I am a regular listener to the podcast of This American Life. Recently, they had a segment on customer satisfaction and L.L. Bean’s extreme version interpreting it (“Our products are guaranteed to give 100% satisfaction in every way. Return anything purchased from us at any time if it proves otherwise. We do not want you to have anything from L.L.Bean that is not completely satisfactory.”). You can read the transcript here (go down to “Act Two. Bean Counter”) or download to podcast (I recommend the latter). Some of the stories are stunning.
The first issue is who gets to define customer satisfaction? The company? The customer? Of course, only the customer knows if s/he is truly satisfied with a product or service and the satisfaction is generally derived from whether or not they got exactly what they wanted out of the transaction. So, the question really is what will a company do when the customer is not satisfied?
In non-competitive marketplaces (think government services or other monopolies), don’t hold your breath. To them, customer satisfaction is a cost, not an investment. There is no incentive for them to make you happy (though, one could argue that working in a customer service oriented environment would lead to a better culture, which leads to better word of mouth when it comes to recruiting). Lucky Patcher app The same goes for pseudo-competitive marketplaces (like cable/satellite TV) where you have some limited choices but making a switch is really a pain in the ass.
However, in competitive marketplaces, like apparel, delivering superior customer service is a differentiator. All of us can think of how different retailers interpret customer satisfaction and the investment they put into it.
What I found most interesting during the podcast was the training that went into ensuring that LL Bean’s return policy was carried out. It’s one thing to say, “OK, we’ll take back anything that you bring back for store credit” and another to do it in a way that provides for a satisfying experience for the customer. Note that they trained people who work in returns to execute the letter and the spirit of the policy. LL Bean also selects people who work in that department who have the personality and skills to carry it out.
What this tells us is that customer service does not just happen. Rather, it is a combination of strategy, culture, and the right people to treat customers the way the company wants to treat them. What is your plan to align all of these?