There’s more to customer satisfaction than customer service. The most pleasant experience with a person can’t make up for bad food, faulty products or shipping delays. There are several factors – 10 of which are outlined here – that influence a customer’s decision to return or move on.
By Ken West, Ph.D.
The customer is always right,right? Well, that’s what the playbook for any successful business says. Satisfying customers may seem like a no-brainer, but the methods and psychology behind securing a loyal following takes more than discount coupons and free balloons.
There are many entry points when examining customer satisfaction – 10 of which are discussed in this article.
But the jumping off point for customer satisfaction doesn’t start with the customer at all. It actually starts in-house, with the employee.
“The single most important factor that affects customer satisfaction is employee satisfaction,” says Howard J. Ross, president of a Maryland-based consulting firm. “Employees who feel satisfied and happy at their jobs naturally tend to be more helpful and considerate toward customers. It’s simple logic. If I like my job and the company I work for, I’m going to communicate to customers that we have a good product.”
Once the employees are in a company’s corner, if the following 10 areas are incorporated into a business plan, it will be smooth sailing towards big financial returns from high customer satisfaction.
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Can’t Get No Satisfaction? Here are 10 Ways to Please the Customer
- 1. Quality is Never an Accident
- If you have a lousy product or service, good luck selling it. There’s a reason the AMC Pacer and Chevy Vega aren’t around anymore. No amount of aggressive PR or marketing can save a product or service that just plain stinks.
- 2. Separation Anxiety
- In any market, there’s usually more than one of the same products, perhaps dozens. Tide, Biz, Cheer, Gain. The grocery store laundry aisle is stocked with laundry detergents, all seemingly the same product in a different package. Customer service may not work when choosing detergent, but word of mouth certainly plays into customer satisfaction. If a product is the best one among several identical products, then it’s necessary to separate it from the rest, through marketing, customer service and good-old fashioned product quality.
- 3. Access 2.0
- No website? No contact information? No search engine optimization? No business, then. The age of the Internet has made finding products and services a snap. What used to take minutes of flipping through a phone book now takes seconds on the Web. Emailing and searching for products and services on the Internet has become such a central reference point, companies have invested millions in making sure access is extremely easy. Because, if it takes a Web surfer more than a few frustrating minutes to maneuver a site, they’re gone.
Customers are satisfied when there are no barriers, or at the very least, limited barriers to access a service. Remember the phrase, “banking hours?” The competition made the banks step up and stay open later on weekdays and even open their doors on weekends. Work weekends? That’s something that would have made the banking industry shudder 20 years ago.
- 4. At Face Value
- When a product or service costs more, but is worth it, its value becomes acceptable to the consumer. When a consumer always buys Nike, Sony or goes for the $100 massage over the $35 one, the positive features of the products or service should outweigh the cost, creating a strong sense of good value.
“I would happily pay more if necessary to have great customer service,” said Barry L. Brown, President of a Florida-based consulting firm. “Great customer service is rare these days. I drive 30 minutes to a particular location for a car wash and oil change when there are several within five minutes of my house. The difference? Great customer service.”
- 5. A Nice Atmosphere
- Ask any sensible person and they’ll tell you that given the same product or service, they would rather shop at the place that offers a clean, safe and well-organized environment. Lowe’s knew this and capitalized on it when going up against hardware’s 2,000-pound gorilla, Home Depot.
The North Carolina chain carried out extensive customer research and discovered that women initiate 80% of home-improvement decisions. So Lowe’s decided to do what Home Depot wasn’t doing, make its stores brighter, cleaner and more shopper-friendly. When you need a power drill that’s the same brand and the same price, the store that’s psychologically more inviting will win out every time. That’s why Lowe’s now has 1,375 stores in 49 states, and ranks 42nd on the Fortune 500 list.
- 6. The Waiting Game
- When it takes 20 minutes to get your Bloomin’ Onion at Outback, or the Christmas Amazon delivery comes on Dec. 27, the timing aspect of customer satisfaction is shot. When products and services miss their delivery milestones, customers start to see red. If they’re waiting at the restaurant, they tend to think there’s not enough staff working. If their products are late in the mail, then someone mishandled their order.
Excuses don’t fly when customers are counting on a service. One example is the dreaded time window. When the cable/repair guy says he will be there between 9 and 1, and doesn’t show, that tends to boil the blood of any customer. In a society that demands instant results for everything from food to foreign policy, a good business has to keep the wait time to a minimum.
- 7. The one R: Responsibility
- A company has a commitment to tell the truth. Hiding facts, figures and excessive small print doesn’t go far when it comes to customer satisfaction. If a company doesn’t stand by its product, or hassles the customer when a refund or exchange is in order, that will stick. When something goes wrong with a product or service, if the supplier goes above and beyond the call of duty in taking responsibility, the end result is often that the customer is so impressed with the supplier’s response, it negates the original problem.
- 8. Hold On to What You’ve Got
- Repetition when it comes to customers is a good thing. When a company keeps a customer, it’s more profitable than finding a new one. As early as the 1980s, the American Consumer Association found that it was five times more expensive to win a new customer than to keep an existing one. That’s a major windfall for companies. Brands like Apple and Starbucks know that the stronger the bond customers have with their products, the longer the relationship will last.
- 9. You’re in Good Hands, Hopefully
- There’s a reason Allstate’s “You’re In Good Hands” slogan has worked for so long. Customers like to know that a company cares. Corporations face a constant image problem, being portrayed as soulless fat cats interested in squeezing out as much profit as possible. When oil companies, drug makers and insurers reap billions in profits while consumers pay more and more for their products it makes people mad. Campaigns to show that the company cares are critical to keep customers satisfied. When customers are informed, and feel that their opinion matters, they are more satisfied.
- 10. Tech Isn’t Just for Geeks
- Technology means more than a fancy Flash website. In order to satisfy customers, companies have to keep up with the latest technological advances or suffer the consequences. Change is never easy, but business as usual isn’t a viable alternative anymore. Technology can help small and mid-size companies look like big companies by improving the quality of the purchasing experience without adding staff to the payroll.