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Customer Charters: Good or bad for customer satisfaction

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The post, Creating a culture of customer advocacy by Rob Markey raises a subject that I’ve chatted with clients a lot about over the years.  Is it better to publicly state that you will provide great service or let customers find out over time?

I have always argued for the “let customers find out over time” approach.  My logic is reasonably straight forward.  Customer satisfaction with service levels is a not an absolute.  Rather, it is a combination of expectation and delivery.

If you exceed the customer’s service expectations then they will be satisfied.  If you greatly exceed their expectations you will be getting into the surprise and delight level of satisfaction that has the potential to drive customer loyalty.

However, if you fall under their expectations, they will be dissatisfied.

Put simply, inflate customer service expectations and you can drive down customer satisfaction even while delivering the same service level.

So where do customers get their service expectations?  Unfortunately they don’t base it on other companies like yours: they base it on the best service levels they receive across all companies they do business with.  Bank customers do not judge bank service levels on other banks.  They judge it in Dominos or their local coffee shop.  If Dominos can answer the phone in two rings on a Friday night and know what pizza I like why can’t you?

Back to publically stating the company’s customer charter; the key point is to not raise the customer’s expectations above what you can currently deliver.  So long as the charter does that it will be fine.

My strong suggestion is to use a tool like the Net Promoter Score® (NPS®) approach to constantly improve your service levels in ways that matter to customers.  Believe me customers can and will notice the difference between you and your competitors as you improve.

Over time, the difference in customer service becomes a sustainable competitive advantage that is very difficult for others to match.

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