Achieving Customer “Delight”
It is not enough anymore to aim for “customer satisfaction.” Mere satisfaction simply preserves the status quo, and in a challenging market, we all need to do better with our customers. Forward-thinking companies, those who want increased market share, (and the ability to maintain or increase prices and margin), have been focusing on “Customer Delight” – achieving a level of customer satisfaction that goes beyond even the customer’s own expectations.
When we fill executive positions, “improving customer satisfaction” is very often a performance objective built into the job profile. As well, when we interview candidates, a frequently mentioned accomplishment is having improved customer perceptions in their most recent position. We are very sure this is a common issue in Aerospace & Defense companies today.
The elements of achieving Customer Delight are these:
Performance: First and foremost, customers want their product on-time, of high quality, and at the agreed-upon (or fair) price. If you are doing this well, you are halfway to customer delight. However, many companies miss in one or all of these areas, and that is the first thing to correct. Continuous improvement isn’t just a buzzword. It has to be a daily mantra that is put into action. And, performance includes responsiveness. If a customer says “jump!” we need to say “how high?”
Truth: Problems with delivery, quality, or price often lead to fear (of losing the customer), which can further lead to deceiving the customer, or trying to finesse what is actually happening. This type of rationalization can erode customer trust instantly, and immediately create a paradigm shift to a negative perception. Customers want the truth, even if it is bad news. The best way to deliver news of a problem is to accompany it with a proposed solution that the customer perceives is in its favor.
Communication: Good customer communication is not just about delivering bad news. Find out how and when (how often, under what circumstances) your customer wants to receive communication. Do they have their own forms for you to fill in? Do they need certain metrics to move up the food chain to their customers? When delivering any news, good or bad, validate with your customer that they have the information they need. If they need something more or different, get it done ASAP. On a regular basis, make a point of connecting with customers at a personal level. How is your key point of contact doing? Can you improve their professional life in some way? How does their professional life get better if you are even more competent and complete at delivering “delight?” View the answers to these questions as vital information to improve your position.
True Partnering: Many customers call their vendors “strategic partners” or “trusted advisors” or some similar phrase, and many of them are sincere. Some aren’t, and simply use the label as a way to get more from their vendors. But, whether you have that label on you or not, seek a way to become a real partner with your customer. Offer them “value engineering” – ways to design cost out of a product, based on your real-world knowledge of how to make what they need. Find pricing programs that reflect actual efficiencies you will achieve with increased volume, and provide your customer a real reason to increase your market share of what they buy. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, a true partner delivers accuracy. Act like you occupy a seat at their table for project meetings. Customers will appreciate knowing exactly when you will deliver, so they can improve the precision of their own forecasts.
The old adage of “Under-promise and Over-deliver” is unfortunately a salesman’s oversimplification today. Customers need to know what you can and really will do. Most would probably support the newer adage: “Done is better than perfect.” Therefore, surprising (and thereby delighting) a customer with even better performance is getting even more challenging to do. Keeping this goal in your sights is a smart move, and when you achieve customer delight, you will reap the rewards of loyalty, increased revenue and most likely, profitability too.