The Customer is always right! Indeed, this very basic premise has been ingrained in our thinking – from graduate school to all levels of business management. Clearly, forward-thinking, growth minded businesses build this facet into all areas of the enterprise – the company mission, values, training and development programs – all are designed to foster an environment whereby “the customer” is viewed as its most critical asset.
The phrase “The customer is always right” was originally coined by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge’s department store in London in 1909, and is frequently used by businesses to:
- Convince customers that they will get good service at this company
- Convince employees to give customers good service
While most would publicly agree that the customer is always right, is this truly embraced and supported by all employee levels to the extent that it drives customer-focused behaviors and actions? Are there instances where, dare I say, the customer might be wrong?
A 2011 Bloomberg BusinessWeek survey revealed that “delivering a great customer experience” has become the new imperative for all or most major Fortune 500 companies and small businesses alike: In fact, 80% of companies polled rated customer experience as a top strategic objective.
Interestingly, according to the same survey only 20% of these companies believe that they, themselves, are actually doing a good job. Fascinating gap between company stated primary objectives against perceived organizational performance towards such goals.
Clearly, no business can exist without customers. Every organization must define itself. It must understand its strengths and weaknesses in order to articulate its value proposition.
Successful companies understand this – they consistently work towards delivering excellence in everything they do. They understand that delivering excellence, or a positive customer experience, begins with the creation of a customer-focused culture.
“There is only one boss – the customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” – Sam Walton (Walmart).
Sam Walton didn’t invent retailing, just like Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile. But just as Ford’s assembly line revolutionized American industry, Walton’s dogged pursuit of discounting revolutionized America’s service economy. Walton didn’t merely alter the way America shopped-he changed the philosophy of the American retail business establishment, instigating the shift of power from manufacturer to consumer that has become prevalent in industry after industry.
That’s why every company needs to figure out how to win and – maybe even more importantly – keep customers in order to survive within highly competitive and often volatile markets.
Now, clearly there are instances when the customer may be wrong, either in how they may voice their concerns, or perhaps an inaccurate view of how, or what, services were to be delivered. This is undeniable.
Yet, it seems reasonable to conclude that delivering a positive customer experience is critical to the health and viability of a company. Customer-focused companies embrace all opportunity feedback – they understand that sustained success often solely comes to those rare organizations who subscribe to the belief that in business, continued success, execution and improved performance often boils down to the survival of the fittest.
“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” – Bill Gates
So what can successful companies do to foster a work environment that drives improved service performance while creating a positive customer experience? How can such companies position themselves through delivering excellence in all areas of their business in a manner that differentiates their business while improving their competitive position?
- Successful companies understand that “good is the enemy of great“. Good provides no guarantees, while GREAT … well, companies who deliver “great” everything they do tend to enjoy explosive and equally sustainable growth, work-life balance for their employees, and achieve high levels of customer satisfaction and retention. Commit to being GREAT!
- Implement an effective Customer Relationship Management (CRM) strategy, or how it is often now phrased, Customer Experience Management (CEM).
- If you aren’t utilizing a viable Quality Management system (TQM, Six Sigma, etc) – stop it! Either explore full implementation, a hybrid deployment, or simply extract the basic principles, processes & procedures of an established Quality Program that will allow your company to deliver best-in-class performance.
- Embrace Customer Feedback as an Opportunity to Improve.
- Utilize a Balanced Scorecard approach in measuring performance against target through scalable Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s). Measure
- Once Scorecard data is gathered, do something with it! Allow scorecard metrics to drive internal and customer-focused decision making. Manage
- Commit your organization to the review of performance data, trends and root cause analysis as part of your focus on continuous improvement. Improve.
- Consider implementing an effective technology solution – the right tool will enable you to more effectively manage your business and desired performance outcomes in real-time.
- Emphasize for Four Principles of Customer Experience: Responsiveness. Reliability. Relevance. Convenience.
- Create a “culture of excellence” within your organization that reflects its core values in everything it does, from how it operates to its employee focus.
- Finally, embrace the reality that, in fact, “the Customer is ALWAYS Right”. In doing so, you’ll free your company or department to begin the process of realizing its full potential as a customer-focused organization.
Ultimately, whatever path you choose needs to align with where you may be as an organization. However, recognize that speed counts and lack of speed kills! If you aren’t moving forward as an organization, you’re likely standing still … why not be the company that recognizes its opportunity to improve! Take action and commit to improving your business and overall customer satisfaction – your current clients may be glad you did!