Who Are Your Customers and Do You Really Know What They Want from You?

Do you really know who your particular customers are and what they want from you? It's true that your customer base is all the customers that you serve in whatever capacity. But…it makes sense to look at your customers by grouping them according to various characteristics. The simplest way is to divide them into two basic groups…those who are your internal customers and those who are your external customers.

Your internal customers are those who work within your organization. Regardless of whether they are at another location in your building, in another state or country or sitting at the next desk or working on the floor above or below you…if they depend on you and the work you do in order to complete their own work or serve their own customers…then they are your internal customers. Internal customers are those who benefit from your work or conversely suffer when your work is not done or done poorly. Sometimes it is difficult to identify your internal customers especially when you do not see them face-to-face. It is even harder to know who they are if you are not sure if they see or deal with the work you produce. Then again it may be easy especially if the internal customers you serve also provide some sort of service to you. Regardless, your internal customers deserve the same great service you would normally give to an external customer.

External customers are the people who purchase your services. They are external to or outside of your organization. They are the source of the revenue that funds your organization's continuing operations. Without external customers, your organization won't be in business for very long. External customers literally pay your salary. They are pretty easy to identify.

Interesting facts about serving internal and external customers:

It is a critical part of your job to identify your customers, to know what it is that they need or want from you and how you can provide it for them. Watch all of your customers closely. Their actions will tell you more than their words. Monitor customer behaviors that tell you how they really feel about your company and its services. Become aware of such behaviors as: repeat visits, the frequency of using a service or services and the amount of referrals sent to you by your customers. Collect information from your customers at every opportunity. Listen closely to what they tell you when they call or ask questions or present you with problems.

Talk to your customers one on one at the time when they are using your services. Ask them to be blunt in their evaluation and criticisms. Ask them pointed questions about why they did or did not come for specific services. Make it easy for them to tell you. Ask them what they really like about their favorite organizations where they seek similar services, even if it's totally unrelated to your organization. Get a sense of what kind of treatment your customers value from wherever the source. Then try to figure out how to include those qualities in your customer service approaches. Get to know your customers as unique people. The more you know about their lives, the more you will understand how your services fit in with the whole of their lives…it may give you some clues on how to better present or package your services to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty to your organization. Daniel Scoggins, president and CEO of TGI Friday's, a popular restaurant says: "The only way to know how customers see your business is to look at it through their eyes."

Serve your internal and external customers well by understanding them deeply. Use surveys and other tools to determine customer satisfaction. They show that the organization cares about customers. They should be as simplistic as is possible. You could use a three (3) question form given during the time a customer is leaving. The three questions should be based on three things that are usually most important to a customer: value of the service, were promises kept such as the appointment time, etc., and would the customer return. Here is an example of one customer satisfaction survey tool.

Serve your internal and external customers well by understanding them deeply.

Gittomer, p. 98 talks about using a WOW Report Card to determine how satisfied your customers are with your service. He says that you should look for the following reactions from your customers that will tell you that they believe you are WOW (give great service)!

Getting all W's is being and doing WOW consistently. The absence of WOW is a report card also.

Using a focus group approach is often a good way of determining how customers like doing business with an organization. It’s a great way of involving customers. Typically a focus group consists of groups of 10-12 customers. A time of 1 and ½ hours is spent in asking the group general questions about the strengths and weakness of the organization. Then the leader focuses in on one special area of interest by asking 10 questions about the services provided (these questions could be taken directly from a written survey tool). The questions could be about their experiences with staff. Questions such as:

Reilly asks what he terms power questions to determine customer satisfaction. They are as follows:

In conclusion, it is a good idea to give the focus group some sort of gift as they leave as a nice way of thanking them for donating their time and demonstrating their interest. A gift certificate to a local restaurant is always a nice gesture.

The bottom line in assessing customer satisfaction is to serve your customers well by understanding them deeply. Do use surveys and other tools to determine how pleased they are, but don't rely on them completely. They are simply no substitute for what is called "breathing customer air" meaning being out there where your customers are so you can continually ask them how you and your organization are doing to meet their needs. As we complete this part of our program, I would like to leave you with some parting thoughts about customers:

"If you're not serving the customer, your job is to be serving someone who is." --- Jan Carizon, Former CEO, SAS

"Customer expectations of service organizations are loud and clear: look good, be responsive, be reassuring by being courteous and competent, be empathetic but, most of all be reliable. Do what you said you would do!" --- Dr. Leonard Berry, Researcher, Texas A&M University

Despite all of the untold millions of products and services for sale today, customers will exchange their hard-earned money for only two things:

"Don't sell me things. Sell me ideals, feelings, self- respect, a good home life, and happiness." (LeBoeuf, p. 23)