A colleague has raved about the Ken Blanchard book, Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach To Customer Service, for years. I only just recently unearthed a copy and gave it a read. As with many of Blanchard's other writings, it is a short story (the blurb on the back cover calls it a "parable") teaching a lesson. The lesson makes sense, but the story is rather wacky.
The lesson is that business survives because of its customers. And customers that love your business and the service you provide are the ones that will come back, tell others, and help your business grow. The customers you have because no one else provides anything better or because you abuse them just as much as the competition aren't customers you are going to have for very long. This book was first published in 1993, and this lesson has only gotten stronger now that people can talk and share experiences easily. Recent customer service success stories, like that of Zappos, have a lot of connections to what this book suggests.
The specific recommendation has three components: Decide what you want. Discover what the customer wants. Deliver plus one. It is your business, you have to decide what you want it to be and how you want to deliver value. Yes, you need to understand what is important, but you cannot be all things to all people. Decide what it is that you are about first. This will help set your own boundaries, so you can think about how you are going to do these things in the face of the actual customers and the competition. Once you know what you want, discover what the customer wants. Then you can see how their needs fits with your vision of the business. The authors make the point that going right to the discover step without deciding what you want leads to being whiplashed by every possible customer desire. You might realize a need to change your own vision - but make it yours. Or you might see that your vision doesn't align with what some customers want and that they would be better served elsewhere. Finally, with these two pieces in place, then focus on delivering consistently and delivering that little extra. This is the key to creating those raving fans. You provide consistent delivery, and there is always something new or extra beyond the expectations. Of course, this means a constant revisiting of all these steps because once the "extra" becomes standard, the larger picture may change.
Some other ideas and quotes I found interesting:
- Exceeding expectations is important, but it is more important to consistently meet expectations.
- Use systems, not rules. Systems are a predetermined way to achieve a result. And the result is the focus, the system should be allowed to change. Rules tend to be fixed and people try to follow them mindlessly.
- Systems allow you to deliver a minimum standard of performance consistently. They give you a floor, not a ceiling.
The story, however, is so wacky as to make me want to discount the value of the central ideas. The central figure is a hapless sales manager who has to turn around the declining fortunes of his department (and the company). Who should appear but a fairy godfather! Yes, a fairy godfather.
[Photo: "Fans - And we really mean FANS!" by Anne Bennett] - p.s. I went to Ohio State. Go Bucks!