What does it take to satisfy our customers? Studies show that there is a definite evolution which may be identified under certain circumstances. A West African example provided at a workshop in 2008 showed the following table:
Success factors in business – a West African example
1959+ Product Performance
1970+ Product Performance + Quality
1980+ Product Performance + Quality + Value
1990+ Product Performance + Quality + Value + Image
2000+ Product Performance + Quality + Value + Image + Relationship
- In other words, in 1960 ‘product performance’ was an important drawcard in attracting customers.
- That was followed by a period where ‘quality’ became an added dimension. So, both the ‘product performance’ and ‘quality’ were important.
- ‘Value’ was the next attribute that was added to the mix.
- It was only in about 1990 that ‘image’ joined the qualities necessary to attract customers. So, a combination of ‘product performance’, ‘quality’, ‘value’ and ‘image’ were identified as factors contributing to success in business. Here we see the importance of branding emerging.
- In those West African countries studied, it was only at about the ‘turn of the century’ that ‘relationship’ joined the other four attributes as being important in attracting and maintaining customers.
I discussed the time-frame with the Head of a local Business School and his opinion was that whilst it may be significant and easy to track the exact periods in those countries, the dates don’t necessarily apply to other countries. And nor is it important to try to date the evolution.
However, I frequently use the above table as a starting point for group discussion in my customer service workshops. Our emphasis is often on ‘so what do we do to sustain relationships’? This question combines my passion for excellence in customer service and my love of helping organisations, businesses, firms and people to build and maintain strong relationships with their customers.
At a workshop earlier this month, after group discussion on the importance of the above factors, I posed the question: ‘so what comes next’? Or, stated differently the question would be: ‘If we could isolate one more ‘success factor’ that is gaining importance in customer service, what would it be?’
The discussion was stimulating and lively and many examples were given. The factor that seemed to be considered most important by that group was ‘convenience’. And I really do believe that our customers will find ‘convenience’ more and more attractive.
In order to pay greater attention to ‘convenience’ in serving customers, let’s pose some questions for you to consider:
- What can you do to uncover WDMCWFMN? ‘What do my customers want from me NOW’? In other words, there is a ‘convenience’ factor in your providing exactly what your past, present and future customers want from you at the time that they want it. What they wanted in the past may not be what they want now. And what they want from you may be different to what they want from other suppliers. Spend some time thinking about your answers to this question. The benefits could be enormous!
An interesting corollary could result from changing the word ‘want’ in the questions above to ‘need’. Try it!
- ‘When do they want my goods or services?’ The timing has to be right. It’s pointless trying to sell Christmas decorations at full price a week after Christmas. Another example is that my doctor doesn’t consult only during normal ‘doctor’s hours’. He and his partner work slightly different times to accommodate working people. Follow through on that thinking and consider how timing may apply to what you are offering your customers. They need to get exactly what they want, exactly when they need it.
- Why should they buy from you rather than from your competitors? Think carefully about your competitive advantage considering our topic, ‘convenience’. Why is your product or service more ‘convenient’ than your competitors’?
- How does ‘location’ affect their desire to purchase from you? Are you more conveniently situated (if they visit your premises)? Is there adequate parking? How safe do people feel when arriving at your location? And is it easy to find your premises once they arrive at the building? Or do they inconveniently have to walk around looking for your premises? Is the signposting adequate and correctly positioned? When they walk into your reception, do they know exactly who to approach? These factors form part of our workshop on ‘the tangible aspects of customer service’ and need to be considered in relation to the ‘convenience’ factor.
- It’s so convenient to shop ‘on line’. How do you set up an on-line store or service? How do you make your website more effective? How do you fine-tune your approach so that it is most convenient for your customers? The expert in this field is Gary Eckstein and you are welcome to visit his website or contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org
- How easy is it to deal with you? Have you simplified and replaced complex procedures with ‘customer friendly’ approaches? This applies to government departments, too. Have you considered how you can minimise bureaucracy and ‘red tape’?
One of my ‘pet peeves’ relates to the difficulties we face when trying to obtain ‘authorisation’ from Medical Aids in South Africa. It is highly inconvenient. As a working person, I don’t wish to spend time on the phone fighting with an answering service or desperately trying to get an incompetent human being to understand my needs.
Many doctors do not permit their staff to help patients in dealing with situations like this. I can understand their policy from a business perspective because it takes a great deal of a staff-member’s time. However, it is a huge benefit where a doctor has a staff member who is accustomed to dealing with the Medical Aids and makes him/her available to sort out issues for the patient. Where I have a choice, all else being equal, I would much rather go to that doctor, even if I had to pay much more, than to have to deal with those processes myself. It’s all a matter of convenience!
- How have you streamlined your processes to make sure your customers waste as little time as possible when dealing with you? I often hear stories of how people take their cars in to be serviced and then return later at the time they were told the service would be complete. They are kept waiting and told that their cars are far from ready and this is very frustrating.
To combat the ‘inconvenience’ to their customers, a local service centre sends SMS’s to their customers as the time approaches, telling the customers of the progress and if necessary updating the expected time of completion. As many people don’t bother to check SMS’s, in advance staff tell the customers to expect an update exactly an hour before the time the customer has been told that their car will be ready. Obviously, for this system to be effective, the service centre has to follow through efficiently on their promises, and they do! This makes having your car serviced at this business more convenient than dealing with competitors.
- What are you doing to generate a ‘convenience centre’? What services can you add to those you already offer in order to help customers make more effective use of time? A local laundromat introduced a range of services to customers who can either hand the washing to a staff member and have a ‘full service’ and collect the washing later that day. Or they can stay and put the clothing in the machines themselves.
However, in order to help customers make more constructive use of time when they are waiting for their washing, the laundromat introduced a coffee bar and internet café on the premises. So, for example, while people are waiting for the washing cycles to complete, they can either sit in the coffee shop enjoying refreshments and work on their own computers or use the ‘internet café’ computers. Obviously, this not only ‘adds value’ from the customer’s perspective, it adds to the purchases made by the customer. (In a separate article we’ll consider ‘the lifetime value’ of a customer.)
- How are you going about recognising opportunities to generate more business through providing ‘convenience’ that will meet the needs of customers? Sometimes, your customers may not even be aware of those needs!
In Australia, my daughter does the family washing in her washing machine and then tumble dries it. Only her husband’s shirts need ironing. ‘Sam the Ironing Man’ has a wonderful business whereby on a regular basis he collects a laundry basin full of washed shirts with the right number of hangers which she leaves on her veranda. He takes the shirts to his ‘subcontractors’ to be ironed and then returns them, immaculately ironed, and hangs them on a special rail in our daughter’s garage which he has access to. That is convenience at its best! He has recognised and optimised a need.
The above are a few ideas on how some organisations, businesses and professions have made the customers’ convenience a high priority.
What can you do to make dealing with you or buying your products even more convenient?