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The “customers first” mindset: 4 crucial questions you need to ask

The “customers first” mindset: 4 crucial questions you need to ask

You know your small business thrives on your customers, so it only makes sense that you’re dedicated to putting your customers first. But what exactly makes for excellent customer service?

Turns out it’s all about meeting customer expectations, and new research reveals that meeting those expectations goes way beyond delivering products on time with a smile.

For their book First, Break All the Rules, the Gallup Organization’s Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman undertook an extensive survey of how businesses establish relationships with their customers. They learned that the best way to put your customers first is to meet their four types of expectation: accuracy, availability, partnership, and advice.

Companies who measure these levels will have a better understanding of what their customers really want beyond a mere product or service transaction. Here’s a breakdown of those four expectations:

  1. Accuracy: The bedrock of your business is accuracy—no surprise to any entrepreneur. If you can’t get your customer what they want when they want it, they won’t feel like they’re your first priority. Nail down this one first before going any further.
  2. Availability: After the transaction, your customer wants to know you’re still there for them. Do you have a quick and efficient follow-up service system in place for returns, product questions, or anything else that comes up?
  3. Partnership: Beyond delivery and attentiveness, customers want to feel like you understand their needs and have their best interests at heart. Have you developed personal relationships with them? Are you proactively reaching out to see how you can help them succeed? In other words, show you care for your customers first as individuals, secondly as clients. If you tailor their customer service experience, they’ll realize you’re invested in helping them grow.
  4. Advice: Your customers want to learn from you. How can you educate them to help them improve their businesses and their lives? This is the final level of expectation, and it can create the closest bond between you and your client base. A study by the MIT Sloan School of Management shows that the more knowledgeable customers are about the products and services in your industry, the more they appreciate good customer service and helpful information when it comes their way. Earn their trust by taking the time to educate them.

Now that you know the path to customer satisfaction, how do you figure out exactly how to get there?

That one’s easy—ask your customers first.

Most likely, your customers have no idea how much they’d appreciate your partnership and advice—at least not consciously. So it’s a good idea to check in with them on each level—and find out how you can keep them engaged and gain their trust—by sending them follow-up customer feedback surveys.

Say, for example, you’re running a well-established, successful local business that produces edible sculptures carved out of cheese for your customers’ events. Asking questions based on each kind of customer expectation can help you see where you stand in their eyes. Here are some example questions for your survey.

Accuracy: “Was your product delivered on time and as expected?” Find out whether the motorcycle-riding cow sculpture was late to the trade show, and make sure you didn’t mix up the gouda with the gruyere.

Availability: “How quickly and successfully were we able to respond to your follow-up questions?” Your customer emailed you asking whether you could ship out of state for their uncle’s birthday next week—so check in to see if you got back to them in time.

Partnership: “Do you feel our business is working proactively with your organization?” Your customers should feel like you brought in your industry expertise to help them choose the perfect cheese sculpture for their event. Be sure they know their goals are your goals.

Tip: Asking customers questions about partnership can help you decide not just how to engage with them, but who engages with them. Use customer feedback to hire and train employees that are a good match for your customers and reflect their values to strengthen your partnerships.

Advice: “Has our organization been able to provide advice or recommendation that’s been a benefit to you?” This goes beyond bringing your cheese- and sculpture-savviness to your customers’ orders, and actually teaching them a thing or two about the trade. Did you advise them on which cheeses stay fresh the longest at summer weddings, and which are better for cooler climates? Make sure you’ve been educating your customers so they’ll feel more confident ordering from you in the future.

When you ask for feedback, remember to also put your customers first in how you go about collecting it. Whether that means optimizing your survey design for mobile users or offering it in other languages to accommodate your customer base, keep their preferences in mind when designing surveys.

And of course, you should always ask the questions that will collect the most helpful data for your business. You can check out our customer satisfaction survey templates and benchmarkable questions if you’re looking for expert-certified templates and questions across industries. Gathering feedback to meet customer expectations—in a format that’s custom-fit to who they are—will remind them that in your business, they come first.

Questions? Thoughts? Let us know in the Comments section below!