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Customer Satisfaction Policy

It is surprising how often we can observe that some value we have said is of great importance has no bridge to guide related behavior. For example, it is common for us to say customer satisfaction is one of our highest priorities while having no customer satisfaction policy. We have plenty of other policies. (This is true for you if there was a score of three or more on the C3IQ item 8.) The purpose of such policies is to operationalize our values and to guide purposeful, consistent behavior. The Master of Excellence will identify where the disconnects could occur and then take action to eliminate them.

Even well-established organizations fostering good leadership practices have fallen victim to weak alignment between values and policy. Such is the case with the International Standards Organization (ISO), a nonprofit body made up of experts representing 163 countries. Their purpose is to develop voluntary, consensus-based, market-relevant international standards that ensure and support quality, safety, efficiency, and innovation. Established in 1947, they have published over 21,000 standards primarily addressing manufacturing and technology. The 2016 revision of ISO 9001 standard on quality management systems states the first of four benefits for having such a system is “the ability to consistently provide products and services that meet customer…requirements.” It further states that “top management shall demonstrate leadership and commitment with respect to customer focus.”[1]

It sounds good, and it is. This emphasis on customers is a new element in this standard, a sign we interpret as growing enlightenment. However, while the standard goes on to say leadership is responsible for having a quality policy, it is mute on the necessity for a customer satisfaction policy. If the two are be different, we have ambiguity regarding leadership’s responsibility.

Wait a minute, you might say. Aren’t we splitting hairs here? Isn’t seeking good-quality products and services the same as seeking customer satisfaction? Excellent questions, if I do say so myself. Is it possible to have a technically perfect, high-quality product that a customer is not satisfied with? Consider that many products that are now obsolete were, at the time their demise began, of high quality. That would include typewriters, slide rules, carbon paper, eight-track stereo, monocles, steam engines, buggy whips, floppy disks, and much more. In addition, there are many instances where comparable and competing products win over customers due to factors not entirely related to the product.

One of our customer principles offers some explanation: The customer’s knowledge of and feelings about the producer will color his or her satisfaction with the product.[2] One of the examples we discuss shortly concerns airlines. In short, the absence of a customer satisfaction policy in an organization putting that topic high in its list of core values has a major plank missing in their bridge to excellence.

Values as a lever to advance excellence. Our values are expressed in our personal behavior, what we measure, what we tie to rewards or consequences, and the degree to which our policies guide our expression of those values in daily work and relationships with others.

Excellent policies succinctly create alignment between organizational values and behavior. As we’ve noted, the vast majority of leaders will say customers and their satisfaction are among the most important enterprise priorities. The startling revelation is that few actually have a written policy[3] to deploy that intent. How important, then, can it really be? We can and absolutely must fix that disconnect, using the following guide:

1.     When creating or revising a policy, create the bridge(s) among our stated values, intent, and daily behavior.

2.     Fully deploy the policy, instituting a method for eliminating ambiguity about the core value (such as who the customer is).[4]

3.     Acknowledge that all core values are not of equal importance by communicating which of them is more important than others. It should be clear which value(s) trumps others in the case of conflict among them. Name the vital few.

4.     Ensure key values are aligned with key performance indicators (KPIs), rewards, and consequences.

Consider this customer satisfaction policy displayed prominently by a major retailer, “We guarantee customer satisfaction by refund, replacement or return.”[5]

Does this policy address a customer’s desired or undesired outcomes?[6] Since the intent is to describe the corrective action the company will take when the customer is unhappy with a purchase, its focus is on the latter. In other words, it’s actually a customer dissatisfaction policy, describing the actions to be taken when dissatisfaction occurs. Compare that to the following policy.

Sample Customer Satisfaction Policy

All employees, associates and partners will:

  1. Proactively solicit customer needs and expectations.
  2. Confirm that we have understood those expectations.
  3. Develop, package, deliver and support our products to meet those expectations.
  4. Measure the degree to which our customers’ product and outcome expectations are achieved.
  5. Never blame the user when he or she cannot make a product or process work; provide understanding, then help. Assume they have done their best.
  6. Aggressively seek to close any gap between what our customers expect and what they experience.
[1] The first clause (5.1.2) in the Customer Focus section of the 2016 ISO Standard.
[2] See the customer principles in Chapter 20.
[3] A policy is not to be confused with an exhortation, slogan, aspiration, or wish. Simply stating we will not discriminate on the basis of gender, ethnic background, religious preference, and other nonjob factors when hiring does not constitute a policy unless it’s deployed.
[4] The solution to eliminating ambiguity about the customer is addressed in Chapter 20.
[5] Labeled as Walmart’s customer satisfaction policy, this is displayed on the wall at the returns or customer-service desk.
[6] Differentiating between these two kinds of outcomes, referred to as Dimensions 1 and 2, are discussed in chapters 8 and 10.