Early in my career, I created the customer support department for a software development firm that created hardware and software systems.  The running joke with the engineers was that computers were great until the users logged on. I felt differently, of course.

My father had taught me that the needs of people, children in his case, were like livestock. While the farmer may not want to get up at five in the morning to milk the cows, that really isn’t relevant to the cows. If they don’t get milked on time, bad things happen. They immediately get uncomfortable and eventually will stop producing.

Dad’s point was that kids in particular, and people in general, have needs that have to be met in the moment they present themselves. Or you lose your shot to help and maybe to be relevant at all. Customers (and clients) are very similar. You can’t simply tune them in when you feel up to a challenge and tune them out when you don’t. The whole organization needs to be prepared to respond with enthusiasm and energy when a customer need arises.

Let me first say that I understand there are some customers that are not worth serving. Like a cow that simply consumes feed and produces no milk, these customers need to be weeded from the herd. I have addressed the 20/225 rule in a previous blog entry, so I won’t detail it here, but most businesses that aren’t actively managing this are paying for the privilege of serving some customers.

I’m not talking about those customers. I’m talking about nice, paying customers that you enjoy doing business with and that value your goods and services. They need your full attention from time to time, at a time that meets their needs.

When we run customer satisfaction research, one of the most common complaints we hear is that communications are not proactive enough. This seems like a simple complaint, but it is really a more complicated message that the customer is telling his trading partner (you). Peeling the onion on this one example may provide some insight into the issue of taking care of customers like livestock.

customers

To peel this onion, let’s first look at what a customer is saying when they are not complaining about communications.  When you receive good ratings from customers, they are saying they like what you sell them and what you do for them.  For most this is enough. They actually don’t want to hear from you.

They are thinking to themselves, “You sold me a service. I received the service as expected. We’re finished. Thank you.”

So the hidden aha here is they don’t need proactive communication if everything goes as planned. They only need proactive communication if something is not going to go as planned. Then they want to know in advance, so they can plan accordingly. No surprises.

In order to generate high levels of customers satisfaction, avoid surprises and communicate appropriately, customers need you to listen carefully throughout your relationship cycle:

  1. Product and service development – involve customers and listen to their needs and pay attention to events and times that will require action.
  2. Marketing – listen to why customers buy and what you can do to increase that experience.
  3. Sales – listen more than you talk, understand how your service or product meets their need and then communicate clearly to establish joint expectations.
  4. Post Sale – deliver on your sales promises, provide the service they need and continue to listen for changes in their needs.
  5. Renewal – listen to their needs for ways in which you can extend or expand your service(s) to them.

Your list will be different and longer. Customer touch points are the most unique area of each business. The entire team needs to be focused on meeting the customer in the moment where their needs are expressing themselves. If you are good at this, your customers will be satisfied and, like the happy cow, will continue producing for you.

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Feb 20, 2013.