How to Deliver EXACTLY What Your Customer Wants
Even when they don't tell you
This piece is the an entry in the "Happy to Help" Series, ongoing articles focused on elevating customer service experiences.
A True Story
Chase had an upcoming meeting with some important executives. Planning to dress for success, he checked his favorite suit and noticed that it was soiled on one of the shoulders from when he held his small daughter as she ate crackers for a snack. As the meeting was still two weeks away, he decided he had enough time to get his suit dry-cleaned.
The suit had a three-button jacket. However, when it was returned to him, the lapel crease was folded and ironed incorrectly so the suit looked like a two-button jacket. He returned the suit and asked that it be fixed. When he returned the next day to pick it up, he was again disappointed to see his three-button coat folded and ironed like a two-button suit coat.
At this point, there wasn’t enough time to have it fixed (again) so he ignored the issue and wore a different suit to the meeting. A couple of months passed, and Chase came across that suit coat again. He decided that he should get it fixed. He resolved on a different tactic, and went to a different dry cleaner.
He explained very specifically how the previous dry cleaner had ironed the crease incorrectly on the lapel and what it should look like. He put special emphasis on the fact that if this were done properly, this new dry cleaner would become his preferred dry cleaner.
In a few days, he returned to pick up his...
...two-button style suit coat. [Hand-to-forehead!]
He hasn’t returned to either of the cleaners.
Delivering exactly is the most common issue that you face both as recipient and provider of customer service. You will have far fewer complaints about employees who are unenergetic and lackluster than you will about a customer not getting exactly what they expected. There are three challenges that you face as a customer service provider.
First, and easiest, is Delivering exactly as your customer orders.
Second, and slightly more difficult, is Delivering exactly when they don’t know what they want.
Third, and most difficult, is Delivering exactly as they expected, but didn’t specifically ask for.
Exactly What They Asked For
Have you received a food order that was incorrect? Have you purchased a product or subscription that was not what you anticipated? Have you been to an entertainment venue where not everything works? These are all scenarios where the customer asked for one thing, but received something else—something different from what they expected.
The solution to this challenge is to adequately Discover the needs of your customer. When you have a clear understanding of what your customer is asking for, you can Deliver exactly as they request.
You can Deliver food exactly as ordered, or Deliver the product that best meets the customer’s needs, or Deliver a service that functions properly.
Exactly When They Don't Know What They Want
The second challenge is to Deliver exactly, even when the customer doesn’t really know what they want. Here is an example from the bowling center I managed a few years back. Two nights a week they offered “Fifty-fifty” nights. It was a special that started at 9:00 p.m. and ran with cosmic (black light) bowling.
Customers paid a five-dollar cover charge then could rent shoes and buy games for fifty cents each. The challenge? About half of the people who would come to bowl on these nights were NOT regulars (people who showed up at the same night, same time, every week). They were new to the facility, or had not been in for a while. Customers knew they wanted to bowl, but they didn’t understand the pricing in relation to how many games they could bowl.
The solution in this case is to be keen on the Discover phase that we covered a few weeks back. In that phase, you have the opportunity to enlighten your customer about any concerns they may have. This could include something like being able to understand the pricing strategy.
If things are difficult for customers to understand, and it’s not something you have the power or authority to change, look at how you can make it easier for the customer by presenting or explaining it differently. With the “Fifty-fifty” special that confused a lot of customers, someone was smart enough to see the confusion that our guests were experiencing and came up with the following pricing explanation, “Six dollars for the first game and shoes; fifty-cents for each additional game.”
This made the price easier to understand, and customers were quicker to decide how many games they wanted to play. By the time I started working with them, this phrase was commonly used to explain pricing to customers. Over time, I worked with some of the employees to take it one step farther and pitched, “Three games for seven dollars.”
That explanation goes from 14 to 5 words.
Not only is it short and sweet, but it’s an upsell. Guests will also stay longer which means more money spent on food and ancillary revenue. The new pricing explanation worked so well, the bowling center raised the price the next year to, “Three games for eight dollars.”
For those not in the bowling industry, most bowling centers only increase prices by twenty-five cents each year. The fact that they could raise the price by a dollar and sustain their market indicates that they were delivering a high-quality experience for which customers were willing to pay more—all due to wanting to offer a better customer service experience.
Exactly What They Don't Ask For
It is extremely challenging to Deliver exactly as the customer expects when they may not ask for it specifically. I emphasize this because there is a difference between knowing what a customer wants and knowing what they want, but aren’t explicitly asking for. Here are some ideas of some of the things that you may purchase, along with what you expected, but didn’t ask for. I've also included how falling short on these expectations creates gaps in service performance.
