Thursday, January 29, 2009

Delighting Customers

Would you rather be satisfied or delighted? Which do you think your customers would prefer? Chances are that you answered "Delighted" in both cases. The reason for this lies deep in the meanings of the two words. To be satisfied means to have desires and expectations filled. It literally means to have an end put to a desire, want, or need. Who really wants an end put to their desires? The word “satisfy” comes from the same root as sad and sated, which is what you become if you have all your desires satisfied.

To be delighted is to take joy or pleasure in something. The word has an element of surprise in it. To be delighted is to be provided with something that you may want or need, but not consciously perceive or expect. Delighted comes from the same root as delicious and delectable, words we associate with food. Wouldn't most of us rather have a delicious meal than one that merely satisfies our body's needs?

Delight comes from the same root as lasso which is what you will do if you delight your customers. You will be able to hold your current customers, gain a few more from the herd, and even capture a few strays from the range. And the customers that you delight will be enlightened by the product or service that you have given them. By surprising them and meeting their unrecognized needs, you will open their eyes to a range of possibilities hitherto unperceived by them.

To meet the unrecognized needs of your customers, you must be truly market driven. You must understand your customers, the environment in which they operate, what delights your customers' customers, the technological capabilities for solutions, and what your competitors are doing and likely to do in the future. You can delight your customers by helping them delight their customers more than your competitors do. To delight your customers requires innovation-market-driven innovation, not innovation driven by personal prejudices or desires, internal organizational needs, or technological capability.

The challenge is to understand the forces for change in the environment, and anticipate what innovations will appeal to customers even before the customers have articulated those needs. Genuine delight stems from giving a customer something wonderful that they didn't even know they wanted until they saw it. Then the company must create competitive production methods to develop-and hold on to-the dominant market share.

What delighted customers yesterday becomes today's floor, or basis for mere satisfaction. (If you want to see this demonstrated in a comedy routine, click here).This is the real continuous improvement process which must be rigorously followed, for it results in improved effectiveness, whereas what today passes as "continuous improvement" only addresses improved efficiencies and never questions effectiveness.

Not only is delight a process, it is also a continuum; what delights one set of customers may not even be accepted by others, and may be actively rejected by still others. Which customer type you focus on to delight depends on your business strategy. Whether you are trying to hold on to market share, increase market share, or create new markets determines the focus of the organization's innovation activities, and consequently which customers get delighted.

Customer needs are explicit, tacit and emergent. Explicit needs can be articulated by customers, codified and easily transmitted to others. Tacit needs can’t be articulated by customers because even though they are known by customers, customers don’t know that they know them. Emergent needs result from the complex system of multiple interactions among people, enterprises and technology in a cultural milieu.

Requirements for a product or service are derived from customer needs, usually explicit needs. Product or service requirements are often not fulfilled completely in a product or service implementation. The degree to which the product or service fulfills customer needs controls the customer’s level of satisfaction. The unfulfilled gap becomes a want. Degrees of customer satisfaction only make sense in reference to the customer’s willingness to accept less than all needs being fulfilled.

Delight is not super form of satisfaction. Rather it results from the recognition and fulfillment of tacit and/or emergent needs.

Once tacit and emergent needs have been embodied in a product or service, they become explicit needs and relative satisfaction increases. However, the development of tacit and emergent needs is a continuous process. Relative satisfaction for your product or service will drop when someone else apprehends the new tacit and emergent needs and creates a new product or service.

These concepts have some similarity to the concepts of implicate and explicate order. The tacit and emergent needs are implicate. The manifestation of those needs in a product or service is explicate. In other words the tacit and emergent needs are enfolded and unfolded upon their manifestation.

The characteristics of delight are not universal, nor are they static. But in today’s environment the major characteristics are:

Esthetic arrest – We are very busy and submerged in a sea of noise. The first characteristic of something that might delight customers is that it has to get their attention. Esthetic arrest results when something causes the mind to pause. For a moment the mind ceases to judge and opens up to absorb more information. Attention is diverted to the object of potential delight and it emerges from the noise. Something that potentially delights does not push or pull the customer to itself but rather holds them in an esthetic arrest of the moment, a meaningful pause. It is thought that Broca’s area of the brain acts as a gatekeeper to information into the minds. If it passes both tests of novelty and relevance, it is allowed into the mind for further processing and an esthetic arrest has occurred. In this case relevance is determined by intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual needs, consciously held or intuitively apprehended. A delightful object will surprise.

Engagement – To hold attention created by the esthetic arrest, a delightful product or service must engage the customer. In other words, it must be cool. The more that meaning is derived from a spectrum of sources (especially non-linear) - a sensory buffet if you will - the cooler the product or service. A wide spectrum of focus on dynamic forms involves less filtering and greater all-round sensory engagement. If it’s cool, it requires more participation from the customer to extract meaning.

