In the September issue of Inc. Magazine, Alden Mills, founder of Perfect Fitness shares a part of his experience with Navy SEAL training:
“They’d say, ‘OK, it’s a four mile run.’ I’d run so hard, I’d throw up at the finish line. Then they’d say, ‘Now it’s a 10-mile run. Keep running.’”
Mills used his training experience as a lesson in perseverance, but it also provides a warning about your customer’s expectations. The fact is, the things you’ve done in the past for your customer might have made them satisfied then but it might not be enough to satisfy them today and tomorrow. From your customer’s perspective, the bar almost always goes up as your relationship matures.
This might seem like an uphill battle, but there are some companies that actually use this escalation effect to their advantage. By listening and gathering information in three distinct ways, they build sustainable competitive advantage. Here’s how:
First, ask customers how well you conform to their current expectations. This first piece will show any gaps in your current products and services that might be leaving your key customers at risk of defecting to the competition.
Second, ask customers how important different aspects of your offerings are to them. For example, some customers might find innovative new products as the most important area of performance, while others might be largely focused on price. Knowing what your customer segments find important is critical to meeting their current and future needs.
Third – and this is the piece that many organizations miss – ask customers how their perception of your performance has changed over time. For example, ask your customer, “Has our performance improved or declined over the past 12 months?” If you’re declining or staying the same in your customer’s eyes, you’re giving the competition an opportunity to catch up. Your customer might be satisfied, but it takes continuous improvement from the perspective of your customer to maintain a competitive edge.
Using this three-step method to gather customer feedback can lead to a better understanding of what it will take to keep and grow your key customer accounts. Your customer probably isn’t going to ask you to add another six miles to a training run, but they do expect you to continue to improve and earn their business.
Nick Wassenberg, Research Analyst