Get the basics right

It is common to hear senior managers exhort their staff to “delight” their customers by exceeding their expectations when the reality is the business falls a long way short of even meeting their customers' expectations because they cannot get the basics right.

Customers want results - not excuses, justifications, explanations or even apologies.

They simply want the right product in the right place at the right time in the promised condition. They want the bill to be correct, and when they have paid, they would like their account to be credited with the right amount. When customers telephone, they would like to get through to a staff member without spending a long time listening to recorded music, the local radio station or messages promoting the company's other products. If they do have to leave a message, they would like their call returned. When they send an email, they would like a reply preferably within a period where they can still remember why they emailed you. They would like you to use their correct name when you talk to them and they would like you to know about their previous transactions with the company. Customers want their suppliers to be reliable and trustworthy. That means you need to do all these things consistently, not just occasionally.

If you want to get the basics right, you have to succeed in two areas.You must have: 1. Robust processes and systems. 2. The right people doing the right things. Robust processes are both effective (they produce what the customer wants) and they are efficient (there is minimum waste). The route to developing efficient and effective processes is through quality assurance. 

Every business has processes. You may understand your processes or you may not. They may be documented or in people's heads. They may be under control or highly variable. But you will have processes. They are the way work gets done.

Customer-driven organisations know that customers are their business and that processes are the engines that drive their companies. They also understand, as Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald's used to say, people make it happen. If you want the right things happening in your company, you need the right people doing the right things.

Getting the right people doing the right things starts by understanding the experience your customers want to have when they do business with you (see Step 1). Then you need to identify the skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviours that will produce that experience. Next you must identify the attributes all employees need to have, from the chief executive to the most junior part-timer, if your customers are going to get that experience. Finally, hire those people.

When recruiting new staff, do not under-estimate the power of attitude. Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest Airlines, the only airline in the world that has made a profit every year since it began, used to say, “Hire for attitude and train for skill.” He is right. It is relatively easy to teach people skills. It is much harder to change their attitude.

Once you have the right people, you need them to do the right things. Make sure they understand how your customers wish to be treated and also their expectations and preferences. Then recognise effort, reward success and celebrate achievement. Do not wait for perfect performance from your staff before you praise them. You will be waiting a long time and while you are waiting, your customers will have gone somewhere else. It is also important to recognise people when they try to get it right and help them to learn from theirmistakes. If you build robust processes and have the right people doing the right things, you will get the basics right. At this point, your customers will start to enjoy doing business with you. The next step is to make dealing with you an absolute pleasure.