So what or how much should you do to improve the satisfaction of your customer? If customer satisfaction can be defined as the feeling a person experiences when an offering meets his or her expectations, then there are two critical ways to improve customer satisfaction. The first is to establish appropriate expectations in the minds of customers. The second is to deliver on those expectations.
We know that dissatisfied customers are likely to tell many more friends about their negative experiences than satisfied customers are about good experiences. Why? Because there’s more drama in unmet expectations. A story about met expectations—telling a friend about a night out that was average, for example—is boring. Jan Carlson, a former Scandinavian Airlines executive, was famous for promoting the concept of “delighted” customers. Carlson’s idea was that delighting customers by overexceeding their expectations should result in both repeat business and positive word of mouth for a firm. The fact that stories about plain old satisfaction are boring is also why influencer communities, such as JCPenney’s Ambrielle community, are so important. Influencers have new offerings to talk about, which are interesting topics, and other buyers want to know their opinions.
Establishing appropriate expectations in the minds customers is a function of the prepurchase communications the seller has with them. If you set the expectations too low, people won’t buy your offering. But if you set the expectations too high, you run the risk that your buyers will be dissatisfied. A common saying in business is “underpromise and overdeliver.” In other words, set consumers’ expectations a bit low, and then exceed those expectations in order to create delighted customers who are enthusiastic about your product. A seller hopes that enthusiastic customers will tell their friends about the seller’s offering, spreading lots of positive word of mouth about it.
One customer satisfaction strategy that grew out of Carlson’s idea of delighting customers is to empower customer-facing personnel. Customer-facing personnel are employees that meet and interact with customers. In a hotel, this might include desk clerks, housekeepers, bellman, and other staff. Empowering these employees to drop what they’re doing in order to do something special for a customer, for example, can certainly delight customers. In some organizations, employees are even given a budget for such activities.
Ritz-Carlton employees each have an annual budget that can be spent on customer service activities, such as paying for dry cleaning if a customer spilled red wine on a dress in the hotel’s restaurant. Sewell Cadillac is famous for how its employees serve its customers. An employee will even pick up a customer up on a Sunday if a Sewell-purchased car breaks down. Other dealers might delegate such a service to another company, but at Sewell, the same salesperson who sold the car might be the person who handles such a task. To Sewell, customer service is too important to trust to another company—a company that perhaps won’t feel the same sense of urgency to keep car buyers as satisfied as Sewell does.
Empowerment is more than simply a budget and a job description—frontline employees also need customer skills. Companies like Ritz-Carlton and Sewell spend a great deal of time and effort to ensure that employees with customer contact responsibilities are trained and prepared to handle small and large challenges with equal aplomb.
Another customer satisfaction strategy involves offering customers warranties and guarantees. Warranties serve as an agreement that the product will perform as promised or some form of restitution will be made to the customer. Customers who are risk-averse find warranties reassuring.
One form of dissatisfaction is postpurchase dissonance, which we described in Chapter 3 "Consumer Behavior: How People Make Buying Decisions". Recall that it is also called buyer’s remorse. Postpurchase dissonance is more likely to occur when an expensive product is purchased, the buyer purchases it infrequently and has little experience with it, and there is a perception that it is a high-risk purchase. Many marketers address postpurchase dissonance by providing their customers with reassuring communications. For example, a boat dealer might send a buyer a letter that expresses the dealer’s commitment to service the boat and that also reminds the buyer of all the terrific reasons he or she purchased it. Alternatively, the dealer could have the salesperson who sold the boat telephone the buyer to answer any questions he or she might have after owning and operating the boat for a couple of weeks.