The Fulfillment-Focused Entrepreneur

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 have said it. I will bet you are thinking that there is 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 is an interesting dilemma. Suppose we have done everything we can to satisfy our customer; they tell us they are happy, but then they quit anyway. What is 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 had 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 is 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 is not enough. Team member satisfaction is not 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 is a concept that is like exceeding expectations but is even more than that. Trust me – you will not 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 has satisfied her request. However, if he goes and fixes the faucet, and then checks several other physical elements in her apartment and fixes other items that he finds, then we are moving toward a level of fulfillment for the customer. Total fulfillment comes when there is nothing else a customer could possibly want or need, even if he or she has not articulated it. In other words, we have anticipated every possible scenario that could impact the customer and we have 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 is because they are not aware of a better alternative. But when that better mousetrap is presented to them it is 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.

It Only Cost a Buck

Question: Recently I read an online customer review about my business and it was pretty mediocre. We delivered the service we were supposed to. Why would someone give us such average marks?

Answer: Maybe the service was mediocre. It’s my theory that people generally expect average which is a pretty low bar. That’s also why it’s so easy to wow customers with a little bit extra. There just aren’t a lot of companies that consistently deliver the wow factor.

While vacationing recently I had the opportunity to eat in the same restaurant while driving to our destination and again when driving back. Apparently the general policy at this restaurant is for the server to leave the ticket at the end of the meal and the customer pays at the cash register. During my first visit, our server saw me take out my credit card and asked me if she could take the ticket and my credit card and handle the payment without my having to go to the register. This was a small but friendly touch that resulted in my rounding up the bill to the nearest five-dollar amount and calculating her tip on that basis. My visit on the return trip was, well . . . average. Our server was friendly enough but when the time came to settle up, I put my credit card on the table with the ticket and it sat there. She came back twice to clear dishes but never made a move to pick up the credit card. I finally paid at the register and guess what I did? I rounded down to the nearest five-dollar amount to calculate her tip. It only cost her a buck, but imagine what that could add up to over the course of a year.

In my second encounter the server didn’t do anything wrong. In fact she was undoubtedly following restaurant policy. Thus she met my expectations. But it wouldn’t have taken much for her to exceed my expectations as her colleague had done a couple of weeks earlier. This minor incident highlights the fact that it doesn’t take much in this average society of ours to really stand out. As entrepreneurs we’re always looking for ways to differentiate ourselves and our businesses. We don’t need to get fancy about it. Just understand what average is and find simple and friendly ways to beat average.

The same lesson applies to life in general. Do we want to have average relationships? In my book, life to a great extent is about the people that pass through it. I’d like to think that the people in my life get more than “average” from me. Having the mindset of always giving a little extra effort will make this so.

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.

dollar bill