“Just because I have a method to my madness doesn’t mean I’m not mad.”
What upsets us may not upset our neighbor, or our spouse for that matter. The return call promised within two days that still hasn’t come a week later, eyeballing a piece of wood on a framing project that looks sub-quality, wading through a complex bill and finding no one to explain it or staring at our shoes in the waiting room while the 15-minute expected wait stretches into its second hour. All of these are problems in the Process of the work, not the Outcome, yet they greatly affect the relationship between a customer and a company.
Your team’s Process (its methods) signals to customers the end result they’re likely to get or actually got. That’s why I tweaked the old “method to my madness” quote to start this blog. In the customer’s mind, a “mad” looking method is likely to lead to a “mad” job. Put another way, if your team’s Process of interacting with a customer before, during, and after the job has flaws and gaps in it, that customer may judge the actual Outcome (the work result) as flawed…even when it’s great!
The challenge you face is that Process problems fall into two categories: those that are truly problems when looked at objectively and those that are not problems but are often perceived as problems by customers. Either way, your reputation can take a hit, so addressing both types of Process problems is necessary to keep your company’s customer satisfaction and referrals at the highest level.
Some may ask, “How can people be so picky on such unimportant matters? Yes, we missed returning a couple of phone calls here and there, and a few of our invoices were probably confusing, but we built a beautiful new kitchen that this family will enjoy for years. We should get maximum credit and referrals for our Quality Outcome.” Sure you should, but you don’t always because within a Quality Customer’s brain, signals of Process Quality powerfully translate into signals of Outcome Quality. In short, how the customer sees you go about the Process of completing the job becomes the lens through which they view the Outcome of the job.
A big reason that customers look through the Process lens is they aren’t technically experts in your field and thus rarely understand what a true Quality Outcome is, which leads them to fear that they won’t get one. Think about that: they fear they won’t get what they aren’t really qualified to assess. This leads them to rely on assessing your company’s Processes, an area they do feel confident in their ability to assess. Process signals are absorbed, such as politeness, uniforms, personal connections, responsiveness, clarity in communications, visuals of workers performing their duties, etc. This confidence causes customers to overweigh the importance of Process signals and believe their job’s Outcome quality level will be congruent to their perception of Process quality.
Assume most of your customers use their judgement of your Process Quality as a proxy for Outcome Quality. This means your team must excel at both real and perceived Process Quality or your final work (the Outcome) will be judged lower than you deserve. Here are three steps to improve Process Quality:
1. Communicate – This is the heart of the matter because it so greatly affects customer perception and is most needed when things are perceived to have gone wrong. Keep quality communication flowing between your company and your customer before purchase, during the Process, and after the Outcome to guide expectation and perception of both Process and Outcome.
Monitor and manage your customer communications and you’ll prevent misunderstandings and get an early warning if there’s a customer perception problem. If there is a problem, having already developed good communications will allow you to catch the perceived problem early and you’ll usually be given the benefit of the doubt, which will let you clear things up and get back on a good customer relation path.
Communicate in an organized fashion, which means designating one point of contact at your company and communicating on a regular schedule (i.e. daily or weekly email or text updates) so your customer builds confidence that things are going well. For every complaint we see about a company over-communicating with a client, we see 100+ complaints about a company not communicating enough. Volume matters. A schedule matters. One point of contact making and tracking frequent communications matters.
2. Manage Expectations – Numerous studies show that meeting or exceeding customer expectations is a key driver of customer satisfaction. Customers with lower but realistic expectations are often more satisfied with a company that meets these realistic expectations than customers with unrealistically high expectations who become dissatisfied with companies that don’t live up to them, even when the actual performance was better than the first described: realistic expectations/meets performance.
Trust is a big part of this, and the key to building trust is making and keeping promises. “Promises made, promised kept” should be your internal mantra. Explain constraints and be clear about what NOT to expect. This means you should stop and disagree with customer assessments that change future expectations. Set constraints on what your company can and cannot do. Here’s a simple example to illustrate our point:
CUSTOMER: “Wow, you’re doing great. It looks like you’ll be done by April.”
WRONG RESPONSE: “Yeah, the first part went better than expected. Hopefully we won’t run into issues and will be able to finish early.”
RIGHT RESPONSE: “Yeah, the first part went better than expected, but I disagree with you that it will be done by April. We have a great team on your project and we focus on quality, so we’re still targeting May as the finish date.”
3. Constantly Signal Quality – Quality-seeking prospective customers are looking for signals of quality to help them choose a company. Then, once they’re signed up and in the Process, they’re actually assessing their likely Outcome by the quality signals you’re sending. Finally, and many business owners forget this, customers’ post-job evaluations firm up over time and are influenced by how a company continues to signal quality. If your company qualifies for Diamond Certified, your Highest in Quality and Helpful Expertise status expressed through your team’s usage of Diamond Certified Tools and our presentation of your company in directories, on the web, and in newspapers will be the most powerful constant signals of quality you have. You’ll maximize your team’s usage of Diamond Certified before the sale, during the Process and after the Outcome by constantly signaling quality, which will build your reputation and referrals one customer at a time.