How Not to Create Customer Satisfaction


As Josh listened to this discussion, he started to realize that focusing single-mindedly on the project while ignoring his customers' perceptions, preferences, and expectations was not a route to customer satisfaction. But we were just warming up; there were many other explanations that might have accounted for Ginny's rejecting his solution. For example:

  • Ginny may have been acting on orders from her manager. "Here's the system we need; now go make it happen." In that case, the expectations to be met would not have been Ginny's, but her manager's. Even if Josh's solution appealed to Ginny, she may not have been in a position to approve it if her next performance review was to be based on how well she carried out her manager's mandate.
  • Ginny may have been trying to recover from falling short in past projects. Perhaps, her manager's confidence in her abilities had decreased as a result of these past failures. This time around, she knew she had to get the project done right or else—and "right" meant to exact specifications. The direction of Ginny's career path might have been at risk if she didn't carry out the project as stated.
  • Josh's solution may have missed some elements that were critical to what the customers wanted. Regardless of how spectacular his solution may have been, it may have focused on certain functionality that excluded other functionality that was a higher priority for the customer. If Josh had taken the customer's priorities into account in his "better" solution, he might have won his customers over even if the solution diverged from their specifications.
  • Josh may have done a mediocre job of describing his solution to Ginny. Maybe his explanation was too abstract. Maybe, in his enthusiasm, he omitted relevant details. Maybe he neglected to mention benefits. Maybe he garbled the facts. Maybe he gushed. Very likely, he didn't give nearly as much thought to how he would describe his solution as he did to creating it in the first place.

The end result: Instead of being seen as doing something extra for his customers, Josh may have planted the seeds of doubt in their minds. They now had cause to wonder whether he could be trusted in future projects or if he'd again take matters into his own hands. And he still had work to do on this current project, such as starting over and meeting the original commitment.

Of course, even if Josh had gotten his customers' approval for his solution, he still might have faced challenges. Invariably, exceeding customer expectations has both benefits and potential pitfalls. If you complete a project in a way that exceeds customers' expectations, they may be delighted. But they may expect you to do the same next time around and each subsequent time after that. If you then complete these projects exactly as promised, they may be disappointed. After all, you've already demonstrated that you're capable of going beyond what you promised. So, the very process of raising customer satisfaction can result in subsequently lowering it below where it was to start with.

I'd rarely discourage anyone from striving to exceed expectations if they were eager to do so. But I'd strongly suggest that they consider the potential consequences and plan accordingly. Hopefully, Josh, now more aware of the consequences of his actions, will have many opportunities to strive conscientiously to create customer satisfaction.

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