What you purchase: food at a restaurant. What you expect (but don’t ask for): your food to be delivered in a timely manner. What sometimes happens: your food arrives properly made (which you asked for), but took an excessive amount of time.
What you purchase: An online subscription. What you expect (but don't ask for): adequate features for your personal needs at a price that fits in your budget. What sometimes happens: You end up with a plan that turns out to be more expensive than a similar plan that would fulfill your needs.
What you purchase: a dry-cleaned coat. What you expect (but don't ask for): the coat will be returned clean and properly pressed. What sometimes happens: You receive a dry-cleaned coat that has been pressed and creased incorrectly (like Chase's example above).
People Can Be Oblivious
Reese and Mike, friends and coworkers who I mentioned previously, joined me in visiting an entertainment venue to check out an attraction called the XD Theater. An XD Theater is a small movie theater with anywhere between ten and twenty seats. While the 3-D movie plays, your seat moves in tandem with the action of the movie. There are also other features like lights, fans, and three-dimensional glasses that all work in conjunction to make a multi-sensory movie experience.
After watching one five-minute movie, we decided we enjoyed it enough to do it again. When we got back in line, the six people in front of us chose their seats, but the three of us were stopped before we could ride again.
“I don’t have enough seats for all of you,” the attendant said. This seemed like a mystery to us because there were twelve seats in this particular model and only the group of six people ahead of us. Then the attendant explained, “These are broken,” pointing to FIVE of the twelve seats.
No customer should have to request a movie theater specializing in multi-sensory chairs to keep all of your seats working, it is simply expected. Perhaps not surprisingly, this venue has since gone out of business.
Understand Your Customer Needs (Spoken AND Unspoken)
In your role you should understand all that must be included when your customers ask for something. To really understand the needs of your customer, you should take a step back and look at entering your business or purchasing your product from their point of view. This can give you a good idea of what some of the unspoken expectations are that they may have about your product.
The following are some brief exercises that may help you view things as a customer.
If you are in the casual dining food industry, see how long it takes from start to finish—putting an order into the kitchen all the way to delivering it to the table. Would you be willing to wait that long?
If you are in the fast food industry, compare your times for making food to your number of errors. Are you making more errors when you are making food faster?
If you work in retail, are your shelves frequently stocked with the items that people most often purchase? Are your sales and promotions easy to understand and all sale items placed so that regular priced items are not confused with sale items?
If you work in a call center, call in as a customer and see how long you have to wait on hold. Is it an acceptable amount of time? How well does your issue get resolved?
If you are in entertainment, do all of your attractions function at one hundred percent efficiency during your peak periods? What are the most popular attractions that aren’t being used because they don’t function? In a video arcade I managed many years ago, we were able to double arcade game revenue just by making sure all the games were working all the time.
No matter what industry you are in, how ready are you to engage your customers? In a call center, how many times does the phone ring before it is answered? In face-to-face interactions, is there always someone available at the front desk or kiosk to help a customer immediately upon entering your business?
One Last Example
Now that we’ve discussed how you can recognize some of the basic expectations of your customers, let’s take a look at someone who knows how to Deliver exactly what is expected, whether it is spoken or not. I mentioned in a previous article that Applebee’s has been one of my favorite restaurants. I love going there because of the service which we always receive.
On our first visit, Reese and I immediately noticed that Reno, our server, stood out from his peers in how he Delivered service. Reno has an uncanny ability to keep your drink full. If you look away for only a few seconds, a full cup will have magically appeared when you look back at your drink. Reno is a great example because you never have to say, “I would like a Coke...and keep it full!”
Does he Deliver exactly? Yes.
Does he fulfill my unspoken expectation that this drink should stay full the whole time I’m there? Yes.
Reno: 2, Bad Service: 0.
Being a pro at Delivering exactly what your customer needs, what they need but don’t know how to order, and what they need but don’t say requires you to analyze every detail of your Delivery process. One of Disney's original Imagineers, John Hench, had this to say about the company’s success:
What’s our success formula? It’s attention to infinite detail, the little things, the minor, picky points that others just don’t want to take the time, money, or effort to do.”
Once you have analyzed each of the small details, and every minute piece of your service puzzle so that you can Deliver exactly every time, you are ready to make your good service better by Delivering elegantly. We'll tackle that next week.