18 Key Things For your Business and Your Customer’s Business
I have read on many occasions peoples views on the best way to determine the level of service quality within a given enterprise. As early as 1976 Swan and Combs (1976) postulated that: “consumers judge products on a limited set of attributes, some of which are relatively important in determining satisfaction, while others are not critical to consumer satisfaction but are related to dissatisfaction when performance on them is unsatisfactory” Their study was broken down into two types of determinant – those that occur in the physical world and those that are psychological. Many have built on this seminal work; SERVQUAL had five areas – tangibles, reliability, responsiveness, assurance and empathy.
Perhaps the best is the 18 determinants of service quality by Robert Johnston. from University of Warwick, Coventry, UK.
He put forward a credible case that service quality is reliant on many aspects that could be categorised into 18 determinants. We will explore these eighteen quality determinants and pose questions to you as a business owner.
|1 – Access - Knowing the best way to contact the parties in both businesses. Do you make it easy for your customers to stay in touch with you at any point in the sales process?Try quickly mapping the sales process into about 10 or 15 steps. Now circle those steps where you ‘could’ inform your customer of the order status. Next, underline those steps where you actually do inform the client. Finally, ask a good client if this is sufficient to meet their needs.
|2 – Aesthetics – Do services/products look good and feel right when used by the customer? Getting it wrong can lead to dissatisfaction which may be shared with other potential customers.Try getting your account managers/sales staff to call the client the day after the product has been delivered to ask if is OK and works as they expected. Ask for feedback that can be passed onto the ‘design team’ for the next generation of the product.
|3 – Attentiveness – Maintaining the right image. How do you rate the after-sales support services in your business? More importantly, how do your customers rate you?Try adding a short survey to the footer of every email that is sent from the senior members of your organisation. Why not draw your client’s attention to this and ask them to offer feedback – the “Happy or Not” approach to instant feedback is what you are looking for – so don’t make a survey out of this list of 18 determinants as this will switch them off entirely!
|4 – Availability – Attuning the service to the client needs – trading times and communication channels both play key parts in how your customers perceive you.Try doing a competitive analysis of your biggest competitors. Be honest and accept what the finding show – improvements often come from an initial acceptance that you have a problem.
|5 – Comfort – Do you sit well with your customers strategic value-chain? It may sound peculiar to refer the value-chains but the fact remains that you provide goods or services that solve peoples problems. Do you do it well or is it an excruciating experience dealing with you?Try asking the simple question in face to face meetings – how do you find our staff to deal with? Be honest and say that you are looking to improve your service delivery model and really need to hear honest feedback. Good customers will want their supplier to get better and if they can help they often will jump at the chance.
|6 – Commitment – Your effort in supporting or addressing the customer’ needs. The buyer needs to feel in control and you ought to be able to demonstrate that you are committed to meeting their needs on time and in full.Try asking your client an infinity question; ‘what problem have we not solved for you yet?’. ‘If you owned my business what products would you be developing to sell to its clients?’ Co-creation is a great methodology for new product development – why not get your customer in on the journey early!
|7 – Communications – Does your company maintain a solid communications plan to all stakeholders. Be they employees, suppliers, partners or customers? Those who speak truthfully, regularly and confidently usually own the conversation. Do you own the conversations about your products?Try using the RACI model to map out stakeholders and agree with your staff who will be responsible for each part of the comms plan.
|8 – Competence – Demonstrating a market leader position in product knowledge? Are you seen as a leader in your field, are you best in class and do you send out the messages to your client base of your subject matter expertise? If you are not doing this rest assured your competitor probably is!Try doing a competitive audit of those businesses that are vying for the attention of your customers. Also review your press releases, social posts and website blogs – what are you saying you do and are you suggesting you are a best in class? Finally speak truthfully, there is no point saying you are the worlds greatest X, Y or Z if it is fairly obvious how has the number one spot. Find a way to explain why your unique, inimitable competencies make you better than the rest.
|9 – Courtesy – The customer’ perception of appropriate business etiquette. Do you know the right tome of voice to use in communications? It is surprising how many businesses adopt the wrong tone. Either coming across too wordy and patronising or overusing plain speak and coming across as vague and too direct. A courteous approach to conversations should match the code of conduct that is evident within your industry. It is important to know what good sounds like.Try actively listening to your customers and suppliers in the next set of meetings that you have. Fully concentrate on what is being said, encourage the speaker to give more information, steer the conversations to your business, clear up any problems that are identified, gather data and most importantly show empathy.
|10 – Dependability – Do you keep the customer fully aware throughout the lifecycle of the sale? You could be forgiven for thinking that delivering late or misshipped items if no big issue – particularly if you have an excellent relationship with your customers. But what happens when a new customer comes along, one that his used to a highly dependable service – with your business operations match up to their expectations?Try getting your sales and logistics teams to review the last few months shipments. What proportion reached the customer? What proportion were returned? How easy or difficult did you make it for the client to return goods? Drill down into the reasons why they were late or not wanted by the client. Leave no stone unturned and work towards correcting those faults.
