A positive customer experience turns customers into advocates.

My September column, “Successful Organizations are Customer-Centric,” received some interesting feedback so I wanted to follow up.

We all realize how frustrating it can be when an interaction with a company doesn’t materialize the way we expect. Is there anyone who hasn’t spent several minutes on hold with a call center, only to feel the relief of finally talking to a real person dashed after being informed that you need to call another number to resolve your particular situation? What about going through an excruciating process completing pages of online forms, only to stumble at the final hurdle and have to start over?

What does this have to do with quality? The quality movement, thanks in large part to people like Drs. J.M. Juran, W.E. Deming and A.V. Feigenbaum, has made huge improvements in the performance, reliability and consistency of today’s products and services. The fruits of these efforts have resulted in huge benefits for companies and customers alike. Everyone has come to expect high-quality products. I can’t remember the last time I was in a car that broke down, or had a flat tire.

That’s precisely the problem. How can you differentiate your company when your competitor’s products are of similar quality? I’m not going to switch cars for another manufacturer’s three-year warranty when I haven’t been stranded on the shoulder of the road in the last 20 years.

Juran and Deming were correct when they said, in about the same words, that the customer’s definition of quality is the only one that matters. You know what quality means to your company, but do you know what it means to your customers? By incorporating the voice of the customer into your business improvement activities, you benefit from this invaluable perspective. Customers can tell you what they value about your core products and the supporting services that make up their personal experience.

Combining external measures from your customers with internal quality metrics has the potential to improve business performance and continuously outpace your competitors. Your organization probably already conducts periodic customer-satisfaction surveys. You likely receive reports that your customers are fairly satisfied, and they should be, because your company delivers a quality product.

Unfortunately, customer satisfaction isn’t a good indicator that customers will continue to use your company’s products. Customers who are merely satisfied are easy for your competitors to entice away, or they may leave just to make a change. In fact studies have shown that 70% of customers turn to your competitors because of poor service quality, not poor product quality.

To be successful, companies must commit to transform satisfied customers into loyal customers, and turn loyal customers into advocates. Even before prospects become customers, you need to start addressing their expectations. Once they become customers, your goal is to deliver what you promised and ensure that they’re satisfied. Beyond satisfaction, you must strive to ensure that you consistently deliver positive experiences and build a strong relationship. When you build loyalty your customers will overlook occasional failings. Outcomes don’t always go as planned, but a loyal customer believes that your company is striving to do its best and will be understanding if you are diligently working to resolve the problem.

Advocates are even more valuable. They are so impressed with your company that they are willing to stake their own reputation on endorsing your product to their friends. Advocacy is the best predictive indicator that your organization is delivering product and service experiences that are important to your customers.

There’s little doubt that turning your prospects into loyal customers and advocates is good for business. The question is, “What does it take to achieve this goal?” Unfortunately, it’s not easy-if it were, everybody would already be doing it.

Transforming customers to advocates means delivering a positive experience each and every time the customer interacts with your organization. On the occasions where customer experiences don’t go as planned, your organization must do whatever it takes to quickly turn a potential negative transaction into a positive.

Delivering positive customer experiences is the reason your business exists. (If you don’t believe this try doing without customers for a month.) It’s particularly important that companies focus on the people and systems that the customers interact with most often.

If customers have a problem, it doesn’t matter if the data are statistically significant. Deal with it or risk losing them as customers-and having them tell all their friends and family about their bad experiences. Fix their problems to create advocates and customers for life. In fact companies should understand the “customer for life” metric.

Quality professionals are uniquely positioned to help our organizations transform into truly customer-centric businesses and help move our customers from satisfied to loyal and onto the advocate stage. It’s good for business and everyone wins!