Problem: Our customer service results seem to be all over the map. Some customers are extremely happy with us and post great reviews online. Others are dissatisfied and often express their feelings both online and to our employees in unpleasant ways. I do my best to treat customers well - but things never seem to get much better. What can I do to make our customer experiences consistently more satisfying?
Have you ever had an experience like this one?
You enter a restaurant, approach the hostess stand and see the sign that reads, "Please wait to be seated."
There is no one there to greet you even though several service workers are scurrying around performing various activities. You wait several minutes (it feels like more) before the hostess appears and shows you to your table.
In the overall scope of your dining experience this seems like a small event, yet you feel irritated: "At least someone could have acknowledged our presence."
Two customer experience concepts are at work in this scenario: unmet customer expectations and poor handling of customer touchpoints.
Let's start with customer expectations. Expectations are set by several things: past experience, the nature of the business and the value promise. The example above involves a hospitality business. We expect to be treated well because that is the point of hospitality. Your business type automatically sets some basic level of customer expectations. You should know what they are in your industry.
Customer expectations are further set by your value promise. This is your intentional commitment to customers concerning the benefits they will receive. When you promise something customers expect you to deliver. The "friendly skies" should indeed be friendly. A clearly developed value promise aligns the effort of your employees and sends a distinct message to your customers about what to expect.
Clearly setting customer expectations and following through on the value promise is essential. You would not be upset if you were ignored at the Department of Motor Vehicles for a few minutes because you do not expect a friendly greeting at the DMV. The DMV is not in the hospitality industry; its job is to process forms so you can get a license to drive your car.
Customer touchpoints is the other important concept in the restaurant scenario. As Jan Carlzon, former president and CEO of Scandinavian Airlines System, explains in his book, "Moments of Truth," a company "is not a collection of material assets, but the quality of the contact between an individual customer and the employees who serve the customer directly..."
At his company, each of its 10 million customers came into contact with about five employees. In a sense, the company was "created" 50 million times through these encounters. Carlzon refers to such encounters as "moments of truth" because they are opportunities to reinforce relationships with customers OR give them reasons to look elsewhere. Thus, even small encounters can have disproportionately large impact on customer satisfaction.
Actions: There are several actions you can take to improve customer experience with your firm.
Jeffery M. Ferguson, Ph.D., is professor of service management and marketing, and faculty director of graduate programs at the College of Business at UCCS. He is also an executive education facilitator through the college's Office of Professional & Executive Development. Ferguson was a marketing consultant for more than 20 years and is author of multiple journal articles about service quality, marketing and spiritual leadership. He can be reached at OPED@uccs.edu.