|11 – Flexibility – Meeting the ever-changing needs of the customer. How adaptable is your business and are your core products at risk of obsolescence by either technology improvements or the changing tastes of your customer base?Try looking up the Boston Co9nsulting Group Growth-Share Matrix. The model allows product portfolios to be plotted on a 2×2 grid. The axes of the grid are market growth rate and relative market share. You put your products on this axis and note that they will fall within one of four boxes; Start products, problem children, cash cows and dogs. It is an interesting exercise when reviewing your product range and best conducted as a group activity.
|12 – Functionality – Have you supplied malfunctioning goods or services to your customer? Or equally importantly does the functionality of what you sell meet the needs of the buyers in your marketplace? We all have loyal customers but they sometimes employ new people with different tastes and needs. Are your products fit for purpose?Try conducting a product review with a trusted client and use some idea generating tools such as the ideation technique and also the morphological matrix to tease out iterative options. Finally, do some research into Blue Ocean Strategy – a concept by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. This tool seeks to find new markets for new or existing products. The technique focusses on eliminating, reducing, raising or creating elements in your products to make them fit for a new purpose. (Khurana & Mandke, 2009)
|13 – Integrity – Differentiating products by balancing numerous characteristics. What is it about your product that is truly unique? If you differentiate yourself by the quality of your service delivery then you must have an extremely robust set of business processes to ensure they are repeatable by you but not reproducible by others.Try reviewing the Internal integrity of your product to ensure the parts, people and process are refined to an exacting standard. Then measure the external integrity of your product by gathering feedback on how it fits your customer’s objectives, values, lifestyle and pattern of use.
“To manifest integrity in business means behaving with a clear set of values; those values balance self-interest and concern with an interest in and concern for others.” (Pratch, 2009)
|14 – Presentation – How well does your team portray a positive brand image when in contact with your customer base? What does your product say about the user of this?Try holding a Town Hall meeting and discuss company values and codes of conduct.
“Brands have become crucial components of consumers’ day to day life. Based on consumers’ day to day encounters, they generate perceptions about brands and they store that as cues in their minds with verbal, visual or contextual information. These cues also trigger mental process with cognitive or emotional effects in the minds of the consumers, which in turn generates associations for the brands.” (Romaniuk & Nicholls, 2006)
|15 – Quality – Are the customer’s perceptions of quality being satisfied? It is often subtler than a simple pass/fail test. The subjective needs of a customer should be fully understood at the point of order. Do not fall foul of these extremes of over-engineering the product and excessive value engineering.Try reviewing your company’s non-conformance register. If your company does not have one, I suggest you do some research into whether your company would benefit from being able to log and respond to quality issues in your product and internal business systems.
“The bitterness of poor quality is remembered long after the sweetness of low price has faded from memory.” – Aldo Gucci
|16 – Responsiveness – How easy is your sales order process? Equally importantly, how does this compare to a customer journey with your biggest competitor? There is a reason that Amazon, who started selling books online, now sells coffee, bicycles and groceries – they got the user experience just right. Similarly, when things did not go according to plan how did your team react to the challenge of correcting an error?Try researching the Value Stream Map – an excellent tool that is designed to tease out unresponsive parts of a complex web of business processes.
|17 – Security – How deeply embedded into your customers’ circle of trust are you? Depending on the products you sell this can be the single most important measure.Try building a Strategic Relationship Management framework. This two-way framework aims to build greater levels of innovation and extract competitive advantage for both sides which are not to the detriment of one another – it’s a win-win process.
“In negotiation analysis, achieving a win-win situation is imperative. Negotiators should strive to achieve this situation in any negotiation exercise as it is not wise that the win of one party is at the expense of the other party loss.” (Morcos, 2010)
|18 – Speed – How successful are you in meeting business SLA’s? Service level Agreements exist between internal teams as well as with external supply chains. Assuming you have achieved success in all other quality determinants, did the product reach the customer on time in full?Try researching the Value Stream Map – an excellent tool that is designed to tease out unresponsive parts of a complex web of business processes. Finding out where time is lost in waiting, over processing and the like can enable you to build quick fixes to reduce the lags and increase the lead time for your client.
I guess this all sounds very laudable to put forward 18 ways for you to get better at what you do. My advice doesn’t do them all at once and if you have staff working for you then get their help., It is not uncommon to find that handing over a challenge to solve a problem becomes a rewarding endeavour for teams of people and can often enable collaboration between people that would not ordinarily work together.
We work with many companies in helping them to solve some big challenges. We would be happy to help you and your company too, so drop us a line and let’s see if we can get you to an enhanced level of quality.
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