Customer satisfaction is a leading indicator to measure customer loyalty and future revenue, which makes it a critical KPI for any successful business. Therefore, it is not surprising customer satisfaction is ubiquitous in MBA programs, business books, and during employers’ performance reviews. But what does it mean to satisfy or delight a customer? What should one do to reach delight? I struggle to provide definitive instructions to my team. We don’t have a procedure or a set of concrete rules; instead we look at each case in context and decide the best route.
Nevertheless, there is one anecdote I like to share with my team to establish guidelines; I call it the flashlight story.
When my parents visit me in Chicago these days, we tend to dine at restaurants that are unique. A couple of years ago we went to an upscale southern bistro to celebrate. It was clear from the moment we walked in that the service was going to be on point. They hit all the customary practices from the initial friendly greeting, to prompt water refilling, to being conscientious about food allergies. However, there was a moment my family will never forget. We still talk about it on occasion today. To me, it epitomizes customer delight.
The restaurant was a tad dark. It was chic and hip, and we certainly were neither the typical nor target diners. Between the menu’s cursive font and the modern dim candles, my parents were struggling to read the menu. My dad reached for his cell phone. He had an outdated cellphone in need of repairs. In theory it was a good idea. In practice, the struggle to read the menu continued. Our server noticed and approached our table. He said he would talk to the manager. We ceased our futile attempts and enjoyed a conversation while waiting for the server to return.
The manager approached our table carrying a drugstore plastic bag with something inside. He took out the first item. It was a mini flashlight. The second item he opened were batteries. He apologized for the dim light and shined the flashlight. He asked if we could see the menus adequately now. We could. We passed the flashlight around and ordered our first course.
For a significant portion of the dinner, we discussed how wonderfully caring the manager was to leave his restaurant and run (literally) down the street to purchase a flashlight and batteries for our table. We were blown away by the experience that will forever be etched in our memories.
We were extremely delighted customers. The server watched and listened to us to identify a customer issue. The manager understood our needs and what we valued in this situation. They both moved quickly and effectively to deliver a resolution, verify the results, and let our dining experience continue unscathed.
The manager could have simply apologized for the dim lighting and offered a free dessert or a discount off our meal. He could have loaded several candles on our table or turned up the lights. All of which would have been nice gestures, yet none would have met our underlying interests and needs at that moment. We were celebrating and did not mind paying for a great dining experience. The manager chose the correct path, without us being “noticed” by other diners because he understood our needs and fears. I have received plenty of free deserts in the past. Yet, I could not tell you the names of those restaurants, but forever will remember the “flashlight restaurant”.
By sharing this story with my team, the goal is to convey principles so they will delight their customers by incorporating the following lessons:
Understand Two Ears and One Mouth
Humans have two ears and one mouth for a reason (Epictetus). The first step to gather the information to be able to satisfy a customer is to truly listen to the customer. The next step is to listen to understand and not merely reply (Covey). These lessons enable an understanding of the customer’s specific needs for their unique context. Too many times we recommend a solution before understanding the problem, needs, and objective of the customer. We also provide a solution that does not align with what the customer actually values.
The server understood our issue and what we valued. Because of this observant method the manager spent a lot less resources (time and money) to get us the resolution we needed (easy to operate working flashlight) instead of a uniform resolution (discount that we would not cherish).
Customers want results and not excuses. They also want to feel that they are the most important customer. When customers feel appreciated they are typically understanding. Some of my best customers today started as an upset customer. However, with a plan of attack, quick wins, frequent status updates, and direct communication, those relationships evolved into my most referenceable customers. A quick email status update requires minimal investment but achieves maximum results. If negative news needs to be communicated, a phone call is the best medium, to invest in the customer relationship.
Neither the server nor the manager made my family feel like we did not belong in their trendy restaurant, made for a younger generation with better vision. They assessed the situation and provided a solution. We felt valued and important.
In many occasions lowering the price is not a means to achieve customer satisfaction. Lowering prices may create a false signal that a product is less valuable and has become a commodity. Instead, determine the priorities of the customer and provide an initial smaller package that meets those needs. This way the customer pays for what they actually need and doesn’t pay for, nor receive, what they do not need. Margin is retained. Customers will pay higher prices for quality products they feel they need. When a large discount is requested, we probably have not sufficiently demonstrated the value of the product or have proposed the wrong product for the unique customer.
The restaurant manager could have given us a free dessert. However, that discount is not what we needed. We were celebrating and wanted a great meal. We are not big eaters so a main dish is all that we need. More food would have been counterproductive as we would have had that overstuffed feeling and enjoyed the restaurant experience less.
My team tells me they remember the flashlight restaurant when they are working with a customer they want to delight. They are now finding the appropriate personal solution, not necessarily an expensive solution, to meet the customer’s underlying needs. This has brought our satisfaction rate up to 98% and my hope is this story lights up your team’s customer satisfaction as well.