It's the little things that matter
"What more do they want?" shouts the marketing director. "We have the perfect product. It's priced to offer value for money. It's widely available. And yet we are still awarded mediocre satisfaction scores by our customers."
"Yes, yes" we sympathise. "But what you are giving them is no more than they expect. The product should work perfectly, the price should offer value, and they expect to be able to get it whenever they want. What you are not offering is a touch of magic. You are not getting to their emotions."
This is a typical exchange with people getting to grips with customer satisfaction scores for the first time. How do we know that it is the emotional factors that generate high satisfaction scores? We know this because we ask people their overall satisfaction score on a scale where 10 is complete satisfaction. We then ask satisfaction scores on the same scale on a range of other measures which include the quality of the product, value for money, availability and crucially a number of "soft" factors. These "soft" factors include “trustworthiness”, “ease of doing business”, “responsiveness”, “helpfulness”, “understanding of needs” and so on.
We then correlate the scores given for overall satisfaction with those for all the individual factors. Almost always we find that there is a higher correlation with overall satisfaction and the soft factors than product quality, price and availability. This tells us that the soft factors are the ones that are driving the overall satisfaction score. Of course, people expect quality, price and availability to be to a high standard and these things are vitally important. But they can usually obtain all these things from a range of competitive suppliers. These tangible factors are table stakes and every supplier needs to offer them if they are to be considered. Things that make a difference are trust, friendliness, easy to do business with, responsiveness and so on. These drive satisfaction.
The good news is that many of the soft factors do not require massive investments. Take “ease of doing business”. This is a huge driver of customer satisfaction. Companies that are “difficult to do business with” require their customers to fill in a plethora of forms before taking the order, or they will only do business on certain payment terms. There is usually a justification for these requirements such as “we need to ensure our customers are financially viable”. The lost business these strictures cause by generating customer frustration are usually greater than losses from the odd dilatory bad payer. Furthermore, “easy to do business with” requires far fewer costs and will save money.
Customers can’t always distinguish between the emotional and irrational elements of their decisions. When asked the reason a supplier is chosen, the usual responses are logical. They say it is the price, quality and good delivery. Few say it is the ease of doing business. It is only through digging deeper and finding out satisfaction levels on many different factors and relating these back to overall satisfaction that we have learned that it is the little things that matter.