Don’t try to delight customers


Last week I drank coffee. Copious amounts of the stuff whilst I had a series of business meetings with prospects and clients. As part of this drinks marathon, I frequented numerous coffee establishments throughout London, some well-known, some less so. One visit however stands out from the rest …

I walked into this particular coffee house and was pleased to observe that there were plenty of comfy sofas available. In hindsight, that should have been an indicator of what was to come. I ordered my usual Grande Latte, paid for this and then proceeded to wait for the drink to emerge from the steam engulfed counter. I was surprised to be passed my drink with a small plate of biscuits. I hadn’t asked for this and questioned if I had been given someone else’s order. No, this was my order and I was told that they wanted to “delight their customers” and so were giving way complimentary biscuits.  I was also given a voucher that entitled me to a further free drink tomorrow! I admit, as I slumped into a large vacant sofa, I WAS rather delighted with my additional freebies …. for at least 10 seconds!

As I took my first sip of coffee it became apparent that the drink was cold. A further sip confirmed this. I duly returned my drink to the counter and requested a replacement. Two minutes later a new fresh latte sat in front of me. Learning my lesson from the last time, I tested the drink whilst I stood there. To my astonishment, it was again tepid at best. By now, I was growing a little frustrated however, my frustration increased considerably at the next remark. The individual behind the counter said that they knew they had problems with the drinks machine but “at least I had a few free biscuits and the voucher”. The implication being that I should accept the undrinkable coffee.  I pointed out that the reason I has gone in there in the first place was to drink and not eat. It clearly didn’t register.

This really reflects how some businesses completely miss the point of understanding and delivering customer needs. When working with clients on developing customer centricity, one of the models we use is a simplified Kano approach – using the coffee shop saga as an example:

Unstated need what I don’t expect to have to ask for 
  •   A cup
  •   Coffee that is drinkable
  •   Access to milk & sugar
Stated need what I explicitly ask for
  •   A Latte (or other type of coffee)
Delighter what I don’t ask for, expect or need
  •   Biscuits, vouchers or other freebies

The point here is that many businesses put a lot of effort into delivering the stated need. They can also spend time, effort and considerable expense on providing delighters. However, fail to deliver what is intrinsically expected (unstated need) and everything falls by the wayside. Moreover, providing something that delights today can quickly become expected in the future. Unless delighting is actively understood and managed, it can just as quickly result in the opposite effect for which it was originally intended – dissatisfaction!

As a further example of this, I did some consulting work for a services business last year. They were seeking to link and align their business vision and imperatives with their values, strategies and day-to-day projects & activities. The management team quickly highlighted they were very customer-centric and that part of their vision was about being seen as “best by the customers in their market”. When asked to highlight what they did to ensure they were best, a range of specific elements were identified.  Realisation started to dawn on the team almost immediately when these elements were broken down using the Kano analysis. Ninety percent of these were focused on doing things that delighted the customer, (most of these were later confirmed to be inconsistent and unsustainable). Worse still, much, much less effort was invested in ensuring that the customer’s unstated expectations were understood and then delivered. That said, with this recognition, it provided a valuable wake-up call to the team and it did eventually generate a more focused customer-centric approach.

Delighting customers brings challenges. It requires a business to have deep and clear insight into what customers expect and need. It requires a culture that embraces continual innovation and change. It requires a business to invest in its people and processes so there is consistency to delight. It needs the business to deliver the basics as a matter of course.  Finally, it requires customers (and their insight) to be directly at the heart of business strategy. That takes significant time, money, effort and commitment ….

If sustainably delighting customers is easy, then creating customer dissatisfaction is easier. Just delight them without delivering their basic needs and expectations.

JohnCroninJohn Cronin is Managing Director of Blairgowrie Associates Limited.  A management consulting business that helps organisations accelerate growth through: strategy & business activity alignment; customer & market insight; growth-focused business improvement.

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Listening is easy …. isn’t it?

Listen dog

I’ve been working most recently with a London-based client and as a result, I find that I regularly travel into our capital on the train. The journey is just under two-hours each way which allows me ample time to review emails, prepare materials as well as achieve a little thinking time. What it also provides is a wonderful opportunity to “people watch” …. or more specifically in this case, “people listen”.

Invariably, on most journeys, I encounter those that seem oblivious to their environment and are seemingly happy to share their conversation with the majority of the train carriage. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not overly interested in the “email Bill didn’t reply to”, or how “Sally has been promoted above others”, but what does interest me is how people interact with each other.  The next time you are in a public place or business environment and overhear a conversation, consider the following:

Is the ‘orator’ focused on being clear and articulate, or was this more about demonstrating their knowledge or intellect and dominating the conversation?

Look out for: Continual use of jargon & technical terms; over-explanation of simple things; statements such as “I don’t want to teach you to suck eggs but ….”; one-sided conversations with minimal attempts to engage the other person in the dialogue …

Did the ‘listener’ actually listen, or were they itching to respond, regardless of what was being said?

