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Keep Them Coming Back

Getting and keeping customers is one of management’s primary tasks. Getting customers is hard. Keeping them is sometimes even harder.


June 11, 2007
By Bill De Decker

Topics

Getting and keeping customers is one of management’s primary tasks.
Getting customers is hard. Keeping them is sometimes even harder. If
your organization has trouble converting first-time customers into
loyal, repeat clients, don’t blame customer ignorance, the competition,
or your unlucky stars. Most likely the reason is that the customers’
experience did not measure up to their expectations.


But
how are you supposed to know what each customer expects? There is a
great deal of market research available on this subject, and it all
points to the same conclusion. No matter what service is provided, the
customer has certain expectations going into a transaction, and how
well those expectations are met determines customer satisfaction and
subsequent decisions on repeat purchases.
But, you say to
yourself, we know what the customers expect. They want a safe flight or
a quality maintenance job at the lowest price and that is exactly what
we give them! And yet, you have a hard time getting them to come back.
253-back
What
is going on? Well, it is true that a safe flight or quality job are
certainly important and sometimes price is a factor. But that’s not
all! In fact, market research suggests there are some very important
expectations that must be met to satisfy the customer. So let’s look
closer at these expectations, how customers weigh them and their impact
on your business.

The following are the customer’s top four expectations, in order of importance, about the service provided by your organization:


1) RELIABILITY

There
are three pieces to this. The first, and most important, is whether the
job is started and finished on time. The second is whether the
contracted service was performed properly or the stated problem was
fixed. The third is whether the final price is as quoted at the
beginning. In other words, your customers will judge your organization
by how well it lives up to its promises. Note that there is no mention
of safety here. Simply put, customers assume your operation is safe. If
they thought it was not, they wouldn’t even call you. As for cost, the
important factor is how it compares with the original quote or proposal.

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2) APPEARANCE

This
means exactly what it says! Your customers will judge your organization
by its appearance, from the cleanliness of the aircraft and the
clothing of your employees, to the appearance of the paperwork. What
your grandmother told you really is true – appearances do matter. This
also helps explain why the ‘big boys’ spend so much time and energy on
standardized paint schemes, uniforms, brochures, etc.


3) RESPONSIVENESS

When
a customer or prospect calls with a problem or a question, do your
employees provide an accurate, courteous and prompt answer? Do they
listen carefully when the customer explains a problem? Can the customer
receive a concise and timely answer to the question “how is the job
going”? You can rest assured that unless you can give an unqualified
“yes” to each of these and similar questions, your organization is not
as responsive as required. And your customers and prospects will notice.


4) KNOWLEDGE

Of
course you know your business, but look at it from the customers’ point
of view. Customers assume you know your business, but given what is at
stake, they would like some real assurance on this issue. And that
assurance does not come from a lot of technical jargon rattled off at
high speed. It does come from explanations that are geared to the
customers’ level of understanding, whatever that may be. It is not
enough to be smart when it comes to aircraft operations and
maintenance, you also have to know how to explain it to others who are
not as smart as you on that subject.

Customers do not rate all
four of these equally. Reliability is far more important than the other
three and the tolerance for error is much smaller. Of course, this
makes sense. Think of your own situation when you need to have a
plumbing problem fixed. If the plumber shows up on time, fixes the
problem quickly and charges what he said he would, you probably don’t
care that his truck looked like a mess and the scheduler was sort of
rude. But what about when he doesn’t show up on time?

What if
the expectations are met – i.e., performance was in the “acceptable”
range? They’ll probably come back, but you’re not building the loyalty
that leads to steady repeat business. That kind of loyalty only happens
when the customers’ expectations are exceeded – when the actual
performance was at or above the “desired” level. And longlasting
loyalty is created when desired expectations are exceeded time and time
again. This creates not only strong loyalty, it also creates something
almost more important – positive word-of-mouth advertising.

What
happens if the customer’s expectations are not met? It’s simple. They
will not come back if they have any choice in the matter, unless you
make an effort to be allowed to do the job again. Customers’
expectations then are higher and their tolerance for error much
smaller, but research shows that if you are able to do it very right
the second time, strong customer loyalty can still be built.

As
managers, that means we have to build a system that lets our
organization exceed the customers’ expectations routinely. The first
step is to stress reliability by really focusing on each customer’s
specific expectations and your organization’s commitments regarding the
work required, the schedule and the estimated cost. The key here is to
make sure you both know exactly what is expected and will be
accomplished and thus avoid unpleasant surprises. It is better to be
conservative at this point, and give the customer a pleasant surprise.
In other words, under-promise and over-deliver!

Next, take a
searching look at the appearance of your organization. The basic
question is whether it is an outfit where you would spend large sums of
money for aircraft charters or maintenance. How clean is the facility?
How clean are the aircraft? How is the paint job? The upholstery? Do
all personnel look professional? If you have magazines in the lobby,
how old are they? Go visit some other places in the business that have
a good reputation and see how they compare. Have an outsider (maybe a
friend or a relative) come in and take a look. Ask your customers. The
hangar may be 40 years old, but that doesn’t mean the hangar floor
can’t be painted and spotless.

Once you have examined how you
look, focus on your organization’s responsiveness to the needs and
questions of your customers. Are your salespeople and customer service
advisers not only knowledgeable but also professional? Are your phone
system and procedures set up to be customer-friendly, or do your
customers have to fight their way through a computerized phone
answering system? How fast are phone calls answered? How fast is
correspondence answered? What happens when customers call after hours,
particularly if they call for help? What happens if a customer
complains? Do you have a system to find out if the customer is
satisfied or not? Do you have a means to quickly launch into a recovery
mode?

If you build an organization on these principles, the
record shows that keeping customers is much easier. Your business will
grow faster and your competitors will wonder what your secret is.


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