your customers will succeed? If your emphasis is truly on your customers’ success, then how about your customers’ customers’ success, or even that of your customers’ customers’ customers?

By consistently emphasizing the downstream chain of successes that your customers and their customers will enjoy, you’ll create consistent, perpetual value for all who use your offerings

 Create Theme-Oriented Products and Services

You can design an imaginative suite of coordinated components with theme names, slogans, mascots, music, literature, accessories, and services. Such ensembles will spark your customers’ imaginations and entice them to buy one after another in the desire to complete a set. Many companies have learned that customers will gladly pay a premium for a group of collectibles while raving to their family and friends.

An example of an enterprise that has experienced extraordinary results using this technique is American Girl. This company pairs authentic doll characters with historically researched novels that tell the life stories and adventures of the dolls. It also sells coordinated outfits, period furniture, and accessories — even hair styling services!

American Girl has quietly exploded from a tiny mail-order business into a $344 million firm using mostly word-of-mouth advertising. It creates wholesome, educational offerings for which their ever-expanding clientele gladly pay top dollar.

Design a Mesmerizing, Theme-Based Buying Experience

Taking theme ideas even further, you can create a whimsical buying atmosphere for your customers, either in a physical storefront, online store, or both. Your staff might wear costumes or use custom scripts to keep in step with the characters or theme. The novelty and entertainment value can spark customers’ imaginations, attracting avid buyers in markets such as toys, technology, hotels, clothing, accessories, and foods.

In the area of foods, Trader Joe’s, which has stores primarily on the east and west coasts of the U.S., has enjoyed remarkable popularity over the last several decades. Everything Trader Joe’s does revolves around a tropical, nautical motif.

The theme dictates what staff members wear, the decorations in the stores, and the unique, exotic, low-cost, private-label foods it sells. Walking into any store feels like arriving at an island vacation spot. The clang of ship’s bells punctuates the sounds of Hawaiian shirt-clad staff members chatting cheerfully with customers. The quality, selection, value, and whimsical, theme-based atmosphere attract a steadily growing base of “raving fan” shoppers.

In conclusion, these powerful tips can help you create customer satisfaction, loyalty, and endless word-of-mouth promotion. To reap the benefits of the fun and creative ideas, however, don’t overlook the foundational aspects. This means being sure to over-deliver on what you promise while maintaining consistency in your product and service quality.

About the Author

Adele Sommers, Ph.D. is the author of the award-winning “Straight Talk on Boosting Business Performance” success program. She helps people “discover and recover” the profits their businesses may be losing daily through overlooked performance potential.

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