I recently attended a sales meeting where survey results were presented showing how the company was rated by its customer base on a variety of key customer satisfaction factors. Actually several companies that I represent are conducting these surveys to see how they stack up. The results can be surprising sometimes especially so when the customers view of certain company attributes differs from what the internal or corporate view might be. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter how good you think you are…what matters the most is how good your customer thinks you are – perception becomes reality and the only perception that matters when it comes to customer satisfaction is that of the customer!

One of the suppliers that I work with enjoys unusually positive customer ratings when it comes to quality and service even though I can recall several incidents that happened where customers were shipped product s that contained some missing components or the wrong components, etc.

I remember several of these incidents clearly as they affected my customers and what I also clearly remember was how fast the company reacted to the news of the customer complaint and how quickly they reacted to correct the issue and get the customer the correct product literally overnight.

These little bumps in the road typically happen early on in the customer-supplier relationship as new products are getting set up in the system, ordering procedures with the new supplier are being set in place, etc. But what is amazing is that the customers who experienced these small bumps in the road not only rated the company higher than others who experienced zero problems over the most recent survey period but also actually raved about how great the company was in the personal comments section! The reason again for this is simple –these early incidents are often viewed by the customer as a test case, and customer perception is highly affected by the vendor’s reaction time. In other words, it is not so important that a problem developed but what really counted was how well the company reacted to the problem with a timely and effective solution!

Nobody expects perfection. Everyone knows and expects that problems will pop up from time to time. But it is the manner and especially the speed with which a company reacts to the problem and executes corrective action that counts. Number One –get the correct product to the customer at no additional cost while avoiding a production shutdown on his end; Two- put into place a corrective action so that repeat incidents are highly unlikely to occur; and Three – communicate this corrective action to the customer so that he feels secure moving forward!

So, how does a company do so well in the eyes of the customer even in the face of problems and come out smelling like a rose? Well in each situation where a problem occurred, it was a decentralized management structure that was the key to implementing a customer solution quickly and effectively. I know this to be the case because I have been part of organizations that rank customer satisfaction as number one but also know how to effectively achieve a number one ranking! Yes, ranking customer satisfaction at number one and achieving a number one status in the eyes of the customers are two different things!

Companies that achieve the highest ranking in customer satisfaction have a simple formula. They choose people with great customer relations skills combined with superior problem solving skills and they put them into positions which interface directly with their customers on a daily basis. Then, they complete the formula. They actually trust these people to do what is best for the customer and they empower him or her to direct all of the resources the company has in order to achieve this. These people do not have to go up the chain of command, wait weeks for approval, and then convince an accountant that what they are recommending is the right thing to do. The company hires customer oriented people to fill these positions with strong problem solving skills and business skills (they also know about profit margins) and who know how to identify solutions. Then they give these people who are talking to the customer on a daily basis the power to make decisions and get things done. There is a huge difference when you empower your sales manager and customer service people.

I have worked with Empowered Sales Managers who can tell a customer they will overnight product to replace incorrect or defective components, then talk to the customer further to identify the root cause of the problem, and finally they come up with corrective action to prevent the problem from recurring – all of this within the same day. These people are perceived as heroes in the mind of the customer – even after weathering a product problem that perhaps the competition has never experienced!
I have also worked with sales managers which I will refer to as frozen sales managers who are not empowered to do these things and can only say to the customer, “Sorry, we will get back to you as soon as possible,” which is often a matter of weeks as they send a written report or a form up the ladder and wait for a decision. I can tell you this much – the difference between these two scenarios in the mind of the customer is HUGE.

When it comes time to weathering a price increase, the Empowered Sales Manager stands a much better chance than the Frozen Sales Manager who may actually lose the business even with a lower price!

So when it comes to achieving real customer satisfaction as perceived by the customer, take a close look at your company’s organizational structure and strive to give the Power to the People who can make it happen!

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