What Customers Want


I recently watched a re-run of the movie “What Women Want” starring Mel Gibson. It’s an excellent comedy, raising the ultimate unanswerable question. Every husband will testify to this. It seems to be a similar predicament for service providers the world over when it comes to the question: What do customers want?

Millions are spent trying to establish just exactly what the customer is looking for and most importantly, what s/he will pay, but as customer service research shows, we are still not getting it right. There is a major disconnect between customer expectations and what they believe they are receiving.

Whether you ask a Baby Boomer or a Generation Y, there are certain minimums that every customer requires. They are so ‘standard’ that when the service provider meets those expectations, we simply do not notice. We only notice when we receive service that is better than, or worse than, that which we expect. Every customer expects to receive the product/service that they paid for. It should be fit for purpose. At the very least, all customers expect to be treated with respect and friendliness and efficiency. Customers accept technology, but when it fails, will a human being please step in and take over? Surely this is the stuff that small businesses can excel at, unhampered by the red tape of large corporates?

It’s interesting that customers are also fairly realistic about what to expect from which service provider. The unfortunate soul who has to renew an ID or passport at Home Affairs takes a day off work and goes there armed with "padkos" and a 100% charged phone. The sense of humour is an optional extra. However, when it comes to parting with hard earned cash with a private service provider, customers suddenly become a lot more assertive. This is even more so in the business to business market, where your service is going to affect my ability to serve my customer.

Businesses cannot afford to put their customers through experiences even remotely similar to that of the majority of government departments… and yet, I am often astounded at the uninterested or even arrogant attitudes with which service providers often treat their customers. People can and will, vote with their feet; they also don’t have to wait four years for this particular vote! It is plain bad business to spend money attracting a new customer to the business, only to chase him or her away by simply not getting the basics right.

Mystery shoppers are a quick and effective method of experiencing your company’s service from the customer’s perspective, the only perspective that counts:

  • What is the experience at each touch-point?
  • Are you easy to do business with?
  • Are your staff responsive and interested?
  • Are your systems and procedures quick, easy and efficient?
  • Are your products and services of reliable quality and fairly priced?
  • When things go wrong, how (and how quickly) does your business respond?

My son made an amazingly intuitive comment this morning that this was the first time I had dealt with my cell phone provider and not left in a bad mood. I had marched in ready to do battle after a month of frustration. The agent was pleasant, patient but most importantly, he listened to me without quoting contracts and ICT jargon. Finally, I felt that someone heard me and sympathised with my frustration. Not ten minutes later the issue was resolved and I was all smiles. Surely the aim of all customer interactions should be for the customer to leave smiling and feeling important. It is a simple equation – make me feel that I matter; make me feel that you value my business; make me feel good about your business and I will be back for more. What is needed to achieve that is often simple human courtesy and care. Get the basics right and treat people like, well, people and you are already ahead of the pack.

There is a lot of noise being made about differentiating the customer and customer-specific marketing, but old fashioned reliability and niceness count for more than you think. Get the basics right and keep the human touch to create a customer-friendly environment.

Author: Janet Askew


Janet Askew

Janet is a trainer, coach, speaker and writer who is passionate about promoting women in business and SMME development. In addition to her consulting work, she is a director of Essentially Natural and serves on the board of the Wot-If? Trust.




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