Many companies state that they want to “delight their customers”. This article looks at this lofty goal from the customers’ perspective and the ten attributes listed below are what they say is truly important to them.

Our business services clients recognize the value of obtaining their customers’ perspectives as they undertake strategic and business planning initiatives. To solicit customer input, Halifax Global typically undertakes a number of one-on-one interviews with a representative sample, including, of course, the largest customers. We start off each consultation advising our client’s customer that the conversation will be kept confidential and that only a summary of all consultations will be presented to our client as “What We Heard”.

We typically ask about the length and depth of the relationship, a rating of the overall services provided, and the competition and marketplace. The key questions are focused on the value customers seek and are receiving from their supplier – our client.

We have identified the following attributes that customers value from their suppliers primarily in the business-to-business services sector but many of the attributes would also pertain to manufacturers and retail organizations.

Number 1 – Meeting Commitments

Customers want their suppliers to meet their commitments – to do what they said they would do by when they said they would do it. Physical product must meet the quality specifications.  Attention to detail is critically important. Any faltering on timeliness or quality is very visible and certainly opens the door to competitors.

Mistakes do happen and often there is more tolerance for a single large mistake that is properly addressed in a timely fashion than a series of small errors that creates frustration in the relationship.

Number 2 – The Team and Relationships  

The connection between the two organizations is only as strong as the relationships among the people involved and a set of strong, positive relationships is a powerful attribute. There is a strong linkage between high employee satisfaction and client satisfaction levels.

Transition of team members is disruptive and the ability to handle it correctly and professionally is of critical importance. If done in an orderly fashion within reasonable timeframes this is considered acceptable. High turnover of people in either organization is fraught with risk, particularly if the customer deals solely with one person

Number 3 – Knowledge    

Customers value the knowledge that is represented by their suppliers. Customers can readily tell if supplier representatives truly know their subject matter and this expertise certainly represents a value that customers are willing to pay for.

Knowledge typically transcends the individuals involved and there is a collective knowledge within a supplier that creates both a critical asset in an existing relationship as well as a reputation in the marketplace.

Number 4 – Trust and Integrity

Customers will talk about individuals at suppliers firms but also talk about the integrity of the organization as a whole. “We trust them” is an attribute associated with the supplier in its entirety and not typically tagged to individuals.  Trust is earned over time. Customers welcome the opportunity to collaborate and to discuss strategic and operational matters in confidence.

Administratively, it is important that all documentation (quotes, purchase orders, contracts, etc.) are kept current and customers expect to receive accurate invoices on a timely basis.

Number 5 – Responsiveness

Being easy to do business with ensures that the supplier is in tune with how the customer wants to engage in business activities. It may be through direct face-to-face contact, the use of inside customer service reps, web-enabled commerce, or some combination thereof. Clear communications are very important especially where services involve multiple iterations and/or steps in the process. Role definition is essential where multiple staff members from both parties are involved.

Responding to customer requests left by voice mail and e-mail in a timely manner is fundamental. Voids in communication create uncertainty.

Number 6 – Innovation and Leadership   

Customers often choose suppliers that are acknowledged or seen to be leaders in their industry and are a continuing source of innovative products and services. The supplier must be proactive in providing customers with access to the leadership of their organization on a regular basis. This can be done through one-on-one meetings, account team sessions or supplier sponsored events. The supplier could be an important conduit of industry product innovation so part of the value of the relationship is that the customer is regularly made aware of industry and marketplace trends and development.

Number 7 – “They Get Us”  

The respective parties develop deeper, collective knowledge over time as the supplier learns more and more about the customer and vice versa. This includes a greater knowledge and appreciation of the values and culture of each organization and the supplier builds an understanding of what the customer’s goals and ambitions are all about. When customers tell us that our client really understands what we are all about or that “They get us” it is clear that a strong relationship has been built between the two organizations.

Number 8 – Passion and Energy

Customers love working with people who enjoy what they are doing and are passionate about it and this energy elevates the relationship. People who enjoy working with each other are likely to sustain their commercial relationship over the long term.

Number 9 – Supplier Longevity   

There is a sense of stability in working with a supplier that has been in business for a period of time. It creates a feeling of comfort in taking the time to build a relationship with this firm because they have a history that suggests they will be here for the long run.

Number 10 – Living up to Expectations

This is a critical element in a new relationship. Customers come with a set of expectations and if they are met or better yet, exceeded, then the likelihood of repeat business is high. However, if the supplier falters and does not live up to expectations then the customer will revert to previous suppliers or continue the search for a new one.

In summary

The key for future success and growth for most businesses is to maintain and nurture their existing client base. I have never heard one of my clients’ customers say the they “Want to be delighted” but if a supplier rates highly on the above noted attributes they are sure to have very satisfied and repeat customers in the future.

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