There are four elements that you need to create a satisfied customer:
1. A well-constructed, reliable product or service.
2. Service delivery by polite, helpful (but not necessarily extraordinary; we’ll get to that below) people.
3. Timeliness, because a solid product or service delivered late is a defect.
4. The support of a service recovery framework/process, for the inevitable occasions when you are late, when you are less than friendly in your delivery, when your product or service offering is less than reliable and well-constructed. (If you don’t already have a customer service recovery approach nailed down for such unfortunate moments, please email me for a free, printable copy of my MAMA method of customer service recovery. It’s that kind of important.)
The problem with creating “mere” customer satisfaction (and I realize it’s not really “mere”; getting these four elements right is no easy trick) is that customer satisfaction is not as powerful a state as the kind of customer engagement that leads, ultimately, to customer loyalty.
Few customers are going to become advocates for your business or to think of you as their one and only supplier in this particular segment of the marketplace and corner of their mind if you’ve only provided them with satisfactory customer service.
Rather, you’ll remain a commodity, something they’re content with only until something better or cheaper or faster–or, in some minuscule way, more convenient–comes along.
So how do you bring the satisfied customer up one essential rung of the ladder to loyalty? By delivering anticipatory customer service. If an otherwise-satisfied customer also feels that you are anticipating what they are about to ask for, or delivering what they didn’t even know enough to ask for (because you’re the expert, after all!), then you become truly their “home” for this sector of their desires/expectations as a consumer. So make it your goal to become a fully anticipatory business, not just a reactive one where a customer can ask for something and you’ll provide it but where you’re watching out for them and serving them in all the best ways possible.
What’s involved in accomplishing this?
1) Hire, onboard, and train [here’s more from me on customer service training do’s and don’ts] empathetic employees in a way that teaches them to serve even the desires and needs that haven’t been expressed.
2) Build company guidelines that facilitate anticipatory customer service. Such as: “own any customer request, rather than shuffling the customer off to another employee,” and “our customers expect a “default of yes; unless there is a security or safety reason to say “no,” strive to find a way to say ‘yes’ wherever possible.”
3) Deploy (if it’s appropriate in your context) anticipatory technology to support your efforts, whether this is a supportive CRM or even AI augmentation.
I know this sounds like a lot of work, and it is. In fact, providing anticipatory customer service is a notably tricky competency to achieve. But particularly in a time like today, the value is obvious. A loyal customer:
• buys more from you
• is more open to your line extensions
• is less price-sensitive (up to a point).
• will forgive your small foibles and possibly even your grander mistakes, and will put up with occasional inconveniences that they wouldn’t accept from a company to which they aren’t loyal.
• will go out of their way to sing your company’s praises in a way that is likely to bring additional customers into the fold.
For all of these reasons, a loyal customer is literally as valuable as gold to any business that wants to succeed in the long haul.
Micah Solomon is a customer service and customer experience consultant, keynote speaker and trainer. He also works as a content creator and ghostwriter and as a customer service expert witness. Micah was recently named “the World’s #1 Customer Service Turnaround Expert” by Inc. Magazine. Email Micah directly, visit his website, or check out his new bestseller: Ignore Your Customers (and They’ll Go Away) (HarperCollins Leadership).