Resonance – The values embedded in the product or service must match at least some of the customer’s values.

Positive disruption – A delightful product or service crystallizes complexity into simplicity. It is perceived as a bridge to the future not a descent into the valley. It simplifies what was once complex. And, paradoxically, it allows the customer to encounter more complex problems. This is created by a pattern of incremental, distinctive and breakthrough product, process and procedural innovations.

Low barrier – A delightful product or service has a low barrier to use, perceived or real.

Developmental – A delightful product or service develops the intellectual, physical, emotional and/or spiritual capabilities of the customer (individual or organization). Or, at the vey least enables the customers to meet goals within the customer’s present level of development. Typical developmental models such as Maslov, Erickson, Hall or others can be useful tools.

Attentiveness – The product or service makes the customer feel as though the creator of the product or service was paying close attention to them. It implies that the creator of the product or service concentrated all of their five senses in its development; that the highest quality of thought was used.

Authentic - There is congruence between the values embedded or implied in the product or service and those of the individual or enterprise that developed and produced it. The individual or enterprise is therefore worthy or trust.

Delight is a concept, with profound strategic and tactical implications for organizations. There are four essential elements:

1. Anticipate needs: To anticipate customer needs an organization must understand the market. The market is composed of the driving forces for change, all customer sets, all types of competition, and all types of technology. The organization strives to understand both the present and future needs of all types of customers as they are affected by the driving forces. Next, it is important to comprehend the power of technology to meet the developing needs or create new needs. Last, the competitive forces and how they are likely to act in the developing environment must be understood. For example, identified potential customers cannot be delighted without understanding future competitive capabilities and actions, since the organization's identified potential customers are currently its competitors' customers.

Internally, for organizations, developing the ability to anticipate customer needs requires that the organization literally have a "view" of the future. The importance of strategic thinking cannot be overemphasized. Strategists must be able to look as far out into the future as it will take for the organization to develop or otherwise obtain the products, processes and procedures needed to delight customers.

2. Meet the “window of opportunity”: To be timely in the market is to understand the window of opportunity, and to be there with the innovation. If the innovation is introduced too early, it will not gain acceptance. If the innovation is introduced too late, either your competitors will already have captured a significant share of the market, or the needs will have changed and your innovation will no longer fit. The common metaphor used here, "the window of opportunity," is very appropriate. In delighting the customer, timing is everything. But the ability to be timely in the marketplace seems elusive to many organizations, and to many others timeliness of an innovation is due to mere happenstance.

In order for an organization to be consistently timely, it must be efficient in translating its collective knowledge about the market into specific actions that are meaningful to customers. This means that all internal systems are synchronous and yet are able to be flexible enough to dynamically respond to the changing needs of the market and to internal problems. Timeliness implies being able to translate the strategy into implementation plans, having a sufficient number of significant measurements, and having the management capability to manage to the plan.

3. Deliver at the appropriate quality level: To fulfill customer needs, an organization must innovate to take advantage of the changes that are developing in the market. Innovation that takes advantage of change, rather than trying to cause change, not only meets developing customer requirements, it gains much faster acceptance. In a changing market many opportunities and threats will arise. The organization will be forced to choose which path to follow to take advantage of the opportunities and minimize or avoid the threats. The organization has at its disposal a continuum of strategies to create the path. The continuum of strategies is composed of a mix of the nine different types of innovations.

The organization must also be able to assess its own capabilities and develop additional capability, if needed, to effectively and efficiently implement the strategy it has chosen. Quality is one of the key components in fulfilling customer needs; however, quality must be defined by the customer, not by some internal or otherwise imposed quality program or standard.

To fulfill anticipated customer needs, the organization must have the capability of translating those needs into product specifications and manufacturing requirements. And in order to actually delight the customers, the members of the organization themselves must be delighted.

4. Continuously change: Critics of a customer delight strategy think that this continuous innovation process is impossible to sustain. What they fail to consider is that in today’s worldwide market, it is the only strategy for sustainability. Just because it’s difficult for a market leader to change in order to stay a market leader is no excuse. If the market leader doesn’t continue to delight their customers, someone some place in the world will. If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.

Today's customers are no longer satisfied with just being satisfied. They have learned to take quality workmanship, timely delivery, and declining costs for granted. Successful organizations will not be those that are content with developing merely satisfied customers; they will be the ones that commit to developing customers who are truly delighted!

This article has been adapted and improved from Chapter 11: Delighting Your Customers, Innovate!, Paul Schumann and Donna Prestwood, McGraw-Hill, 1994

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