I have a favorite book about focusing on the customer. Its on my recommended list on my Linked-In profile. Its an older book, but I find it to be a timeless reference on flooding the company with the Voice of the Customer. The book is The Customer Focused Company by Richard Whitely of the Forum Corporation. Mr. Whitley makes several good points throughout this book. Two among my favorite ideas from this book are that customer complaints are like gold nuggets and that quality is defined by the customer. Quality is indeed defined by the customer, whether we like it or not. So wait a minute, you might be saying. It sounds like I'm arguing both sides of the arguement. The diference in The Customer Focused Company is that Mr. Whitley understands that while we need to improve our service quality and go to school on the needs of the customer, he never forgets what underlies all of this, the products and services that the customer receives as our main offering. These must meet the customer's needs as well. So not only must we improve our service to the customer and concern for the customer, but the products must work too.
This work, in addition to the experiences that I have had examining customer loyalty lead me to the recipe for loyal customers and the House of Customer Loyalty. Just so we are clear on definitions, Customer Loyalty and Customer Satisfaction are not the same thing. A satisfied customer may never buy again, or recommend us to their business associates. A loyal customer on the other hand, is our cheerleader. Loyal customers advocate for the company and are more than a little hesitant to switch brands. Satisfaction is about the experience and feelings in the past, loyalty is about the behavior in the future. We want loyal customers.
The House of Customer Loyalty above indicates the relationship of all the components of our quality management system to achieve satisfied and loyal customer. The house is built from many components, starting with the foundation and ending with Loyal Customers on the roof. We call it a house because, like a real house, it is made up of many components; and like a real house, you don't put the roof on first, you build the house from the foundation up, putting the roof on last. The foundation of the house of loyalty are the systems that support our ability to deliver consistent products, resolve issues quickly and effectively & develop new products that customers want. Only when we've tackled the basics will we be able to advance to the roof section of our model. The bottom plank of the roof is Continuous Improvement. Without continuous improvement of all aspects of our systems and products, competitors will overtake us eventually. Robust engagement with customers gives the critical Voice of the Customer (VOC) that we need to inform all of our efforts. Finally we start to reach the roof, where we must engage the right players at the customer to achieve satisfaction. Interesting plank, that one. Customer's are not monolithic, talk to the purchasing agent and they will give one perspective, the engineer a completely different perspective, and the quality person yet another different perspective. Experience says that the key customer within the customer is the user of your product. Win them over and all the others will fall in line.
The problem with too much focus on the customer is that we risk forgetting that our quality proposition must be built from the ground up starting with a solid foundation. Problems occur when we start to think that we can build the roof first and stop there and that somehow, everything else will take care of itself, or perhaps if we change our focus from the foundation to the pillars and then the roof, but along the way we have not maintained the foundation. The problem with this approach is that the recipe for loyalty is complex. Its great to focus on the relationship part of the equation, but if product variation is too much for customers to bear, loyalty suffers. If our product offering does not meet the needs of the customer, we wont get the business and there won't be any chance to build loyalty. Without systems to document the processes that need to be followed to make good product, product quality suffers. Without continuous improvement, competition will overtake us and no amount of loyalty will save us. One other point to emphasize here. There is no end to the journey. Competition is always nipping at our heels, customer expectations are always increasing. We have to keep our eye on the ball for the long term.
Customer satisfaction and loyalty are the ultimate aims of our quality efforts. We have to remember that, like a house, we have to build it from the ground up. Rest assured that if we try to build our house of customer loyalty with some of the blocks of the foundation missing or if we remove them later, the house will eventually fall in on itself and no amount of satisfaction or loyalty will rescue us.