I don’t want our customers to be satisfied. Put another way, customer satisfaction is not our objective. I also don’t want our team members to be satisfied. There, I’ve said it. I’ll bet you’re thinking that there’s a punchline somewhere in all of this. And yes, there is. But let’s dig a bit deeper before getting to the bottom line.
When we serve others we certainly want them to be satisfied – right? This seems like a perfectly rational objective because we all know what happens when a customer or team member is dissatisfied. So, when a customer (or team member) makes a request, we do our best to satisfy that request. We generally believe that when someone is satisfied they are happy. Here’s an interesting dilemma. Suppose we’ve done everything we can to satisfy our customer; they tell us they are happy, but then they quit anyway. What’s up with that?
One of our companies is involved in managing apartment properties for our own account and for third-party clients as well. I can remember several times over the past many years that a long-time client told us he was perfectly satisfied with our service, only to make a change and hire another firm. We were assured that we’d done nothing wrong and other circumstances stimulated the change. In some cases the client was consolidating the management of all his properties with a national property management firm. In another instance we were told that the client had a relationship with another company and though he was satisfied with our performance, he thought he might do better with the other firm. Naturally there’s a strong level of disappointment when we hear that someone is satisfied and yet they are still making a change. What in the world are we to do?
OK, here comes the punchline. Customer satisfaction isn’t enough. Team member satisfaction isn’t enough. Customers and team members leave even when they are completely satisfied. Attempting to achieve customer and team member satisfaction is a siren song that will lure us into the rocks and sink our ship. Instead, we need to focus on fulfillment. Fulfillment is a much higher state than satisfaction. It’s a concept that’s similar to exceeding expectations but is even more than that. Trust me – you won’t get any help from the dictionary on this one. It says that to fulfill is to satisfy. I think the dictionary’s definition misses a very important nuance here.
Suppose an apartment resident calls and reports that her kitchen faucet is dripping. If our maintenance technician goes to her apartment and completes the repair, then he’s satisfied her request. However, if he goes and fixes the faucet, and then checks a number of other physical elements in her apartment and fixes other items that he finds, then we’re moving toward a level of fulfillment for the customer. Total fulfillment comes when there’s nothing else a customer could possibly want or need, even if he or she hasn’t articulated it. In other words, we’ve anticipated every possible scenario that could impact the customer and we’ve taken all the steps we could to resolve unforeseen issues and create an over-the-top experience. This was what was missing when we lost a client who told us he was satisfied. We had not gone above and beyond to create the over-the-top experience that achieved total fulfillment.
Customers and team members leave or quit all the time when they are satisfied. Usually it’s because they aren’t aware of a better alternative. But when that better mousetrap is presented to them it’s not hard to understand their motivation for making a change. Changing our focus from satisfaction to fulfillment increases the odds in our favor that we possess the better mousetrap.
Achieving fulfillment for our customers and team members requires a combination of commitment, innovation, understanding, vigilance, appreciation and gratitude. Fulfillment is the best mousetrap in today’s highly competitive entrepreneurial environment.
This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.