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The hidden value of customer satisfaction

October 1, 2010 -  By

How important is customer satisfaction? Not an easy question to answer. We all have opinions. Few of us have real, experience-based answers.

How important is building profits and ensuring a greater return over time? To accomplish it, would you consider creating what can be a cultural paradigm shift in your company? Is an investment in re-tooling — or at the very least enhancing — your approach to building customer satisfaction worth the effort?

Sustaining ongoing profits

First, generating and sustaining ongoing profits in this economy is far from a slam-dunk proposition.

I see two general approaches to making money in the Green Industry today. First, the big company approach, involving lots of high-risk marketing and lead generation, followed by an intense, high-pressure sales process. The idea is to focus on selling more customers and selling current customers more of everything.

The second general approach, used mostly by small to mid-sized operators, is to generate leads via the referral process, sell the benefits of a relatively higher ticket service and maximize referral business, while minimizing customer turnover in the service delivery side of the business.

But, since the bottom fell out of the economy in 2008, marketing effectiveness, by any estimation, has been “iffy” at best. And, even if your marketing strategy has been satisfactory, it’s still not cheap. If recent trends hold up, it’s clear that the days of low cost customer acquisition are gone.

With this background, consider what I’ve found effective. The most successful Green Industry businesses focus on satisfaction — measurable, tangible satisfaction.

Satisfaction guaranteed?

Understanding what really satisfies customers — what pushes them to refer your company to others — is not simple, but it happens.
Satisfied customers do two things consistently and very well: First, they deliver higher lifetime value. They are with you longer and spend more money. Second, they sell your company for you. Both are, in tough economic times, invaluable.

So, regardless of their status today and track record of marketing and selling successfully in the past, more operators are taking a very serious look at building or rebuilding a satisfaction culture. Notice, I did not say service culture.

Building a satisfaction culture requires a process for eliminating mistakes and making each customer feel special.
First, understand sales and service are two sides of the same coin. If properly joined in a well-planned communication strategy, they result in higher customer satisfaction and longer, more profitable relationships.

Understand also that in the vast majority of cases, a company’s marketing plan (generating interest), followed by selling process (closing leads), typically sets unrealistic expectations in the prospect’s mind. Once sold, over time, the customer is disappointed and dissatisfied.

Finally, accept the fact that your leadership style — your words, deeds and general interface with your team of employees — has created a positive or negative culture in terms of employee attitudes and opinions about the importance of maintaining satisfied customers. If negative, you simply need to acknowledge it. Making changes for the better will also take time.

To a psychologist, you’ll be creating a paradigm shift. Defined, a paradigm shift is a “radical change in a person’s basic assumptions about something,” like the importance of creating and maintaining customer satisfaction. Most companies will acknowledge the need to change but find the process overwhelming. Still, it has been done and, as a long-term business strategy aimed at ultimately greater profits, is being done today.

Building satisfaction

To build customer satisfaction, look at the following areas:
1. What is your customer satisfaction level today? Focus groups and surveys can help you find out. Talking to individual customers when there are no problems is also useful.
2. Get staff input. Blind input taken from your staff can be unbelievably revealing.
3. Look at cancellations and referral trends. Then, sit down and consider what changing your customer satisfaction strategy will be like.

Know that your team members will resist. Change often requires people do more. If the value of change to the individual is not pre-sold and backed up by action, it won’t work.

Prepare to spend extra time and money initiating the change process. Provide ongoing, visible support for change.

Then lay it all out on paper and communicate. Start with managers. Be sure you have 100% buy-in. Next, enlist support from veteran employees.

Once you initiate your strategy, take it one step at a time, using this guide:
1. Monitor small changes to ensure progress vs. goals.
2. Keep talking to front-line people. Input is important.
3. Step up communications with customers. Look for positives.
4. Meet frequently to relay and build on positives.
5. When one change has become part of the process, move on.

Continuing satisfaction
Another important part of improving customer satisfaction is measuring results continually and then reacting to the information you gather. An example is responding to customers who answered negatively on satisfaction surveys with a goal of converting all negatives to positives over time.

Review all marketing materials. Evaluate your message and don’t make claims you cannot live up to.

Next is sales. What are your people actually saying to prospective customers? Are they overpromising?

Continue to train your crews on communicating the real benefits of your services as well as handling customers contacts in the field and on the phone. Benefits equal value, and value is what people pay for, not features.

Follow up to confirm each new sale is treated like a new baby in the family. Build the relationship based on early, positive “touch points.”

Review the process for handling customer questions and complaints. Who is on the phones? How are incoming contacts handled? Monitor all customer service contacts. Who did what and when? Was each question handled as it should have been?

Then, assign increased individual responsibility as staff members show positive results.

Establishing a customer satisfaction culture may seem like an insurmountable project. It can be. But it can — and is — being done.

The payoff? Everyone wins: a happier staff and more satisfied customers. For ownership and senior management: greater profits in good times and bad. Isn’t it worth another look?

LM Staff

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