Clearly, preventing defects and errors from happening in the first place minimizes the waste and resources required to deliver your product or service. However, it’s not enough to provide Functional Quality, because that doesn’t create competitive advantage. You want to layer in Experiential Quality, and although I’ll share lots of strategies and tactics throughout the month to help you do that, I want to kick off our month-long focus to improve Quality with one big shift that almost immediately strips needless cost out of your business.

Improving Quality Means Resolving on the First Contact

When you think of the customer service interactions you have with various suppliers in your personal and business life, how many of them are flawed and aggravating instead of flawless and delightful? How do YOUR customers perceive the quality of your customer service organization when things go awry… and how does that colour their overall perception of the quality you provide and whether or not they want to continue doing business with you?

Customers know that things will go wrong occasionally. All they really expect is for you to make it right without a lot of hassle and run-around. Most organizations treat their customers as salmon swimming upstream by putting resources with the ability to say “yes” or fix the problem as far away as possible from where things have gone awry. And if you’ve ever seen salmon spawning, you know how bruised and battered those salmon look after fighting their way upstream. Customers get exhausted from having to tell their story multiple times while their issue is repeatedly moved up the ladder without resolution. They get disappointed by the delays in making it right and often are angry because they have better things to do with their time.  They’re left with a bad taste in their mouth when the resolution is inadequate or seems unfair.

Is that the Quality Experience you’re really trying to create?  Of course not!

Case Study

If you fly Air Canada, you’ll already know that their unspoken Customer Experience Statement is “we’re not happy until you’re unhappy” (what would YOUR customers say your Experience Statement is?) and they certainly proved it once again on a short hop I took between Toronto and Cincinnati.

Experience Shortfall #1 – Say NO, Instead of YES: In the old days, my request to switch to an earlier flight would have been handled quickly, easily, and with a smile – and SHOULDN’T that be a reasonable request when a passenger arrives at the airport about 7 hours earlier than their scheduled flight?  (My responsibilities at a conference wrapped up earlier than expected).  The answer?  Nope, unless I paid a change fee that was more than ½ the cost of the flight.  I’d already paid change fees for another Air Canada flight on this same trip and asked if that could be taken into account.  Nope.  I’m a big fan of profitable businesses, but only when that’s the result of creating value for a customer, not simply a “cash grab”. They’ve forgotten that they’re  in the business first and foremost of getting customers to their destination as quickly and easily as possible.  With the competition in the airline business, it’s easy enough to vote with my wallet next time, instead of enthusiastically sharing a story with others of how well I was treated by Air Canada.

What are you doing in your company that’s leaving customers feeling cheated rather than delighted?

Experience Shortfall #2 – Create Uncertainty: The story continues.  By 8:15 pm, my original 8:35 flight still hadn’t been called, so I walked over to the desk and asked the service attendant for an update.  As she gathered her things to leave, she looked back over her shoulder and said: “I have no idea”.  We were kept in the dark for quite some time with no explanation, just repeated announcements that the flight was delayed to 9… to 9:30… to 10:30 pm when we finally left.  There was only the most cursory apology from the flight crew during their regular take-off announcements and we were not even offered water on the flight, let alone the complimentary cocktail that used to go along with delayed flights in the old days.  All I was thinking was that I could have already been home via the earlier flight instead of spending a late night in the airport – that was strike 2.

What are you doing in your company that’s leaving customers feeling like they’re in the dark or unappreciated?

The Takeaway:  Resolve every issue on the first contact:  Perhaps I should have ponied up several hundred dollars for the earlier flight instead of letting my Scottish thrift and stubborn Taurus side take over.  Perhaps Air Canada simply should have focused on fair prices that deliver good value – it would have cost them nothing more to have me on one flight vs. the other.  If Air Canada’s staff were empowered to deliver on a Customer Experience statement along the lines of “get the customer where they’re going as quickly and pleasantly as possible, at fair prices that reflect value”, they would create tremendous goodwill, and be the gold standard in the industry.

Have you crafted a Customer Experience Statement that sets you apart from your industry?  If so, are your people empowered to consistently live up to it?

Improve Quality with the First Contact Approach

There are substantial time and cost savings of the “on first contact” approach. Research has repeatedly shown that front-line staff who are empowered to address customer issues completely the first time, actually give away LESS in concessions than more senior staff do after receiving an escalated issue.

Furthermore, it’s estimated that the average CEO spends over 20% of their time somehow involved in resolving customer issues that have been escalated to his or her level. What a waste! That is not where the fun is in your business.

If you’re like many companies, you end up resolving most of your customer service issues … eventually. Instead, improve Quality by making the commitment to resolve issues on the first contact. Simply let your people on the front lines say “yes” as long as the solution is consistent with your intentions.

Developing a robust and meaningful Customer Experience Statement sounds simple, but actually takes some work to get right.  It’s one of the deliverables I teach teams to develop in ProfitU™.  If you know that you need to up your game to create better experiences, let’s talk.

#1 Bestselling Author, International Speaker, and Accelerator Anne C. Graham is on a mission to help 5 million business leaders and their teams double their profit per employee – or more – in less than one year, in less time per week than they’re spending on email per day. Her new book Profit in Plain Sight includes the 5-step proactive P.R.O.F.I+T Plan to do it.  Connect with Anne on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.