Customers don't just buy products; they buy promises.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but no business can exist without customers. For the majority of companies there is a realization that its lifeblood is its customers.

In actuality, virtually all quality management approaches, regardless of being product or service oriented, focus on the customer, but this doesn’t mean they are customer-driven or committed to delivering customer-value. Because external customers have free will and can generally do business anywhere, it is no longer adequate just to meet customer needs. It is about creating a rewarding experience that comes from being customer-driven with a commitment to delivering value as perceived by the customer.

In today’s environment, the customer is concerned with more than the quality of the product or service. Certainly the quality of the product or service is fundamental to survival, but from the perspective of the customer, customer service transcends the product or service that an organization provides. Customer service is becoming a predominant factor in the buying decision and often exceeds price consideration.

Customer service is often a primary factor that separates one organization from another and, in many cases, exceptional customer service has justified an organization to charge premium prices for its products or services. Many organizations still act, however, as though all it takes to attract or retain customers is to offer a good product or service at a reasonable price. It takes more than great products and services to keep customers coming back. Organizations must create the ultimate customer experience.

What does the ultimate customer experience look like? Maybe it’s an individual making a personal connection with a customer on behalf of the business. Perhaps it’s an employee going out of the way to make sure a customer has everything needed and is more than satisfied with the transaction. Essentially, it’s an organization keeping its promise-whether that promise is implied or stated outright.

Organizations that are customer-centric have an embedded culture of serving its customers. It’s not something that happens quickly. The following are some considerations to improve customers’ perceptions of quality customer service, establish the proper culture and solidify brand loyalty.

Executive management must set the tone. They must display a visible commitment to champion exemplary customer service. This commitment must be demonstrated with personal actions and appropriate funding to support the effort.

Strategic plans, goals and objectives re-inforce the vision and mission statements. These plans are cascaded downward into tactical actions to support the goals and objectives. A system of tracking, measuring, analyzing and reporting the voice of the customer ensures effective deployment of customer-centered actions.

Exceptional customer service begins within an organization. When internal customers receive quality service from internal providers, the results are typically transferred to external customers. Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa, a pioneer in Japanese quality, stressed that the next operation should be considered the customer. Every function in an organization is both a receiver and provider of products or services. With everyone focused on delivering expectations, there will be a positive output to the customer.

Years ago this author initiated the idea that “if the external customer is king, surely the internal customer is a prince.” People were trained to be aware of their role in the customer-centered process and encouraged to be owners of their process. Results of this effort had a significant impact to the bottom line.

Empower the total organization to provide the best service possible. Not long ago a study revealed that 70% of customers leave a brand due to poor service quality, not poor product quality. Customer-contact employees need to understand that each interaction is a moment of truth in which customers get an impression, good or bad, of the organization. Companies that invest in training that stresses how to handle these situations generate significantly higher profits than those that don’t.

Customer retention is as important as attracting new customers. Organizations need to think about the lifetime worth of a loyal customer. If a family spends $125 per week at its favorite grocery store for the next 20 years, they’re worth $130,000 to that business.

Knowledge of your customer’s experience is powerful. If your organization improves their customer’s level of service, the rewards will come to your bottom line through customer retention and repeat business. It’s just good business, so why isn’t every organization customer-centric?