Hitting the Long Ball for the Customer

Article excerpt

Hitting the Long Ball for the Customer

The most common reason why companies strike out with customers is poor service. This new customer-satisfaction model, based on a baseball diamond, can help your company stay in the game.

Gaining and holding a loyal customer base is a key corporate challenge in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Customers dictate profits, and consumer studies show that how the customer is treated and how the company backs up its public commitments to service satisfaction largely determine whether the customer will remain loyal or switch to another supplier.

Trainers and organization development professionals are being challenged to help their companies improve customer-service quality, customer satisfaction, and repeat-purchase loyalty. The research demands it, as the following potpourri of facts shows: * According to a Forum study, the most common reason that customers switch to a competitor is poor service. * The American Management Association asserts that 60 percent of new sales should come from old customers, showing repurchase loyalty. * Consultant R.L. Desatnick points out that in the auto industry, for example, a loyal customer represents a lifetime revenue of $140,000. * The Consumer Affairs Office warns that seven out of 10 people may stop doing business with a supplier based on the way they are treated during a first contact. * AT&T reports that the number of 800 numbers (often used by companies that want to provide customer information or assistance) grows 25 percent annually. * The Technical Assistance Research Project (T.A.R.P.) states that a company will never hear from up to 90 percent of its unsatisfied customers (though those unhappy people will tell 10 others about their negative experiences), but that when dissatisfied customers do complain, their loyalty significantly increases if their complaints are resolved to their satisfaction.

As they considered such facts, industries from banking to retailing and from high-tech to personal services made customer service and satisfaction the priority topic of the late 1980s. Training magazine reported in 1987 that companies viewed customer service as the most critical future challenge for training departments. Users of ASTD's TRAINET computer database can find hundreds of citations on the topics of customer service, customer relations, and customer satisfaction.

The initial response to the challenge has concentrated on training service employees. Superstar consultants (Tom Peters in Passion for the Customer, for instance) have sensitized corporations to the importance of their front-line employees. The clerk, salesperson, or service technician is the point of contact between the customer and the company; such corporate ambassadors hold many of the keys to eventual customer satisfaction and loyalty. Also, they are the ones who too often have been neglected and undertrained for their roles. Unfortunately, the new attention to front-line employees has led to a proliferation of training programs and seminars referred to lightly as "smile" training or charm school.

Though the interpersonal skills and professional image of front-line employees are critical for success, the belief that their training alone can guarantee customer satisfaction and a competitive edge smacks of a corporate quick-fix; the eventual bottom-line results could be disappointing. As in any attempt at organizational change, training professionals must take into consideration many variables if true customer satisfaction is to follow.

A diamond model

A baseball diamond model (see the figure) depicts four areas for action planning and change for the company that wants to make a complete effort in customer service and satisfaction. At first base is the front-line employee who must handle customer contacts --he or she not only must make sales or render services, but also must engender customer satisfaction with the sales/service experience that will lead to future purchases or referrals. …