Thanks to the wonders of LinkedIn Today, I was introduced to a 2010 Harvard Business Review article entitled, “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers.”
Their point is a good one – that “delight” is overshooting things a bit. What customers really want is follow-through. You don’t need to heap tons of service onto customers, they say, you just need to deliver consistently. Since so many companies are quite poor at doing that, just being consistent and following through on what is promised is enough to sustain loyalty.
Which makes me think that the number one thing companies need to focus on is trust.
Trust will be established no matter what. Customers will trust in something when it comes to your company – but what will they trust in? Will they trust in your ability to deliver a really good western omelet, even if it is by a grump waiter? Will they trust that your product never fails, justifying the price tag, or will they trust that they can save a few bucks if they are willing to sacrifice what they perceive as frills? Do they trust that your people will arrive on time for service appointments, or do they trust in the fact that they will need to idly wait during a long appointment window?
All of which is about establishing operations that deliver on a business plan. A plan that guides the business into servicing a particular niche. If you want customers to trust in your products and/or services, you need to know what it is you are delivering, and what the expectations are within that niche. If you want to be a first mover, customers have to trust that your higher-priced products will be particularly innovative or stylish. If you want to be known as a high-quality, low-cost provider – target budget-minded customers who place a premium on practicality.
When it comes to customer service, there is a lot of discussion and advice on creating trust. Trust, however, occurs naturally. Dictionary.com offers a definition of trust as the “confident expectation of something.” People will, quite quickly, develop an expectation of what they are likely to get from you – good service or bad, high quality or low, good price or not. What you want to establish is a positive trust, one that is based on customers consistently getting what they value. This is why establishments with grumpy waitresses but good omelets, low quality products but good prices, and innovative products with big price tags are the foundations of so many successful companies – they consistently deliver what is expected to a particular niche that values it.
It is also why businesses that consistently fail to live up to expectations ultimately fail. That much is intuitive, of course. When people come to trust that your products are not worth the price tag or that your service doesn’t adequately measure up to the experience people desire, you will fail. There are many suggested countermeasures, but they all boil down to two simple approaches - improving quality and service, or marketing your way into a different image so that you can occupy a different niche. Improving quality is about creating greater positive trust. Finding a different niche is about raising awareness among a new audience that is predisposed to trusting you in the first place. Either approach creates that sense of delight – an audience that believes it knows what to expect from you is provided with more than they anticipated.
Fortunately, according to the 2010 article, people have come to trust in poor service. That makes it fairly easy to raise the bar and establish trust – consistently deliver good service within your niche and you will exceed expectations. Consistency, no matter what else you bring to the market, is how trust is established. When people believe they know what they are going to get, that expectation will either lead to sustainable business performance, or inevitable decline.