A customer is someone who has a direct relationship with, or is directly affected by an agency, and receives or relies on one or more of that agency’s services or products.
Customers are commonly referred to as service users, consumers or clients and they can be individuals or groups (Fornell et al, 1992). An organisation with a strong customer satisfaction culture places the customer at the centre of service design, planning, and service delivery (Healy, 1999).
In today’s age, consumers have become more demanding and are well-aware of the various facts as compared to before. Consumers want both quality and quantity-oriented products and services. Many organisations target customer satisfaction to stay in business and more importantly attain a competitive edge over their competitors. For this purpose, exceptional customer services results not only in customer retention, but also attracts other prospective customers.
When customers complain, it means they are dissatisfied with a product or service. In Ghana and citing a case in point, consumers of the prepaid meters have to travel from their various homes to access power credit. Customers may, however, prefer scratch card that can be purchased at vantage points or buy credits via mobile money in the comfort of their homes whenever power goes off. When the Electricity Company of Ghana considers doing this, then they are working towards delighting the customer.
Some customers do not even know what can satisfy their needs so the onus lies on the service provider to bring innovative services and this can only be achieved through customer research. Indeed, there have been attempts by many corporate organisations to either rebrand or retool their strategies towards satisfying customers in order to make them the preferred choice over their competitors. This is borne out of the realisation that competition for both human and material resources is becoming keener. Intense competition at all levels of society makes it imperative to pay exclusive attention to the needs of customers. No investment can produce any meaningful results without receiving the requisite patronage from customers.
The customer expects competent and efficient services, basic courtesies, knowledgeable help, friendliness, feedback, honesty and respect, professional service, to be informed of options, to be listened to, and above all dedicated attention (Parasuraman et al, 1991). The heart of customer satisfaction is meeting or exceeding these expectations; at the highest level, it is achieving customer delight (Christopher et al 1991). This perspective views customer satisfaction as a continuous process that does not begin or end with a purchase.
According to Kotler (1991), it covers the entire ownership experience from selecting a product, to purchase, through aftercare to repeat purchase. Meeting or exceeding customer expectations is the goal of every result seeking organisation. The starting point of expectation management therefore is getting feedback from customers through regular marketing research. The best way is not to wait for customer complaints but to anticipate the needs and problems of customers and to set realistic expectations through customer education and communication strategies. Using customer feedback to understand customer expectations and needs, organisations educate their customers on what they can expect and what obligations and responsibilities their customers have.
Another effective technique of measuring and managing customer expectation is prompt and adequate handling of complaints. Complaints provide a useful input into the overall process of meeting customer expectations and acts as a useful warning system. To benefit from complaints, service providers should have a mechanism for handling them effectively. Complaints can form the basis of research into new product development.
For the insurance company, customer satisfaction would include: survival of businesses in a competitive environment, meeting the ever-increasing demands made by the customers like receiving prompt and reliable information, simplified and short processes, prompt payment of insurance claims, empathy and respect, honesty and dedicated attention, full disclosure of policy terms and conditions at the point of sales, quick and reliable feedback when there is an accident, and many more. Most vehicle owners insure their vehicles to satisfy the government and police on the roads because of its compulsory nature and not because of the insurance companies.
Good customer service is no longer enough. It has to be superior. In a nutshell, it means doing what you say you will, when you say you will, how you say you will, at the price you promised, plus a little extra to excite the customer. Customer centric organisations will determine the customers’ expectations when they plan and listen to the customer, focus on the delivery of customer satisfaction activities, and value customer feedback when they measure performance. Understanding customer expectations is an important and essential element in service delivery. Customers have more options than ever before and feel less loyal. They want products and services fast, cheap and quick from whoever will provide them. This means that the competitive advantage is now in one’s ability to keep customers and build repeat business. Customers not only have power in terms of where they wish to buy, what they wish to buy and how they wish to buy it, but they also enjoy increasing level of customer protection which places the burden of responsibility on the service provider. There is general agreement that satisfaction is a person’s feeling of pleasure or disappointment, resulting from comparing a product’s perceived performance in relation to his or her expectations. If the perceived performance is less than expected, customers will be dissatisfied. On the other hand, if the perceived performance exceeds expectations, customers will be delighted. This overall satisfaction has a strong positive effect on loyalty intentions across a wide range of product and service categories.
Ability to perform the promised service dependably and accurately is critical in assessing the satisfaction level of customers. If customers cannot trust an organisation to do what is promised, those customers will be dissatisfied.
So back to the example of prepaid meter: Power consumers in Ghana do not know how much they pay for power, when the power will go off, when it will be stable, etc. Power providers have customer’s data but they do not even interact through social media or customers personal phones to deliver any information. The corporate objectives of vision, mission, and core values statement are copy and paste. Companies that have problems in satisfying customers, have nice corporate objectives at their reception. Did I see a tagline of an organisation that says ‘we serve you better” though customers complain about low quality in service delivery?
Organisations need to retain existing customers, while targeting prospective customers (Measuring customer satisfaction provides an indicator of how successful the organisation is at providing products and/or services to the market place. Service quality and customer satisfaction are, inarguably, the two core concepts that are at the crux of the marketing theory and practice in today’s world of intense competition. The key to sustainable competitive advantage lies in delivering high quality products and services that will in turn result in not only satisfied customers but customers that are delighted.
Higher quality leads to higher customer satisfaction. Research work needs to be done consistently to determine customers’ present and future needs. Staff who deal with customers’ must upgrade their skills in order to constantly delight customers.