Five levels of customer satisfaction

A few days ago Sathya, an onsite offshore coordinator aka account manager working with my company, stopped by to discuss what he and his company could do to earn my trust and to make me happy. I wish more people in my life would ask the same questions, in particular women. And I tell you, in many cases the answers would be exceptionally simple. Well, not when it comes to making me happy as a CTO managing multimillion dollar technology budget. In this case earning my trust and keeping me happy is a very tall order. I am sure that many of you are dealing with the same question (either asking or answering it), so I think there is a value in sharing what I told Sathya…

There are at least 5 levels / horizons of customer satisfaction that the vendor has to achieve. There is a natural order to these horizons and there is no reason even to approach fifth level till you are done with the first one. And of course reaching just one horizon doesn’t give you much. You need to maintain all five in perfect state to achieve that illusive customer sat…

The first horizon is the company / corporation itself. The company engaged you as the vendor in order to achieve certain objectives. The company has specific metrics it wants you to comply with – financial, quality, productivity, etc. Before your go any further you need to meet the expectations established by these metrics. In case the company did not establish the metrics you should do it yourself and bring them to the company. Show us, the corporation, that you are contributing to the overall success of the company, helping us with the bottom line, delivering to the benchmarks of quality that are same or better than internal personnel, meeting deadlines and staying under budget. Even though that appears a difficult horizon to reach, it is actually the simplest one. Catering to the organization is a high level task, it allows you to be generally correct, meet expectations in most cases, etc. you do not have to be always perfect. Some failures and individual mishaps do not appear on executive radars and could be averaged out by successful projects and other money saving initiates.

The second frontier of customer satisfaction lies with business users. The applications you develop and maintain, the infrastructure you support, and the services you provide are targeting business that is represented by key stakeholders – business users. Make these guys smile and give you two thumbs up and you can mark that level as achieved. This target is not an easy one to reach. While business users can care less what kind of hamsters running the systems they operate on they truly care for the quality of these systems. They do not care what kind of technology is under the hood, what the density of comments is and how elegant the architecture is. They also do not care much for your metrics – what you saved and how many bags you closed is irrelevant if the system they use is down. They do not care whose fault the system usability is. They do not care whether requirements for lousy system came from them… What they do care is that system works for them, supports real (not recently documented) workflow and empowers their success. If the system is an obstacle in getting the business tasks done chances are you will be the blame.

The third base camp before the panicle is the technology organization. We are an organization within the organization. While our goals and objectives are aligned with the organization in general they are distinctly different. And you’d better help us in achieving them. We are hold accountable for many similar metrics and if you are affecting them in a negative way you are not doing yourself a service. You have to make us look good as technology team. In addition you have to make sure that we as technology team are not threaten by you – first, you are not there to replace us, second we can count on you, and third you do not hold us over the barrel. The last item is very important. Your boss is probably telling you to make yourself an integral part of my organization, make yourself irreplaceable… Well, I have a bad new for you – if you are indispensable you are holding us as a hostage and we do not like it.

The fourth, penultimate level is the technology team. As opposed to the technology organization we are the people that organization is comprised of. We are the guys who work with you on day-to-day basis and we are geeks, nerds, and dorks who genuinely care for what’s under the hood of the systems you develop, we have our views on architecture and methodology, we have our standards of communications. To make us happy you better read same books and blogs, pay attention to technology trends and cater to specific personalities we have. Some of us are process freaks and some agile junkies, some are kludge masters and some are perfectionists, yes catering to multiple standards is tough but nobody said that life is easy.

And finally you are at the top, entering the 35th chamber of Shaolin. Welcome to the world so well covered by Miller-Heiman strategic selling. There are a few key individuals in this organization that you will need to make happy at a personal level … You need to discover what the personal wins for those individuals are and do whatever you can to help them to achieve the wins. Someone on your list of the chosen few maybe looking for a promotion, someone is eager to travel around the world, someone wants to show his best side to the board of directors, someone is  looking for the last successful project before retiring, and someone is searching for a new job outside of the organization… Achieve all four planes and ignore the personal wins and 100% customer satisfaction would be clearly stated in a termination letter. The serious challenge of this level comes from the fact that majority of personal wins are hidden or at least not immediately apparent. Unless you’re dealing with a true written egg who is asking you for bribes in one form or another the chances are you will need work hard to understand the personal wins and even harder to achieve them. And the really bad news is that I am one of the guys that should be on your list…

2 thoughts on “Five levels of customer satisfaction

  1. I see when customer is satisfacted, when he tell frend about me…
    For me its so simply what to do for good client satisfaction.
    I must do that what they want, + something special from me…

  2. Interesting points you’ve covered on these five levels. I believe that in today’s saturated market where we see lots of new products each day, building customer satisfaction starts with building trust, quality, and meaningful relationships with your customers — on the grass roots level. Besides, customers are the blood of your business and if you run dry of it, your business goes dead.

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