The reality of Customer Satisfaction is in the eyes of the beholder – the customer. The sooner we realize and accept our customers’ perceptions of our products and services as reality, and accept it as our challenge, the sooner we will earn their confidence and become their permanent supplier of choice.
Customer connectivity represents a set of business processes touching on all aspects of the company. Customer satisfaction is a great deal more than the clichés “getting close to customers” and the motto “the customer is always right”. Since some companies sell to a variety of customers with varying and even conflicting desires and needs, the goal of getting close to the customers, and the motto that “the customer is always right”, are somewhat vague. We have also found no meaningful business philosophy in the terms “market driven” and “customer oriented”. Most business gurus use the phrases interchangeably and have difficulty in defining and communicating their scope and meaning. Successful business leaders go beyond these clichés and strive to provide their selected customers with products and services under the business philosophy of Customer Connectivity.
Because different customers have different needs, a company cannot effectively satisfy this wide range of needs equally. The most important strategic decision in the pursuit of Customer Connectivity is to choose the most important customers. All customers are important, but invariably some are more important than others. Collaboration among the various functions is important when pinpointing key target accounts and market segments. This done, sales people know whom to call on first and most often, the people who schedule production runs know who gets favored treatment; those who make service calls know who rates special attention. If the priorities are not made clear in the calm of planning meetings, they certainly won’t be when the sales, production scheduling and service dispatching processes get hectic.
Customer connectivity starts with customer selection however, the next phase is just as important. Company executives must gain a thorough understanding of their customers’ buying influences and their relevant needs. Such customer information must be communicated by these executives beyond the sales and marketing functions and permitted to “permeate every business function” – the R&D and design engineers, manufacturing/quality people and field-service specialists. When these technologists, for example, get unvarnished feedback on the way customers use their products, they can better develop improvements on the products and the production processes. If, on the other hand, market people predigest the information, technologists may miss opportunities for improvements.
Customer connectivity must be predicated on team dynamics and commitment. Serial communications, when one department passes an idea or request to another routinely, without interaction can’t build the team dynamics and commitment needed for Customer connectivity. Successful new products don’t, for example, emerge out of a process in which marketing sends a set of specifications to R&D; R&D sends the conceptual design to design engineering which sends finished blueprints and designs to manufacturing. But joint design/development reviews and decision-making, in which customer and supplier functional and divisional people share ideas and discuss alternative solutions and approaches, leverages the different strengths of each party. Powerful internal and external connections make new product development communications clear, coordination strong and commitment high.
Establishing effective business relationships with key customer personnel is paramount to making it easy for customers to do business with your company. From the shop floor to the front office, we must establish “one-on-one” customer communications that provide real-time customer input relative to business relations, product performance, and field service. We must convert these communications to action plans and put forth our best effort to quickly resolve all issues. Let’s remember that being nice to people is just 20% of providing good customer service. The important part is designing systems that allow you to do the job right the first time. All the smiles in the world are not going to help you if your products or service are unsatisfactory.
Individual and team direct-line communications with customers is the best approach to obtaining timely and relevant “how are we doing” feedback from customers. Customer satisfaction surveys are tedious, possibly supplier biased and not very accurate in their customer service portrayal. We prefer a “one-on-one” customer connectivity system!