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Don’t reinvent the wheel: seven simple steps to delighting your customers

People pleasing – for as long as there have been sellers and buyers, there have been efforts by sellers to get those buyers coming back for more.

If we think all the way back to the dark ages of retailing, we can imagine that there was heavy competition for those stone-chiseled wheels – and certainly the stonemason with the best service (and ratings on Yelp) had the most robust business.

Of course, most businesses will SAY that THEY have a keen focus on delighting their customers – that THEY are the best at building retention and ongoing loyalty. “Of course we do,” they say. “It’s a company virtue! We’ve been doing it for years!”

Yet, when you examine the actual processes and procedures used in the interaction with their customers, you will often find the opposite.
This is not necessarily willful – it likely is a function of a reliance on tried and true business processes in a selling environment when the business situation may have changed. (Pity the stonemason who was beat out by Goodyear to put rubber treads on those wheels!)

One of the best examples of how flexibility around people pleasing can make all the difference can be found, surprisingly, in the health insurance industry.

Aetna Healthcare formerly required advance approval for certain procedures. The company had a huge bureaucracy that reviewed claims. Its customers, the patients trying to get care, had to fill out a detailed form, justify why they should be approved, then wait while the claim worked its way through the process.

A new CEO joined the company, saw what was happening, and asked a simple question: What percentage of submissions, he wanted to understand, were being approved? The answer was more than 90 percent.

So all this wasted time, all these resources, for a claim that, nine times out of 10, would be approved anyway? At Aetna, the negative control was hindering what could have been a net positive experience.

As a result, Aetna changed its policy to drastically reduce approval requirements. This saved the company money, and, more importantly, got care to their customers faster – and with less effort.

What’s the lesson here? Lead with positive intent to build the customer experience, and make it easy! This doesn’t mean you should eliminate financial controls, and other sound business practices, in order to delight the consumer. It simply means that your controls should be working behind the scenes to support – and not get in the way of – a great experience.

Here are seven simple actions you can take right now to make sure you are delighting on the ground and not disappointing:

1. Ask your customers: Net Promoter scores – a measurement which tallies “promoters” from among your consumer base who regard your product or service highly, divided by “detractors” who do the opposite – represent a good simple metric to see how your customer experience is actually being delivered.

2. Update your customer processes: Many of your tried and true business rules may be overdue for an overhaul. If your business environment has changed but your practices have not followed suit, consider a retool now. If you think about delighting the majority of your customers, instead of enforcing archaic rules, you will likely increase overall customer satisfaction.

3. Be sincere: A major big box chain has a so-called “customer loyalty program” that requires receipts be sent in after purchase. The company confusingly advertises its product pricing to reflect the rebate (as if it was already in hand), but the redemption form is so complicated that not everyone actually gets the refund. The customer quickly sees through this, and takes his or her wallet elsewhere.

4. Be flexible: An entertainment site venue had a family membership that included up to eight family members. One day, one of the members brought one of their kid’s friends, which upped their group size to nine. You can guess what happened: The entire party of nine was held up because the group exceeded the membership requirement of eight.

An elaborate negotiation then started about how to admit the ninth person, and what it would cost, while the other eight people waited. What was going to be a fun day for family and friends started out as no fun at all. What should have happened? Wave them in! This was a regular member bringing nine people who would also buy food and souvenirs. So be flexible, if the intent is right.

5. Empower your employees: In the example above, these employees clearly didn’t have the discretion to use their judgment to provide the best possible experience. They were so confined by the rules that the customer experience was suffering. The lesson here: Give your crew some leeway. Take the example of a major airline, which tossed out a several-hundred-page customer rule book, in favor of some simple principles. This allowed their agents to use discretion when needed, which led to a marked improvement in customer service scores.

6. Solve problems: Even if it’s the customer’s fault, solve it and move on! Maybe they clicked on the wrong SKU when ordering online. No less than the world’s largest retailer, Amazon, has a standing policy of fixing it on the spot. And their employees get direct customer feedback – the customer is asked if they fixed the problem or not, and nothing else, because nothing else matters.

7. Experience your company yourself: There is a famous story about General Motors. Some generations ago, their cars had developed a reputation for being unreliable. Senior executives who had company cars were able to park them in a company garage, where a crew of mechanics repaired them and tuned them up every day. When confronted with the poor reliability data, the execs denied there was any problem – because their firsthand experience indicated that the cars were flawless! They were not experiencing their product the way their customers did. Don’t make the same mistake.

Apply these seven actions to your company. I’m guessing you will be surprised at what you find, even if you already believe you have your customer focus down pat. Being customer focused is a journey, not an end point – and if the road is traveled using slick radials rather than jouncy stone wheels, you’ll have a much smoother trip.

Also, if you start the journey but then do not continue it, your service and satisfaction will go down, because it takes effort every day to make it work. If you invest the time and energy, you will be amazed how quickly you will hear positive feedback, and reap the rewards in the form of better business results.

Gary Fassak is a partner and CMO at Chief Outsiders LLC. He can be reached at