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Turn Unhappy Customers into Enthusiastic Fans

Entrepreneurial businesses universally aim to convert customers into dedicated fans while maintaining profitability. However, addressing legitimate customer dissatisfaction often reveals operational deficiencies as the underlying cause. To rectify this, four pivotal questions must be addressed. Firstly, understanding customer needs beyond generic expectations is imperative for refining operational processes effectively. Secondly, thorough consideration and standardization of each process prevent complications as businesses expand. Thirdly, clear documentation and communication of standardized processes ensure universal understanding and adherence. Lastly, consistency in process execution is crucial, necessitating ongoing training and feedback mechanisms to uphold standards effectively. By meticulously addressing these aspects, businesses can mitigate customer dissatisfaction and cultivate enthusiastic brand advocates, fostering sustained success.

Published on

May 22, 2024

Written by

Rob Taylor

What is one goal all entrepreneurial businesses share? To turn customers into fans and profit. The last thing you want is legitimately unhappy customers: people who have a justified gripe about quality, quantity, outcomes, delivery, service, or any other aspect of the customer lifecycle. When probing such customer dissatisfaction, the root cause is often found to be operational in nature, the result of suboptimal or inconsistent processes. To remediate this situation, work through these four key questions. 


The first question is “Do we know what the customer wants?” It is tempting to answer this question generically (and somewhat cavalierly) by stating, “A great product and service!” While that is true, it does not inform the development of optimal processes. To garner helpful insights, you need to go deeper, diving into every aspect of the customer experience and listening to your customers’ needs and wants. For example, do you know what your customers want when it comes to: 


  • Features and benefits so you can improve your product development pipeline. 
  • Ordering your products so you can ensure frictionless in-person and online sales. 
  • Delivery and fulfillment so you can get products to customers in a timely manner at a cost-effective price point. 
  • Customer service so you can make every interaction – from general inquiries to complaints to requests for maintenance or repair – a positive experience.  
  • Billing and payment so you can streamline the invoice-to-pay process. 


These are just some of the customer-focused elements that need to be probed to develop effective processes. Remember, it is possible to execute an operational process flawlessly, but if that process does not deliver what the customer wants, you will end up with an unhappy customer. 


The second question to answer is “Have we thoroughly thought through and standardized each process?” As businesses grow, processes become more complex. For instance, consider a business that is expanding its footprint to open two additional distribution centers. With the change, what might have been a straightforward fulfillment process from a single warehouse becomes complicated with new inventory management and logistics considerations. A failure to think through the process and all the scenarios it needs to cover will inevitably result in unhappy customers somewhere down the line.


Compounding this issue, at the very same moment processes become more complex, it is easy for them to become confused. Using the above scenario, if each distribution center develops its own “spin” on how to conduct inventory management (even if they all use the same software), then overall business operations will suffer. Processes need to be standardized in order to be reliable, efficient, and effective. 


Standardizing processes is one thing … ensuring that they are understood is another entirely. That leads to the third question: “Have we documented and communicated each standardized process?” It is not enough to thoroughly think through a process in a meeting room; everybody involved in a given process needs to have a complete understanding of how the process works. In our current scenario, that means it is not sufficient for the managers of each distribution center to mutually agree on how to conduct inventory management. Each person involved in that process – from the person who receives the orders to the person who loads the pallet onto the truck – needs to have a firm grasp of their responsibilities. 


Ensuring understanding requires clear documentation, targeted messaging, training, oversight, metrics, accountability, and more. And – this is critical – any time the process is updated, the same rigorous communication must take place again so that the change is thoroughly transmitted to all affected personnel. Remember, if you do not keep your processes well-documented, you are making the assumption that everyone will remember to do everything right every time … and you know what they say about assumptions! 


If you have done the above but unhappy customers are still turning up, the next question to ask is “Are we being consistent in how we execute our processes?” This is often where the rubber meets the road: the process has been developed, documented, and disseminated, but people aren’t following it reliably. 


If this is the case, check for understanding. Do people understand the process? Do they understand the reasoning behind the process? Do they understand the ramifications of failure to follow the process? You may need to provide additional training, explanations, or change management to get people on board with the process.  


If people fully understand the process but are not following it consistently, ask for feedback. Don’t assume that people are maliciously disregarding the process; they may have good reasons for their actions. For instance, the process may not address a certain scenario or there could be insufficient resources to execute the process properly. If necessary, modify the process or address the situation accordingly. 


If people understand the process but are ignoring it for no good reason … well, that is when you have to give feedback. Be direct, be clear, develop a plan for moving forward, and hold people accountable to the plan. The process is the process: it is not optional. 


By listening to and correctly identifying what your customers want, carefully outlining how your operational processes should work, clearly communicating your standardized processes, and consistently executing on those processes, you can transform unhappy customers into enthusiastic fans of your business. And that is something to celebrate!

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