• Darin Vilano

Are You Violating the Most Important Customer Expectation? | The Small Business BIG IDEA Show

As business owners, we know that we are going to be closely scrutinized by customers and potential customers – as it should be. After all, we decided to get into business to serve the public with our version of a better product and experience. We should aim to set the bar high and deliver on all of our promises, and we also need to understand the needs of our customers and their expectations. But there’s one expectation that stands above the others – doing the basic things right the first time. Customers may tolerate a lot of things, but they have short fuses for companies that fail on the fundamentals.

Doing the basic things right the first time is NOT the same thing as perfectionism. One of my favorite sayings is that perfection (or the attempt at perfection) is the enemy of execution. So, I’m not saying that we should strive to be perfect. Instead, what I’m saying is that we need to have our act together and to follow through on what we say we are going to do for the customer. Think about when you are a customer. You see or read up on a product or service, and it looks like it will meet your needs, so you buy it. You expect that what they say will happen next, will indeed happen. There’s a certain base level of expectation here. You don’t expect, for example, to call them endlessly looking for your product, or to send it back multiple times due to errors or damage, or for them to give you a hard time about following through on their return policy. You expect those things to go right. First impressions are everything, and if you consistently have problems delivering on your promises right out of the gate, your company will develop a reputation for that.

Nothing infuriates customers more than having to “correct” a company’s problems! That’s how they see it. They feel that they are working for you now – spending hours on the phone to clean up the mess, running around looking for files or paperwork for returns, explaining where they were overcharged, and arguing on the phone with customer “un-service.” They feel that they should be paid for doing your job. This is what we MUST avoid at all costs. Doing things right the first time means making good on our promises and getting the fundamentals right. Of course, there may be a mishap here or there, but when this happens we need to go overboard to correct it and make it as painless and effortless as possible on the customer. Don't put them through the paces to do the legwork. We need to do the heavy lifting, apologize, and then find a way to keep them as customers.

Besides the negative repercussions that I mentioned above, the other impact of making constant mistakes is the one on our employees and team. Nothing lowers morale faster than having to constantly do rework and field customer complaints. Fixing mistakes that could have been prevented in the first place is energy draining and frustrating. It’s like watching a car accident in slow motion. You know what’s going to happen, but you can’t do anything about it. All you can do is pick up the pieces when it’s over. And, of course, doing things over and over again exhausts valuable resources that could have been put to better use elsewhere.

So, what can we do to prevent this from happening in our businesses? First, test your own products and processes on a periodic basis. It’s amazing to me how many business owners don’t do this. Walk through the entire experience from the customer’s point of view and make any adjustments necessary. Second, embrace the concept of constant improvement in your company. Incorporating this philosophy into your business ensures that you address challenges head-on and that you always look for ways to improve and get better. And, finally, create a culture of accountability, truthfulness, and openness in your company. If people are afraid to talk or point out what’s wrong, then disaster will be inevitable. Make communication – especially constructive criticism and ideas for improvement – a pillar of your company’s culture. If you do this, you will be rewarded for it. Remember, investing the time, energy, and money upfront to get the basics right the first time will more than pay for itself in the long run.

Now, it’s time to hear from you. What procedures have you put into place – or would you like to put into place – to make sure your business is doing the basic things right the first time?

Remember, as small business owners and entrepreneurs, one of the best ways that we learn is from each other, so please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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