Sleeping Partner Number 3: When your best just isn’t good enough
Customer satisfaction. Oh, we all say we want to achieve it. And for years business management gurus have been cajoling us in to finding new ways of gratifying those demanding people we call our customers. The Galbraith Muir Consultancy itself pays considerably more than just lip service to the concept – both in what we do and in what we help others to do. But what happens when you think you are genuinely performing as well as you or your company can, and your customers still say they are dissatisfied? Then what?
The most important thing, as both Douglas Adams and Corporal Jones would have it, is “Don’t Panic”. It’s time to go back to basics.
“Oh yeah”, I can hear you groan, “here they go – the standard consultancy answer to everything. Commission a nice expensive survey.”
Well, yes, and no. There’s no doubt that establishing some up-to-date accurate information will help, and after all, any company prepared to ask its customers what they think must care about them, right? That’s the ‘yes’ part. But customers can become over-surveyed. Opinion fatigue sets in and they begin to wonder when all the bloody questions are going to stop and the improvements begin. They end up feeling like a rich mineral seam that’s been stripped clean of any value, and all that’s left are the scars and waste-heaps from previous studies. That’s the rather melodramatic ‘no’ part. (And please note the understated side-reference to a useful current buzz phrase – ‘data mining’. Try it out in your next meeting. Always useful to have it available, even if, as here, I’ve used it in completely the wrong context.)
Let’s assume then that rather than carry out a new survey, what you really need to do is make better use of the data you’ve got from previous polls. One very common and effective style of surveying you may have used asks customers to rate how important they consider certain factors to be in selecting a supplier partner (price, size, colour, speed, whatever) and then to rate how well your company meets these requirements compared to your competitors. It is almost certain that you will have information of this type available in some form in your collection of surveys (What? You only ever did one?! How on Earth can you measure change like that? Tut-tut, go to the bottom of the market. Go directly to the bottom of the market. Do not pass muster. Do not collect any bonus). The combination of these scores then gives you information about where to place your efforts. Go for the most important, least well rated items, and improve your performance. Do best the things that matter most to the customers.
But what if you have done that? What if you’ve turned the whole internal sales office inside out and customers still say you have a poor rating? What if all these changes have amounted to nothing? Well, that’s more or less where we came in at the start of this article.
Here’s another way of viewing the information. To establish which targets to tackle first, often the data is analysed by taking the ‘importance’ score and subtracting the ‘performance’ score. This provides a form of satisfaction deficit rating, and obviously you try to knock off the problems with the biggest deficit. And the usual way of doing this is to increase the ‘performance’. But this may have proved ineffective, or perhaps you just don’t have the command to make the scale of change required. Remember, however, that this deficit is not an absolute value, its a differential measurement. If you can’t move the performance up, can you move the importance down?
Here’s an example. A company I know are the UK branch of a European manufacturer of some high-tech equipment. And very good quality equipment it is, with a great reputation. However, one of the factors identified by their customers as having a high importance rating was ‘quality of product documentation’. Unfortunately, this company’s product user manuals were the worst kind of Euro-gibberish you could imagine. Written originally in Danish and seemingly translated in to English by a Greek-speaking Frenchman using a Polish-Italian variant of Word. The trouble was, the UK company saw their hands as being tied on this issue. Their parent company said they were the only country to have problems with the documentation (yeah, right!) and there were no plans to revise it. If they wanted to re-write and re-publish all the manuals themselves they could do, but at their own expense and with no assistance from the technical designers or authors who had put together the equipment or original manuals. Wow. There was a problem. Big deficit, no practical way to improve performance. What to do now?
And then some bright spark suggested “How about making customers less dependent on the manuals?”. In other words reduce the level of importance of this issue. So, rather than tackle an entire re-write of all these documents, a group of the company’s engineers brainstormed some ideas for removing the need for them. Where else can customers get information? How about a Users’ Group? Set it up, host it and then let the users run it themselves. Let more experienced customers guide newer ones. The great thing here is that customer actively feels involved and able to control things. What about a web-site? Get someone’s 14-year old son to set one up as a school project, and stuff it full of hints, tips and frequently asked questions. How about providing training for the customers so they can do without the manuals? Hey, how about charging them for training? Wow, there’s money in this! How about producing small simple ‘idiots’ guides’ or ‘getting started with …’. How about …?
Before long, this whole issue had become a non-issue. The manuals were still every bit as bad, but nobody cared.
Except the UK subsidiary had. For their customers.