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Why client satisfaction is not enough

Perhaps a client is satisfied with the service you provide, but is he committed to it?

Why client satisfaction is not enough

A few years ago, I attended a business networking event. It took place on a luxurious cruise ship that sailed for three days and had something like thirty business meetings taking place. 

The night before it started, I was in the bar and met someone who turned out to be the chief executive of a very large financial institution. We got chatting and I asked him who he was interesting in speaking with. 

He said he wasn't really interested in seeing anyone. He was very happy with his company's key suppliers, and proudly told me that over the last few months he had written to each of them to say how satisfied he was with the work they were doing.

That took me aback. So I rather cheekily I asked him if he felt he was a bit of a fraud for coming, if he was so satisfied with his current suppliers. 

“Absolutely not,” he explained. “It's just that if I came across someone here who was doing something better or different, I would be duty bound to consider it.”

If I came across someone doing something better or different I would be duty bound to consider it 

While he was satisfied, it was clear he could possibly be tempted away with a better offer.

I know that in most organisations if you get a letter from the chief executive saying how 'satisfied' he is, you can be tempted to sit back and pat yourself on the back. You'd probably show it to your colleagues and congratulate the team. Just maybe, you could be tempted to take your foot off the accelerator and divert your attention to clients who you think might need a bit more attention or potential new business prospects.

Management Consultants Bain published an interesting statistic a few years ago where it found that between 60-80 per cent of those companies who defected in the previous year from a supplier relationship answered 'satisfied' or 'very satisfied' in the satisfaction questionnaire completed before they went elsewhere.

The point is that in today's highly competitive world, if you are really serious about delivering a leading product or service, 'satisfaction' is not enough. There is a level beyond this, it's called 'commitment'.

We've analysed over 50,000 business to business relationships and been able to profile four different types of customers or clients.

The work has shown that 'commitment' is based on two key dimensions; firstly a stakeholder's 'opinion' of you, and secondly his relative 'intention' to keep on doing business with you.

A customer base can be broken down into four zones. Have a think where some of your most important clients would be based on the descriptions below.

The zone of commitment (high opinion, high intention) is where you would hope for all your clients and customers to be. They rate you highly, will recognise quality and added value, possibly, at the margins be a little less price sensitive, and will invariably recommend you to others.

The zone of satisfaction (high opinion, low intention) is where clients claim they are 'happy enough' with the service they are getting but there is still room for improvement, like the man on the boat they are generally susceptible to a better offer.

The zone of apathy (low opinion, high intention) is where clients are indifferent about what they are getting. Typically people here would not recommend you and they tend to be working with you because they usually have no option.

The zone of rejection (low opinion, low intention) is where clients will not only be unhappy with the level of service but will also be disparaging about you at every opportunity. The rock-bottom of the zone of rejection is populated by what are referred to as 'Renegades'. These are people who will go out of their way to make the working process very difficult and are actively seeking alternatives.

What is fascinating is that even within one organisation, different stakeholders will often be in different zones. That's important as having a 'one size fits all' relationship strategy across a key client is rarely successful. The strategies that you develop to keep people in the zone of commitment are very different from those that need to be applied to moving people out of the zone of rejection.

The good news is that when problems and issues are resolved the relationship is usually stronger than if that problem didn't occur in the first place.

It's still surprising that many organisations, when asked about how are things with key customers, say everything is fine. How do they know? They usually shrug their shoulders and say 'they haven't told us there's a problem, so they must be satisfied'.

So ask yourself, how committed are your clients and customers. Do you know or do you think you know?

Article by
Simon Rhind-Tutt

is managing partner of Relationship Audits & Management and can be contacted via email

28th August 2013

From: Sales



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