“Customer satisfaction does not mean giving to customers what we think they want.
It means giving to them what they really want, when they want and where they want it.”

Philip Crosby, creator of the “Zero Defect” concept states that a customer deserves to receive exactly what we have promised to produce – a clean room, a hot cup of coffee, quick cash over the counter, a trip to the moon on gossamer wings! Whatever is real or implied we must make it and do it well.

If one is to analyze the business discipline of market leaders today, one finds it evolves around choosing a customer and then focusing on the specific target. As markets become more crowded with similar (me-too) products price and mere features are the least effective distinguishers. It is your respect for your customer that makes you stand out.

Customer gained, customer lost

All this sounds good and easy. But the realities at the marketplace are somewhat different. Look at two real life examples, at either side of customer service, to realize it.

  1. A young NRI working for a multinational in Washington DC was coming home to India to get married. Being a busy executive on reaching the airport suddenly remembered he had not packed in his bags his new wedding day shoes. A kind of panic ran through him as the only pair of shoes he had with him were the sports shoes he was wearing! He went down to the airlines counter and enquired if there was a shoe shop in the airport. where he could buy a pair. Unfortunately there was none, and soon would have to board his flight.

    When this young man landed at the Mumbai airport he was approached by an airline staff with a packet for him. Not expecting anything at the airport he curiously opened the pack, and to his surprise found a pair of leather shoes in it! And his size that too. The lady at the Washington airport had made arrangements with the local office to buy and have the shoes delivered to the young man on his arrival at Mumbai.

    The initiative of this employee of the airline sold the young man and made him a totally loyal customer of the airline. How many companies and their employees can do this?  It is indeed going beyond the service to delight the customer in the true sense.

  2. Another business executive was on a three day holiday at Chennai with his wife. While checking out of a four star hotel he presented the cashier with his credit card. The cashier swiped the card three times all three times got a “declined” message on his card machine. Being a Sunday, the cashier expressed his helplessness to re-confirm his credit for payment of the bill! The executive was indeed in an embarrassing position. Fortunately he had another credit card of another bank and he could settle the bill and move on.

    On return to Mumbai he took up the matter with the bank and he was told that on that Sunday there was a breakdown in the main server and hence the problem. But it seemed the cashier at the hotel could have confirmed the credit and payment by phone with the banks 24-hour customer service desk!

    As a result of this the executive cancelled the credit card of the bank and wowed never to go back to the 4-star hotel again. The bank and the hotel had lost a customer forever!

Customer loyalty in the final analysis

What the two example show can be put up as a simple formula for understanding effective customer relations management better:

Customer Service + Customer Satisfaction + Customer Delight = Customer Loyalty.

Customer service which is fundamental must end with customer loyalty in the ultimate form. It is somewhere on this path where marketer’s in India get bogged down. It’s not a smooth going. I can list four major reasons.

First, we still tend to give mere lip service to customer relations. The service and relationship often does not actually happen. Complaints are not handled well. There exist a gap between the customer service philosophy and the actual service in the short-term and long-term.

Second, in India customers are still considered as “suckers”. If you look at some products and services, despite the bad quality and they still exist and thrive. Customers still going for them.

Third, the employees of our organizations are not “empowered” enough to give more than routine customer service. They can never do what the American airlines employee, for instance, could do for the NRI in the example above.

Fourth, we have become kind of slaves of technology (the computer) in most organizations. The system prevails instead of the person behind it! The cashier at the four star hotel in our example is a case in point. At banks, hotels, airlines and other organizations the customer is just an ID number or a password. The human contact or touch is just not there any longer.

Quality of Customer Service

Customer Service today is a blend as in a dinning table salad, and not a blend as in a melting pot in the kitchen. It’s an art and a science.

Customers don’t want quantity, they want quality. We need to give them something they are excited about, and will become loyal to us. It’s that simple really. What will happen with “e-selling” and “e-commerce” is something yet to be seen and experienced in India. As a customer myself my gut feeling on this count is not so good!

There are three basic levels of Customer satisfaction in practice, and which need attention:

Level 1: Meeting the basic requirements of the customers

Level 2: Meeting their expectations in such a manner that they will come back to us

Level 3: Doing more than what they would expect us to do

It is not enough just to be at Level 1 and Level 2, as the competition would at the very least be at this level. To stay ahead of the competition, Level 3 must be the goal in all our marketing and selling.

Satisfaction Measurement Index

How can we know whether our customers are satisfied or not? The answer, quite simply, is to ask them directly.

By continuously monitoring responses and carrying out surveys in which randomly selected customers reply to questions. With this we can obtain volumes of data which can be studied and analyzed and appropriate strategies in keeping customers happy and loyal implemented. The analysis can provide in-depth insights into what our customers think about us and what we can do to retain them, or attract new customers, or even woo back customers we may have lost.

This will help us develop our own Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) which can be used to benchmark our service and relationship activities within our objectives.

It is often said, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. For year’s informal customer feedback, dip-stick surveys, and gut-feelings were the channels to gauge how satisfied customers were. Today, however, formal marketing research and measurement techniques are enabling organizations to accurately measure the real levels of satisfaction among customers across different dimensions – physical and attitudinal and motivational. With technology today on-line marketing research and measurement services have come to be developed that make it easy for us to continuously monitor customer satisfaction and loyalty using state-of-the-art Internet technologies.

Two home-spun truths

As a customer and as a professional, I have two concepts from my experience which I urge marketer to note, and follow in their situations, if possible:

  1. “Staying in Touch"

    Constant contact and staying in touch with customers is an essential ingredient for success in marketing and selling. Closer the emotional and physical contact with customers the greater are the chances of your getting new ones and retaining the existing ones.

    Feel their needs and requirements, and full fill these to the maximum extent visibly and in quantifiable terms. This is what customer delight is about.

  2. “Music to attract Customers”

Piped Piper created music to attract all the rats in Hamlin. Your music for customers in terms of gaining their attention and effective servicing of their needs can help attract new customers and make the existing ones loyal to you for life.

Customers have their own mind, and do not follow you as in the Piped Piper fable, until your music in benefits is tangible and supported by genuine concern for them. If not they will make you out. What makes them tick and be loyal will your unique triggers (or drivers) in your customer service.

In conclusion, one needs to remember, and spread among our employees, the famous ad age that:

            “A satisfied customer tells nine other persons.
              A dissatisfied customer tells sixteen persons.”

Customers are looking for products that will not let them down, or leave them, feeling cheated. Their self-image depends to a large extent on the feelings you give them and that they have made smart purchases. The trend is for customers wanting to get what fits their needs, not something which fits somebody else’s image. This is a reality – today and of the tomorrow to be.