How to Exceed Customer Expectations and Watch Sales Climb

Customer expectations are progressively increasing. Due in part to the impact of the Internet. Comparison-shopping is easier than ever. Customers can get price quotes on similar products or services quickly, effortlessly, anytime, and from almost anywhere. Customers can shop virtually all over the world, not just in their region. And the bridge between the customer and the supplier is growing shorter.

Creating value for customers is a prerequisite for creating shareholder value. Only those companies who place their customers’ needs front and center in their thinking and behavior will prosper.

So what do customers really want and expect? Only a few key things:

  • They want what they ordered.
  • They want to receive it when promised.
  • They want it complete and defect-free.
  • They want accurate documentation.
  • They want quick, courteous answers to questions they may have.

In other words, they want perfect orders. But you knew that. CEOs are generally some of the most demanding customers themselves, and they know that meeting and even exceeding customer expectations is precisely what drives customer satisfaction and ultimately the growth of the business.

Is your company meeting and exceeding these expectations? Are you managing the flow of work that typically crosses organizational boundaries in delivering perfect orders and providing “first-time-right” responsiveness? You can be sure only if you are measuring and managing those few critical factors mentioned above: 1) accuracy, 2) timeliness, 3) product quality, 4) documentation, and 5) responsiveness.

Here are four steps to improving your company’s performance and exceeding your customers’ expectations.

Step 1: Determine your organization’s current performance by measuring each of the five critical factors. Don’t be surprised if performance isn’t as good as you thought it might be. If you are really ambitious, define the on-time component of perfect orders; this is when the customer asked for it instead of when you promised it to them.

Step 2: Decide what level of performance is necessary to satisfy customers and exceed their expectations. Determine the size of the gap between current performance and goal performance, and set milestones for making the gap smaller.

Step 3: Get together with your managers. Discuss your company’s performance in delivering perfect orders and first-time-right responsiveness. Work as a team to understand the flow of activities from the time your company gets an order to the time the customer receives the product or service. Don’t be surprised if this flow of activities crosses organizational boundaries – it usually does. It might be useful to map the flow of these activities. Do likewise for responding to customer inquiries and complaints. Set short-term and long-term targets to improve performance on both of these metrics.

Step 4: Assign accountability to meet the targets you set. This might be difficult, especially if the activities involve more than one department. The trick is to get your managers to collaborate in serving customers – and then align recognition and rewards when they succeed. Track these customer-centric metrics regularly along with the financial measures of sales, profits and cash flow.

Perfecting performance and exceeding expectations is neither quick nor easy. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you lose sight of the goal, just remind everyone that satisfied customers order more and pay their bills more promptly. Then refocus on creating that perfect order.

Andrew Spanyi is the author of Business Process Management is a Team Sport: Play It to Win and More for Less: The Power of Process Management.

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