By Paul du Toit

Paul will be speaking at the March 2015 Power Series Breakfast on Exceptional Customer Service.

There are few greater barriers to customer satisfaction than unmet expectations. These could be as a result of poor communication, broken promises or simply a lack of caring. All of these, however could point to one cause – assumptions. When we simply assume we know what will satisfy our customer without taking the trouble to find out, we run the risk of unmet expectations – and that’s not good for business.

Why could this be a bigger problem today than we may realize? There are several reasons:

1.    There are far more choices than beforePaul du Toit
2.    People have become more discerning
3.    Quality standards have increased
4.    Expectations have risen
5.    Tolerance and patience is decreasing
6.    Turn-around times have shortened
7.    Convenience has become the standard
8.    People prefer what they are used to
9.    People now have social platforms to say what they think
Over the period of one lifetime standardisation has given way to customisation. 70 years ago it would have been, in many contexts far safer to assume – because choice was limited. As a consumer, when you have few choices you make do with what you can get, even if it involves spending time working it out. Today consumer choice is the new standard. So we don’t have to put up with complicated products, slow service or things that don’t work as they should. We just look around until we can get what we want.

People have come to expect services and products tailored to their needs and conveniently packaged. They should be inexpensive, easy to use and logically designed without having to be worked out. If it takes too much time or effort, customers will simply buy elsewhere. They expect that they’ll be back in the market for the new model in just a few years – when they will have even more choices.

There are 2 approaches to the new design of products, services and customer experiences.

The one is to ask customers what they want. This is important in the context of providing familiar services or products that are unlikely to change much. For example, there may be different, innovative ways of creating and packaging a lettuce – but in the end it remains a lettuce. You can ask customers about previous problems, what they dislike or like about the old, what improvements they’d like to see, how should it be packaged and so on.

The second is the Steve Jobs approach. He reasoned, quite correctly as it turned out, that you can’t ask people what they want if they don’t understand the range of future possibilities. This could apply to technology, or the way music and telecommunication is packaged. But not always. There is value in the argument that in certain instances a blend of both approaches could be successful. It also remains largely true that in essence the fundamentals of a product will remain the same. For example, the one activity most people do most often with a smartphone is – communicate!

When considering service, sales and products that are likely to do much the same as they’ve always done, it has become increasingly important to ban assumptions. This is because people’s emotions remain predictable. People don’t like to be ignored, don’t like their time being wasted and hate things that don’t work. They expect choices, they like brisk attention, and now take it for granted that what they buy will work – even if they drop it!

So asking customers what they want, how they like it, when they want it and what colour it should be is a great idea. It may take a little extra time and trouble at first, but you’re more likely to please and keep your customers. It’s far cheaper asking a few questions than having to bake a new cake from the start because you didn’t check what flavour they wanted at the start.

Most important, when you have the opportunity to interface with your customers, asking their opinion does a lot more than simply provide you with valuable information. It makes them feel included, important and special. Folk like feeling these things. If those folk are your customers, best you catch yourself asking them what they think – often.

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