"In short, companies today have to do right by the customer every time," states researcher and consultant Richard Whiteley in his book, "The Customer Driven Company."
Companies such as Marriott Hotels, McDonald's, Disney theme parks, Wal-Mart, Motorola and Honda have achieved reputations for providing quality products and services. Yet, many others have fallen far short of expectations.
Whiteley's research identifies the major reasons companies achieve a reputation for exceptional customer treatment:
* Customer vision. Throughout the organization, employees in customer-driven companies share the vision of gaining and retaining customers. Typically, the top manager is the head cheerleader for customers. Customer service is on the agenda of most of the company's meetings and is a key part of strategic plans.
* Listen to the customer. Management must seek out the customer's voice. Detailed market studies, toll-free telephone numbers and mingling with customers are examples of aggressive listening. Progressive companies see complaints as opportunities to improve, and they invest money and time in resolving complaints.
* Study successes. Customer-service practices are neither secret nor hidden.
* Support customer champions. Seek out employees who treat customers well. Give them rewards, freedom and opportunities to extend their influences. Companies that provide excellent service often have low employee attrition.
* Eliminate service barriers. Many well-intended procedures regarding invoices, returns, guarantees, billing and order-filling actually reduce employees' ability to deliver quick, efficient customer service. Customer-oriented companies relentlessly attack these procedural barriers.
* Lead by example. Top managers clearly demonstrate exceptional customer service.
Gerald Graham, a professor at Wichita State University, is a management consultant. Send questions to the Wichita Eagle, P.O. Box 820, Wichita, Kan. 67201.)
Satisfying the customer
Check all of the following that are obvious in your organization.
1. Employees always place customer needs first.
2. Managers use customer-satisfaction questionnaires.
3. Managers spend at least 10 percent of their time with customers.
4. We continuously study the successes of other organizations.
5. The organization makes examples of customer oriented employees.
6. We vigorously eliminate procedural and policy barriers to customer service.
7. Managers gather extensive data on customer-related issues.
8. Top management, by example, sets the tone for a customer-driven vision.
9. Customer service has a higher value than profits.
10. Customer-service strategies are part of our strategic plan.
Interpretation: Seven or more checks suggest an inclination toward a customer-driven company.