How to preempt and exceed customer expectations
There was a time when mothers taught their kids that ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all’. But that was before the dawn of the era of social media. There are people that turn to social media platforms only to vent. And it is often these people that have the largest number of followers, not because they ruthlessly review and bash products but because blunt truth about a product from an actual user is often the most relied upon advice for prospective customers. Rather than subscribing to the motto of ignorance is bliss, companies need to be proactive and immediately react to any negative comment posted. Any kind of immediate action, either addressing the complaint or apologizing for the bad experience, restores half the damage done. At the end of the day, the customer wishes to be heard and negative feedback are often the best way to understand where a company is going wrong and how to rectify the mistake, so that the next best action can be taken. Simply addressing the complaint won’t help because treating the disease and not the symptom is what will ensure success for the company in the long run.
2. Happy employees, happy customers
Employees are the first customers of a company and so, a happy employee means a happy customer. Employees will often be the first ones to have a review or opinion about a new product and many prospective customers blatantly ask employees their views about products. So, a happy employee automatically translates into increase marketing, increased sales and satisfied customers. This is proven by the fact that there was once a customer review on an online travel booking site that said despite the hotel being average in terms of quality and price, the trip was made memorable by the helping staff and smiling receptionist.
3. Be innovative
Many companies run in the opposite direction when they hear words like ‘change’ and ‘innovation’. However, change and innovation needn’t always be all about increased expenses, too many new things and a disturbed routine. Innovation is more about thinking out of the box. An example of this would be what a Bed & Breakfast (B&B) in Manhattan did to reinforce a customer’s positive experience. On a hot and humid day, beside the customary water coolers in the hallway, the B&B had placed two bowls with water for any pets that customers may have. While the B&B in itself always offered a good experience to its customers, it was this small gesture that people remembered and talked about all through the summer. This word of mouth publicity generated hardly cost the B&B anything and only helped increase business. Another example of innovation would be when NASA was looking to make a spacesuit before sending the first man into space. While many were thinking along the lines of creating a thick suit that would act as an exoskeleton, the answer finally came from, of all places, a women’s innerwear company. Playtex realized that if they combined the latex used in their manufactured girdles and the nylon tricot from their manufactured bras, they could make a pretty resistant spacesuit that could tolerate the harsh conditions in space. Thus, the answer to NASA’s problem came from an innerwear company. The instances where innovation helped save a company or at least increase its sales are aplenty. In short, what is needed is a plan to really go out of the way and offer the customer a whole new memorable experience.
4. Be transparent
Genuinely innovate instead of just adding bling. Today’s customer is smart enough to spot old wine in a new bottle and this move may backfire so badly that it could lead to mistrust and loss of customer loyalty. The last thing a customer wants is to be fooled. A good example would be of a financial services firm in the U.S. that advertised schemes involving their credit cards, only for customers to later find out that the schemes and fees involved huge amounts of hidden additional charges. This led to several complaints being lodged and finally, the company was slapped with a whopping USD210 million fine by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for cheating customers in an attempt to make a quick buck. The existing customers that were yet to be duped, needless to say, backed out immediately, leading the company into a financial crisis, with 90% of its second quarter earnings seeing a drop. Thus, this kind of a short sighted approach led to severe mistrust, loss of customer loyalty and subsequent churn.
Similarly, plastering a ‘sale’ sign on an entire rack or section of clothing, when in fact the discount is only valid on a few items, hidden shipping charges and surcharges, etc. are all means of cheating customers. We’ve all been there and the one lesson learnt is to not go there again. So, the primary focus of every company that wishes to be in for the long haul is must be on building trust and customer centricity.
5. No variety, no business
Many companies feel that if they offer customers only their products, then customers will be compelled to buy them and sales will go up. A case in point would be a well known pharmacy chain that stocked only their brand’s drugs and medicines. Often, patients came with prescriptions that had generic names or relatively more common drug names. However, they were instead given the brand’s drugs, which had the same ingredients but not the brand name. Not knowing the exact ingredients in the medicines and not wishing to deviate from the prescription given by their physician, customers started flocking other pharmacies in the area instead. This made the pharmacists realize that their move of stocking only their products, hoping it would increase sales was completely backfiring because most customers were instead going to other pharmacies. So, in short, the customer must get exactly what the customer wants.
6. It all boils down to understanding the customer better