How to improve customer satisfaction
by Onno van Ewyk
To succeed an organisation must satisfy its customers. This is a fundamental idea few managers would challenge but when we evaluate our own history as customers we can all give example after example of poor products and even worse service we have experienced. This contrast between intentions and outcomes reflects the sad fact that satisfying customers is difficult to do. Managers must try to anticipate uncertain customer demands, marshal scarce resources, coordinate the activities of many people working in disparate functions, and at the end of the day make a profit as well. Quality management offers two ways to overcome these difficulties. First, make an overt commitment to 'customer focus' as one of the central values of the organisation and drive it home by initiating programs to get good information on customer experiences, by training all staff in customer relations, and by putting customer needs on the agenda in some way for every management meeting. Second, adopt the concept of the 'internal customer'. This is the idea that even if you are buried deep within an organisation and never see a customer yourself, your work helps someone who does. That person, or group of people, become your customers. These are powerful ideas. Customer focus will ensure that however well (or badly) you are satisfying customers now, there is a commitment and impetus to do it better in the future. The 'internal customer' concept adds to this by involving everyone and connecting corporate activity so that it is automatically coordinated in the customer's interest. To plan and control the implementation of these ideas there is a technique available which enables managers to picture, in the form of a diagram, all the key elements in the organisation which impact on customer satisfaction. This technique is called 'Customer/Supplier Mapping' or 'Relationship Mapping' and it works as follows. Take a large sheet of paper (or preferably get your management team together and use a whiteboard) and draw horizontal lines to divide it into four sections from top to bottom. Label the four sections 'Ultimate', 'Immediate', 'Own', and 'Suppliers' (see diagram). Beginning at the top, in the section labelled 'Ultimate', write the names of the types of customers who are the ultimate users of your products but who you do not deal directly with. For a vehicle manufacturer, for example, these may be 'car buyers', 'car fleet buyers', and 'rental car users'. In the section labelled 'Immediate', write the names of the groups who serve the ultimate customers and with whom you deal directly (or immediately). For a vehicle manufacturer these may be 'car dealers' and 'rental fleet buyers'. Now draw arrows from the ultimate customers pointing to the groups who serve them. The arrows show the direction in which customer demands are expressed. Of course, if you deal directly with any ultimate users of your products or services place them in the 'Immediate' section. Working down the map, in the section labelled 'Own' write the names of the major sections of your company. Draw arrows down to the sections which interface directly with immediate customers and draw arrows between sections to reflect how they respond to each other to meet customer needs. Complete the final section labelled 'Suppliers' by writing in the names of major supplier groups outside the company and draw arrows down to them from the sections in the company which deal with them.