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THE ART OF DELIGHTING CUSTOMERS

by Rene T. Domingo (email comments to rtd@aim.edu)

In the context of Total Quality, serving customers does not simply mean satisfying customers. Satisfied customers are not necessarily loyal customers nor repeat customers. Why is this so? Customer satisfaction implies satisfying their needs and conformance to their requirements, and specifications have to be stated explicitly by customers to be satisfied. What can go wrong with this seemingly logical process?

Firstly, you may not be asking customers all their needs, or worse you may be expecting customers to volunteer this information.

Secondly, even after you have asked customers all the right questions, they may not tell you everything they need.

Thirdly, even if they tell you everything they need and answer all your questions, your competitors can do the same thing to your customers and satisfy them similarly. In short, your customers could switch to your competitor without warning, remorse, or second thoughts -- and they all the right to do so.

Loyal customers are delighted - not just satisfied - customers. To delight means to cater even to unstated customer needs, by anticipating them, by taking a proactive rather than a reactive posture, and by thinking like a customer. Delighting also means defining quality from the customer's point of view.

The highest form of customer service is what I call surprising customers. It means going out of your way to exceed customer expectations and needs, stated or unstated, at no extra cost or delay to him. Surprised customers are not just loyal customers, they also become your most dedicated and effective salespersons and advertisers. It would be extremely difficult for your competitors to steal your delighted and surprised customers.

Let us take one concrete example. If you enter a first class restaurant, and ask the waiter for a cigarette, and he gives you one, you should be satisfied because that was what you asked for. But if he wanted to delight you, he would also light your cigarette. Note that as in many products and services, there are needs you do not state explicitly to the provider - like stating you also needed a light when you asked for a cigarette. You leave that to the imagination, resourcefulness, and common sense of the service provider - like stating you also needed a light when you ask for a cigarette. You leave that to the imagination, resourcefulness, and common sense of the service provider.

If the waiter desires to surprise you, then with the light, he would give you an ashtray and ask, or better yet, provide other things you may need for your comfort and convenience.

If you dropped your cash-filled wallet in an airline seat, your natural expectation is that it is gone forever. You would be satisfied if the ground staff would handle your report promptly with a promise, even without guarantees, that they would try their best to retrieve the wallet. You would be annoyed and extremely dissatisfied if you encounter red tape and staff indifference when you file the report. You would be delighted if the airline in no time finds your wallet and notifies you that you may get your wallet with all the cash intact at the airline airport counter in your next destination. You would be surprised if an airline staff handcarries your wallet to your home. As a delighted and surprised customer, you write an unsolicited letter of compliment to the airline management. You also become a loyal frequent flyer, telling the whole world about your wonderful experience with the airline.

When a customer orders a product, all written documentation-purchase order, contracts and blueprints- contain nothing but specifications, delivery dates, terms of payment, and prices. Customers will not put in writing the service they expect before, during, and after the sales; but these unstated needs are just as real and important to them as those indicated in the purchase order. For instance, they expect immediate response to inquiries and complaints, they expect correct and timely billing and invoices, they expect courteous and efficient telephone operators and receptionists when they get in contact with the company. These unwritten expectations have to be satisfied together with the written specifications. Since they are unwritten, the seller would have to think like a customer and think ahead of the customer in order to find these out. Lousy service accompanying an excellent product results in a bad sale the customer would never forget. In short, he may not come back, and that was your last sale. Customers are always judging the quality of their total experience with the company- in terms of both product and service.

In summary, Total Quality customer service means to satisfy, delight, and then surprise all customers.


 

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