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Sunday, 1 September 2013

Think You Know How Good You Are? It’s the Customer’s Opinion That Matters More!

From time to time I attend a clinic (NHS) for a minor test and it occurred to me recently that they are a demonstrable example of truly excellent customer focus. 

Odd and encouraging that the NHS which takes quite a lot of flak these days should be the ones who demonstrate how easily an organisation can achieve genuinely high standards of customer focus and care should they so desire. 

Let me explain.  I went to the clinic last week courtesy of my wife who dropped me off there.  We left the house at 7.55am so that I could sign in early for the 8.00am start. 

I was treated with efficiency, courtesy, friendliness and above all professionalism and having had the test and walked to the taxi rank, I was back in the house at precisely 8.30am. 

This suited me fine as I had a 9.00am appointment for a one-to-one and it gave me time to get organised for the day ahead. 

The whole point is that, in the end, whatever we are doing which depends on an interaction with others, it is their perception of good service which matters and no ours. 

Just to put the NHS into perspective, yet another report this week discusses patient satisfaction levels with hospital catering and nearly 50% of those surveyed said that the food was not up to an acceptable standard. 

The relevant hospital authorities, on the other hand, had surveyed catering standards internally and had awarded marks of four or five (out of five) in almost every case. 

Who is right?  It certainly isn’t the NHS in this case as what they considered very good or even excellent had not been confirmed in any way by the people being asked to eat the stuff. 

The problem in industry and business in general is that we are too inward looking, too exercised with what we see as acceptable or outstanding and not in any way too concerned about the ultimate arbiter, the customer. 

I am not an enthusiast for surveys directly asking the customer if they were satisfied with the product or the service as usually there is a tendency not to be over truthful.   

There are, however, some good and real methods to test customer perceptions and a great leader will want to know exactly what they are thinking and consequently how likely are they to continue as a customer or client. 

One technique that I like is the follow-up request for information on “how did we do?” after a sale.  Never more than five and preferably three questions will suffice and provided there is a large enough sample of respondents, the statistical result should be well within acceptable level of error. 

That works well with consumers and there are other methods which would apply well in B2B situations. 

For example, always ask the question of the individual who actually uses or has specified the product or service as they will be the ones whose job will be on the line (they think) if it all goes badly. 

On an overall basis, the leader should be the one who checks personally and constantly on “how are we doing?” with the customers.  They very act of asking the question by the top person will help to elicit the right answer and will also show the customer that you mean business. 

By the way, the leader should always be the one who sees all complaints so that an overall sense of what needs to be changed to improve the situation can be developed. 

Customer focus is the most important aspect of any business or professional practice.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you know the answer; always assume that the customer’s opinion is both different and far more important. 

Remember, the second order is more important than the first.

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