Basic Business Cents
by Lou Schultz, SCORE counselor
Original publish date 06/21/2009 (#11)
In the last column we discussed how merely satisfying customers is not enough, we must provide better service or products than they expect. Their expectations are set by what we and our competitors lead them to believe they can get, so we want their expectations to be around what we offer. The question then is how do we discover the attractive quality features that allow us to delight our customers and become the leader in our field. Obviously it is not easy and it requires a focused effort.
The first step is to carefully define the aim of this effort. Exactly what do we want to achieve? Brainstorm with your key people all the possible objectives that you would like to see develop. Then sort them to define the few key objectives of the process and develop 2 or 3 open-ended questions to discover information on needs and wants in each of the areas.
Just listening "to the voice of your customer is not sufficient." It is worthwhile to note there are some things your customers will tell you and some things they won't tell you unless you have a method to obtain it from them. And, of course they may not tell you all their needs because they don't know themselves but your method might make it clear to them. Also, just listening to your customers is not enough because there are other customers you would like to have that you should learn about their needs and wants.
Next visit with 10 to 20 customers, potential customers, and lost customers, making sure you that you have representation of all three groups. Ask them the open questions and listen and record the responses, both verbal and observed body language.
After completion of this step, again meet with your key people and review the notes and select and prioritize the important needs and wants. Work can now begin on ways to satisfy those unmet needs and wants.
When some ideas have crystallized on how to deliver on these customer-delight features, think back to your visits and remember those people who were trying to use your products or service in ways for which they were never intended. Some call them people who "think out of the box." Dr. Kano calls them "maniac or lead users." Meet with them as a group, if possible, and bounce new ideas off of them. Again record their responses and note behavior. Not only do you want feedback on your ideas, but also brainstorm with them other things you could or should do. They can become a brain trust for you and will feel ownership in your success. In that way, they also become loyal customers.
The data should be maintained for further analysis and updated as time goes on. This process insures input from every possible source such as existing, new, potential, delighted, satisfied, unhappy, and lost customers. The data should also reflect whether they are a lead, mainstream, or trailing users, different sizes, different markets, so on and so forth.
Dr. Deming used to say, "If you want to be ahead, you have to get ahead." Delighting your customers will make you the leader.