Thursday, April 7, 2011

Small Things Matter More Now Than Ever


Executive Summary:
The communication tools of our day give us a great deal of business power, but they also give our customers some very powerful tools to hold us accountable.  Make sure that your strategy for delighting your customers extends beyond the obvious product quality, but also includes every aspect of your customer’s total experience and your business visibility.

The Rest of the Story:
In Japanese Zen teachings there is a saying that a wise man treats “matters of great concern lightly” and treats “matters of small concern seriously.”  As for the first part of this axiom, we might interpret it to reflect one’s leadership style and always appearing confident and collected in the face of great doings.  I’ll save that discussion for another post.

For this post, I’d like to address the second part of the axiom, treating matters of small concern seriously.  With communication tools becoming more efficient, more varied, and widely used, we face an environment of accelerated and heightened accountability.

Most of us have heard the term, “market terrorist.”  Briefly, a market terrorist is a dissatisfied customer who consequently tells everyone not to buy your product, or any other product from your business.  The phenomenon has been around for as long as humanity, I’m sure.

However, consider that in former times, a dissatisfied customer might tell his family and friends when they talked in passing around the neighborhood, while catching up on the phone, or at work.  Usually, this phenomenon is short lived as negative impressions generally reside in our short-term memory.  So a dissatisfied customer might tell a few people, or at worst two or three-dozen people.

In current times, though, our communication tools give greater power to dissatisfied customers to tell a larger number of people, instantaneously.  Just to make a point, I have over 100 connections in my LinkedIn network, and that’s probably relatively humble compared to others. 

If I wanted to tell everyone in LinkedIn not to use a particular service that irritated me, that’s 100 people who got the message in as little time as it took me to rant it with my keyboard.  Now, consider Twitter, Face book, blogs, You Tube, group e-mails, etc.

It get’s worse.  Suppose that what I had to say was actually entertaining in some way.  Now not only my network heard it, but everyone in the other networks who received it because it was passed on for its entertainment value heard it too.  Ouch!

If your products are sold through an on-line retailer, then customer reviews are posted with your products.  These word-of-mouth referrals, though they come from strangers, are very influential in a consumer’s buy decision process.

Peter Sheahan1, in his book titled, Flip:  How to Turn Everything You Know on Its Head and Succeed Beyond Your Wildest Imaginings, makes the same point very explicitly by saying, “Absolutely, positively sweat the small stuff.”  The communication age makes it imperative to meet our customer’s expectations, and not to disappoint.

If you, or anyone on your team ever blurts out, “I don’t think our customers will notice,” or “I don’t think too many of our customers will mind,” stop!  Even one who does notice or who would mind could reach hundreds of others.  If they are articulate, and their review is helpful, it floats to the top of the reviews list.  If it’s funny, it reaches even more people.

Product quality, and the total buying and owning experience perceived by the customer is now no longer a competitive goal, it is a survival imperative.  Take a good look at your quality philosophy. 

Does your vision of customer perceived quality reach beyond your testing and parts qualification?  Does it include the instructions, the call center, your distribution, your sales, your Web page, or your press releases?  Take a good hard look.  If your quality focus misses even a single element of your business that your customers might see, tighten up the gap.

The communication tools of our day give us a great deal of business power, but they also give our customers some very powerful tools to hold us accountable.  Make sure that your strategy for delighting your customers extends beyond the obvious product quality, but also includes every aspect of your customer’s total experience and your business visibility.

Stay wise, friends.

References:
1.  Sheahan, Peter.  Flip:  How to Turn Everything You Know on Its Head and Succeed Beyond Your Wildest Imaginings.  Australia:  Random House Australia, 2007

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