Our experiences as customers are more magnified than ever. With instant access to social media and review sites, we have the power as individuals to make or break businesses. And let's be honest; when it comes to customer satisfaction, we’re a right ol’ picky bunch.
“The rise of the citizen review site is a sobering development.
No longer are you on top of the mountain, blasting your marketing message down to the masses through your megaphone.
"All of a sudden, the masses are conversing with one another.
If your service or product isn’t any good, they’ll out you.”
Ten years ago, a customer would happily give a business 5 stars for a satisfactory experience. But the world is now a very different place. As the visibility of competition grows, so do our expectations as customers. Loyalty, without the help of an elaborate scheme, is a thing of the past. Today, that same customer is more likely to score that very same, satisfactory experience a 3. Maybe an occasional 4 if you're lucky.
Before you know it, your business will be ranking lower and your online presence diminishing. Needless to say, if you're the only dog surfing instructor for 500 klicks, you might just get away with it. Otherwise, prepare for ranking mediocrity and the wilderness of anything other than the front page of an online search.
So is aiming for customer satisfaction the wrong approach?
Average, adequate... how does customer satisfaction measure up?
In December 2016, a district council in Cambridgeshire put forward plans to remove the word 'satisfactory' from their staff appraisals. "The word suggests you are adequate and reasonable, which are not pleasing words for people to hear about their performance," they said.
I tend to agree; who wants to be adequate and reasonable? The Oxford dictionary suggests satisfactory is merely 'acceptable'. Does customer satisfaction fall into that category?
Of course, it's better than ‘mediocre’. It's also much better than ‘rubbish’ or, one of my personal favourites, ‘appalling’. But it is on the slide towards 'average' and many businesses appear uninformed, maybe even unconcerned. If they aren't, why when I go to a restaurant do I still get asked “Was everything to your satisfaction?”. Or, worse still, “Was everything okay?”
“Yes, everything was decidedly average, thank you."
The rise of customer service over product
While product will always be key to any customer experience, the role of customer service is taking centre stage. A recent study suggests:
* 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated.
* 9 out of 10 Americans would pay more to ensure a superior customer experience.
* 78% of customers did not complete a transaction or intended buy following a poor customer service experience.
While only the stubborn seem content to offer poor customer service, I argue that, when the bar is being raised and everyone is seeking that little bit of sparkle, customer satisfaction is not enough. It might as well be poor if a customer thinks there is or begins to seek a better alternative.
Those working in hospitality can argue the importance of product over service has always been debatable. But more so now than ever, and across all sectors, competition is much more visible and only a click away. Given the choices customers have today, loyalty is hard to come by.
Even when present, it is often challenged by monetary incentives to switch to a rival product. Having a great product is a solid start and not so many moons ago, may have done the trick on its own. But today, people demand and expect exceptional service to compliment it. It's more than the cherry on top. It's the jam on your toast, the fizz to your bucks.
A change in mindset
The biggest of companies are beginning to appreciate that customer satisfaction may not be cutting it. That they could be doing more to stand them in good stead against their competitors. Take McDonald’s as an example, built and flourished on speed and volume. Expectations are modest but generally met, despite the occasional cold box of fries.
Yet I've noticed recently that my local McDonald’s have a friendly face approaching tables to check on customers. This is a new one on me and not something I've seen with any of their competitors, most of whom I would say offer a superior product. But, while the food is simple and my product expectations are low, it's quite lovely to have someone checking in on us. My kids get balloons, crayons and colouring paper. Our table is re-stocked with ketchup as and when we run out and there's always one straw that hits the deck, but replenished with a smile.
This is more than a satisfactory experience for me; it goes beyond my expectations. Dare I say it, it turns what was once a ‘satisfactory’ meal, into an all-round positive experience.
Some not getting the memo
On the opposite end of the spectrum, a recommendation once took me to an independent bakery/cafe in a small Canadian town in Nova Scotia. I was told the food was great and we were passing anyway.
The food was, as expected, great. The service though was often slow and unenthusiastic. Their reputation had preceded them I felt, and it was all a bit pretentious. They believed that trendy music and a ‘cool vibe’ compensates for a lack of basic people skills and lengthy waits. Yes the food was great, but I left with a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth. When evaluating the whole experience, it was ‘satisfactory’ at best.
“I’m getting old” was one thought but for the most part, I wondered if having a great product was only half the battle. As I write now though, a few years wiser and the likelihood of a happy return to that cafe diminished, product means very little in the first instance. The wars are won purely on the customer service battlefields.
Customer service with a smile
Within a three-mile radius of where I live, I have the option of four DIY/hardware stores. They all sell the same things and usually at similar prices. Why is it then, that I go to the same store every time? It's actually the furthest away, but the staff are more helpful, knowledgeable and friendly. A pleasant conversation is awaiting me at whatever till I choose. And, I know I can ask a silly question or two about a project (or likely bind) I’m working on.
More than once, they have gone above and beyond in finding solutions for me. It's a big chain too, so no argument there about little independent shops being better for such service. I know I could go to any one of the other stores and get customer satisfaction. Reasonable, adequate. But why would I, when I know there’s a better alternative?
Is customer satisfaction no longer cutting the mustard: the takeaway
"People may not remember exactly what you did or what you said, but they always remember how you made them feel."
So, say "no" to satisfactory. Strive not for the ordinary, adequate or acceptable and simply meet expectations. Okay is not okay.
Strive for the memorable, impressive and unique, raising the bar and putting your head above the parapet. Watch your loyalty grow and new customers come through your doors, solely on the good word of others. Worst case scenario; if your product lets you down, with great service you can at least expect a second bite at the cherry. Yes, product is key, but service is the deal breaker.
Wave goodbye to satisfaction, folks. If our buddies at East Cambridgeshire District Council have anything to do with it, it won't be around much longer.