Look out for: starting the next statement with “but” or “however”; continually interrupting before the other person has finished speaking…

Was the follow-on response from the ‘listener’, linked to the previous statement, or did it feel like there were two separate discussions going on?

Look out for: starting the next sentence with “anyway”; protracted discussions (due to two different subjects or agendas); repetition of the previous statement…

Did the ‘listener’ indicate or confirm in any way, that they have understood what has been said?

Look out for: making no attempt to repeat, paraphrase or contextualise any elements of the previous statement …

Did the “orator”  make any effort  to ensure that there was understanding?

Look out for: failure to finish a statement with an open question i.e. “so what do you think”;

When you begin to listen for these basic traits, you start to realise just how often people are having a conversation without actually communicating. It doesn’t matter if you are on a train, in the boardroom or consulting with a client, effective two-way communication is essential to generating understanding, buy-in and focus. Speaking is not communicating. Effective communication results from understanding.

Many years ago, a very experienced business leader shared a couple of insights with me that have stuck ever since …

it’s almost impossible to learn new things when you are speaking”


“as a business leader, I dont need to constantly speak as I can’t know all of the answers. I need to spend more time listening and understanding, so I can identify the people that do have the answers”

The ability to utilise language to comprehensively communicate is what predominantly separates us from other species on Earth. The choice is yours ……..

JohnCronin John Cronin is Managing Director of Blairgowrie Associates Limited.  A management consulting business that helps organisations accelerate growth through: strategy & business activity alignment; customer & market insight; growth-focused business improvement.

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Business improvement: Taking inspiration from percussion


Let me start by reassuring you that this is not about a new ‘music-based cult’ that aims to solve all business challenges. I’ll leave others to invent that particular approach and make their undoubted fortune through niche cable TV channels and business books. So, allow me to explain my thinking behind the title …

For thirty-eight years I have played the drums in a non-professional capacity – my wife would say “far too loudly and frequently on occasions”. My professional career spans twenty years in business improvement, quality management & organisational change. It was only in the past week however, that I recognised some key parallels between playing the drums and delivering effective business improvement.

When you listen to an inspirational drum track or observe a great drummer,  there are a few things that you will notice time and time again:

  • Tools: The use of a smaller kit rather than a vast array of every possible drum, cymbal, pedal and percussion instrument that is available.
  • Application:  A real understanding by the drummer or percussionist of what each part of the kit can deliver and how to use it to maximum effect to get the best results.
  • Purpose: The drum track drives the rhythm and pace, but ultimately enhances and compliments the other instruments, instead of dominating the song and shouting ‘look at me’. Never is there a better example of less is more.
  • Flexibility: Making small adaptions to their playing approach in-song, driven by how the other musicians are playing and the audience’s reaction.  Adjusting their technique to continue on when a stick breaks or a drum head splits part-way through.

In short, the most renowned drummers and percussionists achieve this higher-level not because of the equipment they use, but how they understand it, use if effectively and blend and enhance with their surrounding environment.

So that all sounds fine, but what has this got to do with business improvement?  How could this learning from the music world, really influence the business improvement fraternity to provide more effective business results?

  • Tools: Focus on utilising a small set of tools that add the maximum value. I find that 20% of the Six Sigma tools available deliver successful results and outcomes for 80% of the situations I encounter. Improvement tools, methods and models are no more than a ‘means to an end’, so always aim to keep things as simple as possible.
  • Application:  By primarily focusing upon a smaller set of tools, it increases the ability to really understand how to use them. Learning the tools from a book or in a classroom is a world apart from deploying them in the imperfect real world. Even today, many improvement professionals overlook or fail to really understand and utilise effectively, some of the basic improvement tools.
  • Purpose: Business improvement should enhance and compliment the organisations ability to grow revenues and profits, but it should not be undertaken in isolation to the wider organisation. It should successfully align with other parts of the organisation, yet not dominate otherwise, it just becomes seen as the “next management initiative”.
  • Flexibility:  Whatever improvement method, approach or tool-set is being used, it is important to not think of these as fixed rules. Consider them as merely guidelines that provide a useful framework which can change and flex as the environment changes.  Don’t be a slave to the tool or method. Change, invent and adjust as needed after all, isn’t that the essence of improvement?

Don’t get me wrong, there is undoubtedly a time and a place for using broader, high-end or statistical process control tools. There are however, many more occasions when keeping things simple strengthens the ability to achieve the required results and outcomes. In today’s business climate and economic challenges, surely a result delivered through simplicity is “music” to the pressured business leader’s ears?

As a final thought, Russ Ackoff, the organisational theorist and consultant once said …. “improvement is about getting what you want and not about removing what you don’t want”.

JohnCronin John Cronin is Managing Director of Blairgowrie associates Limited.  A management consulting business that helps organisations accelerate growth through: strategy & business activity alignment; customer & market insight; growth driven business improvement.

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