The five-point plan to a perfect customer experience

We might start in this advice by offering the old chestnut of ‘under promise and over deliver’, which is exactly what we’ve done. Although we’ve called it a five-point plan for the perfect customer experience, there are actually ten points, five each for customer and vendor alike. Bear them all in mind, and there’s no reason every transaction shouldn’t go swimmingly…

The most important thing to know about the customer experience is that in spite of what you’ve believed for years, the customer isn’t always right.

The trouble is, customers can take some convincing of the fact. Too many believe that, because the game is being played with their money, they’re in charge. What they forget is that it’s a two-ended relationship in which the supplier has something of value too, and more often than not it’s the customer who has initiated the transaction.

In general the relationship goes smoothly. A request is made; goods or services are supplied, and a bill is paid. It’s in the minority of cases, when things have gone wrong, that problems arise. And that’s the time to remember that the way to a successful resolution is through conciliation and compromise, rather than through aggression, bad language and lost tempers.

Supplier advice

  1. Remember that customers make paydays possible. Without customers, you don’t have a business. Always treat them with respect; never lose your temper, no matter how hard that may sometimes be, and never forget that disgruntled customers will be only too happy to share a bad experience with friends and colleagues. How much would that lost business cost you? You’ll never know.
  2. Look after your employees. Every employee needs to feel valued, and that they’re part of a team. (That’s not the kind of team that exists simply because you’ve written it into a company policy or labeled a group of employees as a team, but a real team, where all members are valued, and you prove they are by your attitude towards them). If they’re valued, they’ll act in your best interests by doing the best job they can, which will be reflected in the quality of your product, the way customers are treated, and the way supporting elements of the customer package are delivered. In short, employees are your best ambassadors.
  3. Put yourself in the customers’ position. How would you like to be treated? What response would you expect if something had gone wrong? If you’re not treating customers at least that well, you should expect them to give you a hard time. And you’d probably deserve it.
  4. Screw up? Then own up. If you or your company has made a mistake, don’t try to wriggle out of it. Acknowledge your errors, and learn from them for the long term. For the short term, convert the problem into a win with an apology, swift action to put matters right, and offer compensation where, or if, it’s appropriate. Who knows, your reaction might convert a bad situation into a business win as the customer tells everyone how good you were to deal with…
  5. Go the full nine yards. Your business is based not just on goods or services, but probably also on experience. Share that with customers. Explain that the solution they think they need might not be the best. Offer advice about alternatives. Make them feel valued. And as part of that, remember where we started. Deliver more than you promised.

Customer advice

  1. Do your due diligence. Explore the company’s reputation. Ask for samples of its work. Talk to other customers. Take online reviews with a pinch of salt, they’re too easy to skew. If you’re in doubt, look elsewhere for a supplier.
  2. Be careful about paying up front. A reputable business will have lines of credit, and won’t be living hand to mouth. Being asked to pay upfront may well be the first warning bell you hear; perhaps t’s time to look for another supplier.
  3. Don’t argue about the cost when you’ve had the goods. Try a little negotiation before work starts, by all means, but don’t be unreasonable by trying to talk the price down when you’ve agreed it and the work’s done. No customer/supplier relationship should rob either party, which is why supplier orders should never bear the words ‘this order does not imply that the work will be required’ – though some do. Your formal order should be a line in the sand, and you should honour it. Say what you mean, and follow it through.
  4. Don’t cheat. As an example, it’s unreasonable to eat a whole restaurant meal and then refuse to pay for it on the grounds that it didn’t taste very nice. If there’s something wrong with it, say so at once, explain why, and give the kitchen a chance to put things right. If you don’t like it, that’s not the restaurant’s fault, and a change of choice needs to be paid for. Anything else is just attempted freeloading, and beneath contempt. The same’s true of going out in a new dress without removing its tags, and taking it back the following morning claiming it didn’t fit.
  5. Pay promptly. Why would you ignore a supplier’s invoice for 60, 90, or even 120 days after the goods have been supplied and your business is using them? Making a supplier wait so long is another example of freeloading, by using suppliers as a source of free credit. Pay on time, and pay what you’ve agreed, then they’ll wake up at night worrying if they’re looking after you well enough. Hang back with payment, and the next time you have an urgent need for help, you may find they can’t be there for you because they’re too busy looking after someone who was prepared to pay on time.