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Focusing on Consistency (Part 2)

Consistently pleasant customer experiences produce "raving fans" who spread positive "buzz" about our products and services. In contrast, even a single unhappy experience can sour a customer, who may then take her business elsewhere. This customer often doesn't inform us of the reason -- but does tend to rant unhappily to an even wider circle of friends, according to the American Management Association.

In Part 1 of this series, we saw how consumers are able to exercise their choices to achieve the most enjoyable and efficient experiences possible. This article, Part 2, explores four more techniques that can help ensure top-to-bottom consistency in creating positive customer experiences.

Reviewing the First Two Ingredients in the Recipe

The recipe for customer satisfaction contains several key ingredients that pertain to quality, business systems, marketing/sales, customer service, and good common sense. Two of the basic ingredients we covered in Part 1 were:

* It's far more cost effective to keep existing customers than to find new ones. Why? Customer retention research shows that once companies have loyal customers, the cost of keeping them is just one-fifth the cost of attracting new ones. Therefore, it makes sense to continuously and consistently delight them.

* It's critical not to over-promise and under-deliver. Either we can under-promise and over-deliver -- or, over-promise and over-deliver -- but, at all costs, we should strive not to under-deliver. Our credibility and trustworthiness evaporate whenever we make promises we can't keep.

Next, let's look at four additional success criteria.

Ingredient #3: Prevent Variation in Service and Product Quality

For services, preventing variation means being unfailingly helpful and pleasant in all customer interactions. It means that personnel must be able to satisfy all of the company's advertised claims. And they'll also need an understanding of the creative latitude they'll have to meet customers' special needs, to offer the greatest possible "quality in perception." In these ways, personnel will have the means by which to "wow" customers -- over-delivering by giving even more than customers expect.

For products, preventing variation means ensuring that every article produced conforms as tightly as possible to the ideal -- as close to perfection as you can make it. Unlike what you may have learned about quality decades ago, this requires going beyond merely staying within tolerances, which was the "old school" of quality thinking. The reason is that weaknesses can arise from being "barely within specs" -- possibly enough to cause system failure. It's far more likely when several critical values together are all "barely within specs," because the effects can accumulate.

Ingredient #4: Ensure Your Customers' Downstream Success

Ask yourself: Are you most heavily focused on your own immediate gain -- your own business results -- or do you express a vested interest in ensuring that your customers will succeed? If your emphasis is truly on your customers' success, then how about your customers' customers' success, or even that of your customers' customers' customers? By consistently emphasizing the downstream chain of successes that your customers and their customers will enjoy, you will create consistent, perpetual value for all who use your offerings.

Ingredient #5: Create Theme-Oriented Products and Services

You can design an imaginative suite of coordinated components with theme names, slogans, mascots, music, literature, accessories, and services. Such ensembles will spark your customers' imaginations and entice them to buy one after another in the desire to complete a set. Many companies have learned that customers will gladly pay a premium for a group of collectibles while raving to their family and friends.

An example of an enterprise that has experienced extraordinary results using this technique is American Girl. This company pairs authentic doll characters with historically researched novels that tell the life stories and adventures of the dolls. It also sells coordinated outfits, period furniture, and accessories -- even hair styling services! American Girl has quietly exploded from a tiny mail-order business into a $344 million firm using mostly word-of-mouth advertising. It creates wholesome, educational offerings for which their ever-expanding clientele gladly pay top dollar.

Ingredient #6: Design a Mesmerizing, Theme-Based Buying Experience

Taking theme ideas even further, you can create a whimsical buying atmosphere for your customers, either in a physical storefront, online store, or both. Your staff might wear costumes or use custom scripts to keep in step with the characters or theme. The novelty and entertainment value can spark customers' imaginations, attracting avid buyers in markets such as toys, technology, hotels, clothing, accessories, and foods.

In the area of foods, Trader Joe's, which has stores primarily on the east and west coasts of the U.S., has enjoyed remarkable popularity over the last several decades. Everything Trader Joe's does revolves around a tropical, nautical motif. The theme dictates what staff members wear, the decorations in the stores, and the unique, exotic, low-cost, private-label foods it sells. Walking into any store feels like arriving at an island vacation spot. The clang of ship's bells punctuates the sounds of Hawaiian shirt-clad staff members chatting cheerfully with customers. The quality, selection, value, and whimsical, theme-based atmosphere attract a steadily growing base of "raving fan" shoppers.

In conclusion, these powerful tips can help you create customer satisfaction, loyalty, and endless word-of-mouth promotion. To reap the benefits of the fun and creative ideas, however, don't overlook the foundational aspects. This means being sure to over-deliver on what you promise while maintaining consistency in your product and service quality.

About the Author :

Adele Sommers, Ph.D. is the author of the award-winning "Straight Talk on Boosting Business Performance" success program. She helps people "discover and recover" the profits their businesses may be losing daily through overlooked performance potential. Adele is a business consultant and the president of an award-winning chapter of the Society for Technical Communication (STC). To learn more about her tools and resources, visit her site at

Focus on Consistency (Part 1)

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