In the last 20 years, Gallup has interviewed over a billion customers, trying to identify what they really want. As you would expect, they first discovered that a customer’s needs vary by industry. Surprisingly though, they found 4 sets of customer expectation that consistently spanned across various types of business and people. These expectation are what they call hierarchical, meaning that you need to accomplish 1 and 2 before 3 has any value. I was thinking about this and decided to apply it to our company and industry.
Level 1: Customers Expect Accuracy
Our customers expect to get the product or service they asked for. It doesn’t matter how friendly you are, if you consistently fail to deliver what has been requested, you will loose the customer. The key, make sure you know the expectations. In our business (design & the creation of custom software), this is often trickier than in others industries. Peter & I are constantly working with people to clearly define the problem & the solution. In the last few weeks, we have been focused on improving how we review each project and get everyone on the team (including the client) on the same page. It is better to admit being unsure and double checking, than to deliver the wrong item.
Level 2: Customers Expect Availability
Pickup when they call, answer promtly when they email and most importantly, deliver your service when it is needed. Every time that we make ourselves available and effectively solve the problem of our client, their satisfaction and loyalty tangible increases. How is it tangible? The happier our customers, the more referalls we recieive. Most times, when you turn down an attempt at communication or a contract, you decrease your relationship with them.
Level 3: Customers Want Partnership
This weekend, during a conversation at a conference, a business owner asked me an interesting question: “What does it take to be truly great at what you do?” I reflected on that and the first answer that came to mind was this: “I think you need to care as much or more about the customer’s problem than they do.” Customers want you to listen to them, to make them feel like you are on the same team. They have to feel understood.
We have one client who consistently uses us despite the fact that we come with a higher price tag than some of our competition. I believe that is because he knows if we take on the project, we will bring as much focus, determination and passion to the end result as he does (which is quite a significant amount). And knowing that we are on his team, he can relax just a little. That is worth a lot of money, if you ask me.
Level 4: Customers Love the Right Advice (aka Added Value)
This can be misleading if you don’t notice the word Right. Gallup directly implied that to succeed, we need to talk less and truly listen (its one of my biggest struggles).
When you truly listen, put your own interests aside, and help someone learn something they value, that builds a bond. I’ve watched Peter work with prospects and find a solution that doesn’t require us and is either free or a fraction of our price. They leave feeling truly heard and appreciated. That act build powerful trust and has lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of future work.
When someone who works for me (with whom I feel a sense of partnership) brings something to the table that I could not have, I am grateful. When they teach me something new that I care about, that is the next level. They have influenced and added value to my life, even if only in the smallest way, and that is the true meaning of service.
Gallup Poll Results from “First, Break All The Rules” by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman