Why Being ‘Good’ Is Not Good Enough

Matt Powell this week takes a look at the importance of customer satisfaction and going the extra mile.

“Delighting customers inevitably adds costs” – one of the three reasons suggested as to why some companies are averse to delighting their customers, by Steve Denning in his “Is Delighting The Customer Profitable?” article for Forbes earlier this year.

Of course, the type of statement above would usually be one quite heavily engrained in a company’s culture – a company that, being fairly successful, is perhaps content to deliver good service; much as the type of company that would say the opposite – “delighting customers is what we do, it helps our profits thrive” – would have such an idiom engrained in its culture (see Apple, Google, Amazon, Zappos, etc).

There are a couple of examples that I would like to highlight in relation to offering a ‘good enough’ service, and offering a service that delights. I was initially going to offer a comparison of just two companies and their approach – Netflix and LOVEFiLM. However, there is also a third company, a very well know company with perhaps a graver warning of a company taking its market for granted, which I will touch upon shortly.

LOVEFiLM and Netflix,are the leading film rental services in the UK and US (respectively)and serve as good examples of companies that ‘wow’ and companies that, arguably, rest on their laurels.

A couple of personal experiences I have had recently with LOVEFiLM have fed into the writing of this article. Sometime last year I decided to cancel my LOVEFiLM membership that I had had for around a year but had not used for 6 months. When I made the call to LOVEFiLM to cancel my contract, the customer service representative asked what my reason was; when I explained it to him, he said that they would be happy to keep my account open for the next 6 months free of charge. I had been braced for the standard struggle that comes with closing accounts of any kind, and was ready to decline the inevitable last ditch attempt to retain my custom, but this offer took me off-guard – and was indeed a ‘no-brainer’.

Their plan worked and I became an avid and happy customer. More recently, I had to contact customer services again, this time due to an error on LOVEFiLM’s part. I had been working my way through a DVD box-set, when LOVEFiLM missed the next disc they were due to send me, and sent me a later disc in the series instead, thus skipping out three episodes of vital HBO drama. I called LOVEFiLM, and knowing their good customer service from the past, I expected the next disc to be sent straight away. LOVEFiLM did offer to send the next disc –but they also said they would be sending two extra discs to apologise for the mistake. Yet again, they had caught me off-guard and surpassed my expectations. Needless to say, I hold LOVEFiLM in quite high regard following these moments of ‘delight’. I understand that they have also had their fair share of problems in the recent past with third-party sales agencies, which will not have aided their mission for improved customer satisfaction, but if these moments of delight filter across the customer base, the future could indeed be bright. And bright it will have to be, if LOVEFiLM is to weather the upcoming assault from Netflix as it opens up its service to the UK market in 2012…

Netflix, is an interesting example of how taking customer loyalty for granted can be quite problematic. Netflix had witnessed very rapid growth in terms of its number of subscribers in the past few years (its number of subscribers grew from 857,000 in 2002 to 20 million in 2010 (whilst operating in North America alone)). However earlier this year it dropped quite the clanger – Netflix took the decision to spin off its DVD mail-order business, and its online streaming offering into two separate businesses. With such a strong position in the market, Netflix assumed that its customers were so delighted and loyal that they wouldn’t mind either paying the same fee for half the current service, or twice the fee for their current service. The customers did mind. Subscriptions plummeted, as did the value of Netflix shares. After much board-level scrambling and a deluge of negativity from (ex-) subscribers, Netflix canned the idea and reverted back to its original offering, but not before a significant amount of damage had been done to the brand and revenue.

Now for the third company in this tale – one which is very pertinent to these two examples: Blockbuster Video. Once the market-leader (following a steamrollering of local video stores in the 90s), Blockbuster spectacularly collapsed in the US earlier this year . Quite a case of laurel-resting if ever there was one. Blockbuster ignored the rising trends in the market of online rental and ordering, and continued to deliver a service that it deemed ‘good enough’ – until a few years down the line (and too late to remedy), that service became not good enough as customers fled to more appealing pastures, and Blockbuster was left floundering.

The approach these companies adopt in their attitude to ‘delivering extra’, or indeed to delivering what is ‘good enough’, can be split into three distinct categories that are indicated on the pyramid below:

Hygiene factors are the elements of a service or offering that are expected. They are not issues that will increase satisfaction, but they are areas where satisfaction will drop if they are not delivered.

Nice to haves are elements of a service or offering that can influence satisfaction. These are elements of service that are not necessarily expected and can drive satisfaction higher if delivered effectively. Over time, nice to haves can become hygiene factors as they become expected.

DifferentiatorsThese are the delight issues – the things that customers do not expect; the examples of going one step further, of exceeding expectations. These are the things that set companies apart from their competitors. Despite their impact and value to customers, these can sometimes be easy and inexpensive to implement in b2b markets (such as a monthly call from an account manager, or a thank you letter after a particularly large sale).

What would you say are your company’s hygiene factors, nice to haves, and differentiators? What do you think your customers would say they are? Many differentiators are so simple; sometimes they can be the fundamental elements of a service offering that no company in the market currently does well, where providing an exceptional service can really set a company apart from the competition. Research into customer loyalty can have great value in highlighting these elements and identifying unmet needs, or in indicatingthe disconnect between a company’s perception and the customer’s perception of its offering.

In the case of Blockbuster, the company perceived it’s offering to be good enough to meet the needs of its market. Blockbuster felt, I am sure, that it had elements of its offering that covered all three tiers on the pyramid, and did not see Netflix’ new offering as too much of a threat. However, over time Netflix’ ‘online and mail order’ differentiator gradually matured to become a market hygiene factor – one that Blockbuster did not offer. With Blockbuster not providing its customers with a fundamental hygiene factor, its proverbial pyramid had no foundations to support any ‘nice to haves’ or ‘differentiators’, and the company sadly failed.

US business and coaching guru Tony Robbins has an interesting analogy when it comes to ‘going the extra mile’, and not accepting what is ‘good enough’:

If, when training, a successful athlete is told to do ten lifts of a particular weight in the gym, which of those ten lifts is the one that makes all the difference?

The eleventh.

So when thinking of where the elements of your service offering and products sit on the pyramid, think about how your company can go the extra mile and to add differentiators – or even improve any current differentiators to exceed expectations. But do be wary of assuming that what is currently being delivered is good enough – it won’t be for long.

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