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happy customers

The 5 values that all businesses with happy customers share

You can find businesses with happy customers in every industry. As Russian author Leo Tolstoy wrote, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” All businesses with happy customers tend to hold surprisingly similar values, no matter how different they are.

Greg Tucker, an award-winning CX consultant, highlights department store Nordstrom and online giant Amazon as examples. Both are famous for their commitment to creating happy customers, and despite their different business models, they have almost identical values. “Everything that Nordstrom advocated for is included in Amazon’s values,” Tucker says. “Amazon has just amended them to be action-oriented.”

Of course, it is harder for some businesses to deliver something as powerful as happiness. For example, people are more open to finding happiness in a meal cooked at a Michelin-starred restaurant, than in a pre-packaged sandwich from a gas station. In these cases, it’s the values that can make the difference. 

Greg Tucker CX
Greg Tucker, award-winning CX consultant

When your internal and inside-out values center on providing the best experience possible, you are pushing beyond satisfaction. Happiness isn’t about showing off. It’s about giving people what they want, plus a bit more. A bit more attention, a bit more thoughtfulness, a bit more fun. Wouldn’t a beautifully packaged, unexpectedly delicious gas station sandwich make you happy?

Like that perfect sandwich, these five values aren’t shiny and loud, but they also aren’t necessarily as simple as they appear to be.

Be transparent 

More than ever, customers treat their interactions with companies as a relationship. It’s a commercial one sure—they aren’t going to invite you home to meet their parents. But it is still a relationship, and the foundation to every strong relationship is trust. One of the most impactful traits companies can exemplify to earn that trust is transparency.

This goes for customers and employees. If you make transparency one of your key values, you’ll encourage employees to be informative and helpful. Conversely, if your company culture endorses covering up mistakes, employees will think this is the way they should treat customers too.

Leaders sometimes get nervous around the word “transparency,” Tucker says.

“A lot of executives say, ‘If we tell people too much, company secrets could walk out the door.’” Transparency doesn’t mean that everyone needs to know everything. It means giving people the information they need, and being honest about your business values.

By doing these two things, you’re showing your customers and your employees that you trust them to use the information you’re sharing in an appropriate way. And you’re proving to them that in turn, you will be upfront and honest. This builds a trusting bond.

Customers have always appreciated transparency, but trust in a company is even more important among young people—your next generation of customers. “That’s far more important for Gen Z,” Tucker says. “They want to know, what does the company stand for? Are the leaders walking the walk, not just talking the talk? It’s always been important, now it’s more important.”

Hold yourself to high standards

The difference between businesses with satisfied customers and those with happy customers are the level of standards you’re willing to accept. Customers expect the ice cream, but you need to add the cherry on top.

“If I went to the store, and I bought everything on the shopping list that my wife gave me, when I got home, she’d be satisfied,” Tucker says. “That’s far from being happy. If I come back with everything on the list, and a couple of things that I know she really likes, she’s going to say, ‘That makes me happy.’”

Satisfaction metrics include things like clean stores, easy-to-use UI design, and polite staff. Happiness requires you to shoot for higher standards. The store can’t just be clean, it has to be beautiful. The UI can’t just be easy, it has to be elegant. The staff can’t just be polite, they have to be thoughtful.

This latter point exemplifies why companies who want happy customers have to make high standards an internal value as well as an inside out one. 

Clinton Cohen is the CEO of iContact, a South African customer service BPO provider serving international clients. He’s willing to pay his agents significantly more than some of his domestic competitors because that’s what it takes to get––and keep––people capable of delivering customer service that produces happiness. “Yes, we need to keep our pricings low. But if you’re too low, you’re going to spend far more money trying to recruit talent at that class,” Cohen says. 

Commit and be accountable

Customer happiness doesn’t always have to come from wildly over-delivering. It can be enough to say you’re going to do something, and do it exactly as you said you would. People value this as much—if not more—than being given something extra that they didn’t ask for. “Make a commitment, meet your commitments. Those are foundational things, but they’re where you start building trust,” Tucker says.

Delivering on the commitments you make as a company sounds simple. However, as any company impacted by the pandemic-accelerated supply chain issues knows, consistently delivering on your promises isn’t always as straightforward as you would like. Even if you exclude the supply chain crisis as an anomaly, every company at some point faces unforeseen circumstances that can get in the way of keeping its promises.

Any company that makes meeting its commitments a core value, and holds itself to that value, is already exceeding customer expectations. 

Accountability is the flipside of commitment. You can make all the commitments in the world, but if you’re not willing to let the customer hold you accountable, they cannot fully trust you. The same goes for internal accountability. If your employees know that they have to answer for their actions and decisions, they understand that this applies to transactions with customers too. 

Sometimes accountability means admitting that you couldn’t meet your commitments. Delivering that kind of message might cause irritation in the moment but as we’ve seen, transparency builds trust in the long term. “If you owe somebody a call back, even if you don’t have a result, call them back. Meet your commitments,” Tucker says.

Be respectful and listen

Many companies confuse delighting customers with making them happy—the “surprise and delight” school of marketing. They pour resources into overblown gestures while overlooking the fundamental happiness-generating values. 

“Customers are not really looking for enchantment. What they’re looking for is respect,” Tucker says.

The level of respect you feel towards your customers is evident in everything from store presentation, to software functionality, to customer service, and the products for sale. It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling discount shampoo or luxury purses. Demonstrate to your customers that you respect them by preempting their specific needs and desires and delivering it with grace.

Of course, to find out what your customers want, you have to listen to them and ask the right questions. You can’t expect customers to tell you what to do—strategizing is your job. Instead, ask what’s missing from their current experience. What could you do better? Don’t be defensive: accept what your customer says. Listening is another way to show respect, but it’s also going to help you deliver a more finely tuned product in the future—both things that make customers happy.

Keep learning

The fundamental values that make customers happy remain relatively constant. They are the things we’ve already talked about: transparency, trust, high standards, feeling respected, being listened to, having commitments fulfilled. However, customer expectations around what these look like in reality do evolve over time.

For example, customers now expect to be able to share feedback by social media and messaging apps, or at least by email. They expect not just a seamless user experience, but a personalized one. They may expect companies to have a social mission that aligns with their brand—and they want proof that leaders are delivering on their promises.   

Businesses famous for their happy customers understand that in order to deliver on the values that produce that happiness, they have to keep growing with their customers. They have to stay ahead of trends, and be prepared to adapt their old approaches. Internally, they have to build a culture that motivates employees to be constantly curious about customer happiness, in all its changing forms. 

That’s the thing about happiness: no matter what you do, it never stays in your grasp for long. Working out how to find it again is the fun part. 

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