123rf11812917-largeIf you’re a business owner, you’ve undoubtedly been advised to "wow your customers" with off-beat or even gimmicky ideas designed to make doing business with your company memorable. I’m not arguing against finding ways to "wow" customers so that they buy (more) and become the source of testimonials and referrals. But there's an important first step that cannot be overlooked if you truly want to amaze your customers.

Customers have a variety of expectations that must be met for them to be satisfied. The challenge for businesses is that these expectations are both unspoken and spoken. Let’s cover the unspoken expectations first.

[quotesright]Customers do not give voice to all of their expectations (things would be so much clearer if they did)![/quotesright] Unspoken requirements exist either because the requirement is such a basic aspect of an industry that it falls into the "Why should I have to point out the obvious?" category or because customers don’t know how to communicate an expectation that is relevant to a successful transaction.

Unspoken requirements typically reflect customers’ desire for convenience, respect, and usability, such as:

  • “My hotel room must be clean when I check into it.”
  • “My cellphone has to work when I need it.”
  • “I’d like my soup without hair.”
  • “I’m inconvenienced if I have to stand in line more than 10 minutes.”

Customers don’t voice them because they assume that the vendor “gets” that these are necessary conditions for conducting business with us. [quotes]A business must meet unspoken expectations without fail, or the dissatisfaction can be intense.[/quotes]

However, delivering on spoken needs is where real value is created. These are the aspects of your product or service that customers have told you they expect to receive in exchange for their patronage. More importantly, their satisfaction with your business willincrease or decrease proportionatelywith your ability to deliver on these spoken requirements.

Spoken requirements generally align with three basic quality attributes:

  1. The amount of time it takes to do something;
  2. The absence of defects or rework; and perceived value for the cost. For example, the quicker customer needs are met, the better. The fewer mistakes, the better.
  3. The higher the value for the price, the better. The less you can involve customers in the process of servicing them, the better.

Of course, you have to have a system in place to identify exactly what your customers expect from you in order to measure and manage the quality attributes that are directly linked to increasing customer satisfaction in your business.

Doing those kinds of things well (e.g., delivering on the promise of your brand) is a necessary condition for wow-ing customers.

Consider it like this: Doing something terrific for your customers that is unexpected or unusual (typical advice given to those seeking to “wow” their customers) cannot, by itself, overcome lapses in meeting the spoken requirements that represent a far larger body of the customer experience with your business.

Or said another way, [quotes]you can put lipstick on a pig, but the lipstick cannot mask the harsh reality of the pig.[/quotes]

[quotesright]So do first things first: Be exceptional at meeting the spoken and obvious unspoken requirements of your customers[/quotesright]. That will carry your business very far. Once you're confident you can deliver on your brand promise every time without fail, then invest time in amazing your customers with unique touches and demonstrations that they would never think to ask for because they’re already receiving such good value from you.

-      By Art Locke, MBA Business Performance Coach