Success starts with the continuity of customer satisfaction



People expect things to work, every day, before all else. Bosses, however, expect their staff to follow orders, before all else. Whatever your job is, don’t get fooled in thinking that success is defined by your boss’ approval. Bosses change, change their minds, have career ups and downs. The only true source of success is the number of people who think highly of you and your work– wherever they are.

Companies have customers, pop stars have audiences, authors have readers, and you have fans, in any job, in any place. We are social creatures and beyond the circle of people we know intimately we cannot help seeing people in the light of what they do for us and how others value them. And we are human beings: to function well, we need to attach – to people, goals, ideas, values, groups. Bonding is like breathing. And bonding takes work – we need to invest in our attachments. At the end of the day, long-term success in any career is built on:

  1. Recognized competency by people who you work with closely
  2. Building trustful relationship with the people you deal with
  3. Reputation for being exceptional at something among people you don’t know

Customer satisfaction is the key to customer loyalty and customer retention – which means you don’t lose customers while you acquire new ones. From their study of the performance of thousands of companies, Raynor and Ahmed concluded there were only three rules that distinguished the star performers (over the long run) from the rest:

  • Rule 1: better before cheaper
  • Rule 2: revenue before cost
  • Rule 3: there are no other rules

What they mean by that is that you can challenge and change anything in the business as long as you keep focused on improving your quality rather than lowering your prices and growing sales rather than cutting costs. The trouble, as they note, is that “better” and  “revenue” are hard – messy, strange and dicey – whereas “cheaper” and “cost” are easy (again, fixed thinking strategies) – tidy, familiar and reliable.

To grow your personal reputation, your department or your business, you will need to lead every day on quality. And the company will fight you every day to reduce the level of quality and cut costs instead. Why so?

First, what is quality?  Quality is both our promise to our customers, and our ability to deliver on that promise – performance. This promise comes at a price, and the ratio between quality and price is what customers experience as value.

Which poses the problem of leadership. As we now know, there is no “leadership” recipe – every leader is different from the next. Leaders emerge because they find an audience: people who are willing to follow them. Individuals stand out when they are seen as competent and genuine – they know their stuff and they care. Evidence shows that a leader’s followers are willing to forgive many faults (as opposed to the people who do not follow, who will, on the contrary fixate on these faults) as long as they demonstrate their competence and their genuine care for what they stand for.

By another quirk of how our minds work, any information that seems intuitive is immediately rated as both more relevant and more reliable. Complex, hard to process information adds to a person’s cognitive load and, in Raynor’s terms make statement sounds messy, strange and dicey. In order to lead, leaders have to be crystal clear about what they stand for and where they ask their followers to follow – as well as sanguine about both positive consequences of doing so, and negatives of not. The clearer they are, the more genuine they sound.

Quality is not the sole aspect of performance. Customers expect delivery as well: they want what they want when they want it. And a friendly face, at a good price. To make our business model work, we will have to lead on each of these dimensions of customer satisfaction:

  1. Quality: don’t make me return this or have to have it repaired
  2. Delivery: don’t make me wait for it – I need it now
  3.  Friendliness: don’t cheese me off
  4.  Price: it’d better be good value for money

As it turns out, quality impacts the three other key drivers of customer satisfaction. No rework, particularly when changing from one activity to the next, is the key to short lead-times. Salespeople that sell a quality product are less likely to be aggressed by customers and therefore more likely to be open and friendly. Finally, the cost of non quality can amount to several percent point of turnover and goes straight out of the margin. By improving first-time-through we can considerably reduce costs.

There is, however, a constant tension in any organization between satisfying customers and satisfying the bureaucracy: keeping powerful executives happy and resolving internal infighting. Any organization balances being mission-driven – adapting itself constantly to guarantee the continuity of satisfaction of its customers – or institution-driven – doing what it takes so that the bureaucracy remains as it is as much as can be:

Mission driven / Institution driven

Institution is a good thing, not a bad thing. Succeeding at the mission requires a stable base of operations, as long as the organization remains customer oriented. Unfortunately, everyday forces such as functional turf wars, executive power plays, strong leaders imposing their whims, antiquated processes and so on, tend to focus the organization inwards at the expense of customers. Quality is the key to keeping the orientation outwards, towards continuity of satisfaction.

Fighting every day to improve quality in order to better satisfy customers is the key to building better outcomes, beyond the output the organization requires. Quality needs to be led. It won’t happen on its own. It is the main source of business performance but managers will, quite naturally, discount – even hide – quality problems, because our minds are not designed to deal will with unfavorable information. Quality issues are routinely dismissed as too rare to matter, one-off, unimportant, extra demands, and so on. But if you get quality right, all else falls in place.

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