Seeing Things from the Customer's Perspective
By Claire Belilos | November 30, -0001
Sometimes we are so busy organizing and managing our business, we forget that it continues to exist because of the customer. Yes, we do integrate the faceless, nameless customer in our planning, but we tend to think of the customer as an entity that buys our product and service - we see customers as numbers that bring in income. We get busy laying plans to lure customers to us and not have them go to our competitors. But do we invest enough time and effort to discover who is our customer and to think of him or her as a human being who also thinks and plans, has specific needs and expectations?
A good exercise in the right direction when planning anything connected to customers is to remember that we ourselves are customers at other stores and of other service providers. For a brief moment, let us forget our marketing objectives and operational challenges. Let us analyze ourselves as customers. Let us write a list of expectations:
- Where do we, as potential customers, look for a product or service?
- How can we decide from the many offers around?
- Do we have time or desire to shop around for what suits us best?
- Do we have a clear definition or vague idea of what we want?
- Do we first make a few phone calls to check out the service providers?
- Do the answers we receive affect our decision?
- Does the tone of voice, culture, or lack of culture, affect our decision?
- Do we go physically around checking or sampling products?
- Do we ask people we know for their recommendations?
- Do we expect to find something uniquely suited to our wants, tastes, style of life, and economic capability?
- What happens when the sales person tries to force upon us something we do not want?
- What happens when we do not receive immediate attention?
- What happens when the person serving us does not listen effectively?
- Are we attracted to buy what is on sale though it is not what we really want?
- Do we expect the sales person or Manager to treat us like royalty?
- Do we expect them to thank us for patronizing their operation?
- If we recount a joke or little story (if we feel a need to socialize) do we expect a sympathetic ear and response?
- If the sales people are busy, are we ready to wait patiently for our turn even if no-one has acknowledged our presence yet?
- How do we react if we hear the Manager or employees indulging in personal jokes and conversations while we wait?
- Do we expect first-class efficiency, cleanliness, and order even in a little operation?
- Do we expect the sales people to call us by name?
- Do we expect them to explain and demonstrate the performance and advantages of the product?
- Do we expect the same sales person to close the sale and process the payment efficiently and speedily?
- Do we expect to be thanked for making the purchase?
- Do we expect a decently attractive and safe packaging of the product?
- Do we expect the Manager or sales person to wish us a good day, and a "we'll be happy to see you again"?
- Do we leave the store with a good warm feeling, happy at our purchase, or do we feel that we have been "enticed" into buying and have misgivings?
- Are we satisfied with the warranty or guarantee we were given?
- Are we satisfied with the price and value of the product or service?
- Do we feel that we definitely want to visit that operation again?
- Are we so proud of our purchase that we tell friends about it?
- Was the service so good that we feel compelled to mention it to others?
- Once we try and use the product back home or in the office are we as satisfied?
- If we call the store with further questions, do we expect full attention and service?
- Do we expect to be recognized when we visit again?
- Do we expect to see the same people there?
- What do we think if we find totally new employees and a new Manager?
- Would we continue buying there if this were the case?
- If upon use, the product proves unsatisfactory, do we expect the store to take it back?
- If the store people do not handle our complaint to our satisfaction, do we want top Management(head office) to do so?
- What do we think when the head office starts arguing with us?
- What happens if the head office apologizes, resolves our complaint and compensates us?
- How do we feel and what do we think if the store drastically increases its prices once it has established a large customer base? Will we ever go back there again?
- How often do we expect increases in prices?
- Do we accept a lowering in the store's standard of service?
- Do we make it our policy to try out or buy at different stores?
- What would make us "stick" with one store?
- Do we consider ourselves unique, and want to buy only what is unique to us?
Read, re-read, and edit your list. Show it to others. Discuss it with your Managers and employees. Use it to design a "Mystery Shopping" check-list. Have some of your acquaintances (unknown to your staff) come to your operation, buy your product and sample your service, equipped with your check-list. Ask them to complete it based on their experience, or have unbiased professionals do it at regular intervals. You will know your operation's strengths and shortcomings from the customer's perspective.
Survey your customers regularly. Prepare a customer (or guest) questionnaire form. Make sure it is obviously displayed, and thank the customer for taking the time to fill it. Have employees encourage customers to fill in the questionnaire and leave it in a locked "drop-in box".
Follow up on comments made, analyze them, draw a chart, correct and improve where needed. Keep a customer database. Follow-up with a thank you note to the customer (and further information if needed).
Seeing our operation from the customer's perspective and encouraging our employees to do so will not only lay the course for a successful business, but guide us in planning our company policies, procedures, and employee training. It will lead to shared objectives among customers, employees and ourselves. Today's customers want a say in the way a business is run. Customers see a business as being there to provide for and service their needs.