You can be excused for thinking customer satisfaction is crucial to your business. Clause 8.2.1 of ISO 9001 says so, in so many words…
“As one of the measurements of the performance of the quality management system, the organization shall monitor information relating to customer perception as to whether the organization has met customer requirements. The methods for obtaining and using this information shall be determined.”
In short, your company hasn’t met your customer’s requirements until the customer feels their requirements have been met. The customer will state some of their requirements in the contract or work agreement (clause 7.2.1(a)); there can be no question of whether you’ve met these.
There will be other requirements that your customer needn’t state because they’re part of the law, they’re established and commonly accepted practices, or they’re internal requirements – standards to which you hold yourself. These are implied requirements (clause 7.2.1(b)); for example, the requirements that an aircraft get off the ground under its own power and come back to earth safely need not be stated. (Or do they?)
Still other requirements are unstated. Sometimes we refer to those as customer expectations. (Note that there is a subtle, yet significant, difference between requirements and expectations.) Why are expectations unstated? There are many reasons, among them the inability to communicate, the sin of making assumptions, and that the customer just doesn’t know what they want.
Communication between you and your customer should go well below the surface. You don’t want – and they don’t want you to – accept their statements at face value. To get the most valuable gems – whether it’s diamonds or information – you don’t look around on the surface and hope they jump up at you. You do some mining – you patiently dig, examine, evaluate, and you dig some more.
In other words – if you want to merely satisfy your customer, you might want to stick with what’s easy and in plain sight. If you want to exceed the customer’s expectations, however, prepare to do some serious excavating.
- Make a mistake – fail to meet a key requirement of the customer – and they’ll make sure everyone they know hears about it;
- Meet a customer’s requirements and it’s likely that no one will ever know; but
- Exceed a customer’s expectations and you’ll have a business partner – an advocate for your cause.
How you go about exceeding their expectations – and deciding if it’s worth the effort – is up to you.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK
- Have you had a customer or prospect where getting their requirements from them was like searching for the Holy Grail? What could or would you have done differently?