Customer Satisfaction is a Myth!

Customer Satisfaction is a Myth!

Customer Satisfaction is a Myth!

By J. LeRoy Ward,  PMP, PgMP, PfMP, CSM, CSPO   |   Executive Vice President – Enterprise Solutions, IIL

The other day I was scrolling through my LinkedIn feed and saw that someone had posted a picture of one of those business/inspirational quotes, attributed to no one in particular, in an attempt to gain a lot of likes or some agreeable comments. It read:

“A SATISFIED CUSTOMER IS THE BEST BUSINESS STRATEGY OF ALL”

I thought about that for a second and thought, “Nope, that’s a terrible strategy”—one destined to leave a company eating the dust of its competitors as those competitors steal their customers because those customers expect more.

It’s not a worthy strategy for project managers, either. We work mightily each day to deliver the “goods” to our clients through the projects and programs designed to move our companies and organizations forward. Just as companies should never try to satisfy its customers, we should never strive to satisfy our clients. Why?

Well, let’s say you just finished having dinner at a very nice restaurant. You usually leave a 20% tip, but tonight you were so impressed, you’re leaving a 30% tip.

What was it about the overall experience, and the server in particular, that compels you to do something you rarely do? Perhaps the server:

  • Was polite, friendly and greeted you warmly, maybe even by name if you had dined there before.
  • Anticipated your needs to the extent you rarely had to ask for anything. By the time you were turning around to get his or her attention, they were there attending to your needs.
  • Was knowledgeable about the menu. Any question you had about the fusion-this or the port wine-reduction-that, your server provided detailed information about the ingredients and how your selection was prepared.
  • Made sure that your dinner arrived piping hot, just the way you like it. It wasn’t sitting under some heat-lamp getting lukewarm while the server was out back having a cigarette.
  • Kept filling and refilling your water glass without being asked.
  • Ensured your bread basket was never empty.
  • Brought the check promptly, and, it was accurate. You didn’t need your accountant to double-check the numbers.
  • Wished you a fond farewell making sure you didn’t leave any personal items behind.

If you’ve ever had that kind of experience and a friend later asked you “How was your dinner?” I bet you didn’t say, “I was satisfied with the restaurant and the service.” Heck no. I bet you said something along the lines of, “That was the nicest restaurant I’ve eaten at in a long time. We had a great time. Well worth the few extra bucks for the ambience and food, and the server was top-notch.”

Now, think of your client, the one you’re managing that project for at the moment. Don’t they expect the same level of service from you and your team that you experienced at that restaurant? Of course they do.

At the end of the project wouldn’t you want your client to say, “Wow, (your name here) was simply outstanding. Delivered ahead of schedule, below budget, and gave us more than we asked for.  And, (your name here) was so professional, always on top of things and kept us informed and engaged. I’ve never worked with someone like (your name here) before. The next time we have a project to do, I’m requesting (your name here) as the project manager.” Of course you would.

Over the years I’ve noticed that clients really don’t want to be “satisfied.” Why? Because achieving satisfaction is just meeting the requirements. And even though that’s the traditional definition of quality, it’s a pretty low bar these days. Clients want to be wowed, delighted, or even astonished. They want, and expect, us to go above and beyond given the level of investment in, and the importance of, their projects.

Now, many reading this post might ask “But LeRoy, isn’t that gold-plating and isn’t gold-plating verboten in traditional quality circles?” The answer is yes, but that’s all in the past in my view. Here’s how I see it.

We can gold-plate the deliverable, or, we can gold-plate the service, or both. In my experience, clients would like both, but if nothing else, gold-plating the service (how we do something, rather than what we are delivering) is what I think people really want and appreciate. They want to know we care and are willing to move heaven and earth to get the job done. They want to see us as advocates for their cause, not just checking off requirements delivered on our traceability matrix thinking that’s what project success really is.

Of course, there are those who are willing to accept a “satisfactory” experience if the price is low enough. That’s why, despite all the whining and complaining people do regarding air travel, for example, discount airlines make tons of money packing planes to the gills. Heck, even the major airlines offer “cheap seats” if you’re willing to cram yourself into a small seat, sit way in the back, and have to pay for a beverage. You see, all these air carriers have figured out that the flying public will endure the pain of the experience for the low cost of getting from Point A to Point B. But, that’s in our “private” lives as consumers. In business, it’s a different story.

Even though organizations negotiate tooth and nail to get things at the lowest cost they can, that same client is simply not willing to accept a substandard experience regardless of the price. Whatever they paid, they want the best experience in the world.

Project success, as I’m sure you have experienced, is no longer based on meeting the triple constraints. Far from it. In fact, the authors of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) have added a few more to the traditional time, cost, and schedule constraints. But I want to add what is turning out to be the most important one after scope, time, and cost: the experience. And by that I mean the experience they had when working with you as their project manager. And, it better be a good (no, great) one.

According to PwC’s Future of Customer Experience Report, seventy-three percent (73%) of those surveyed say that a positive customer experience is a key influence in their purchasing decisions. Thirty-two (32%) percent say they would terminate a business relationship with an organization after just one bad experience.

Are you any different than these folks? I doubt it. I’m not. Are your clients? No way.

Satisfaction is what the gurus of quality spoke about all those years ago. But, like everything else, the world has changed. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards once wrote “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” They were right, because everyone, your clients included, expects more!

More insights await at IIL’s Leadership & Innovation Online Conference, opening on March 7th. Join us for keynotes with Q&A, video presentations, two self-paced courses, plus networking and PDUs.


About the Author
J. LeRoy Ward is a highly respected consultant and adviser to Global Fortune 500 Corporations and government agencies in the areas of project, program, and portfolio management. With more than 38 years of government and private sector experience, LeRoy specializes in working with senior executives to understand their role in project and program sponsorship, governance, portfolio management and the strategic execution of projects and programs.