We’ve all been there. A delayed flight, in of course an airport teeming with tired travellers. To make matters worse, you most likely have a sick kid with you or are sick yourself and have to be someplace else without fail. Only it’s nearly certain that you are not going to make it. In my case it was a funeral I was on my way to. We were in transit at the airport in Dubai. And a volcano—talk about force majeure—had spewed ash, like a nasty TV mother-in-law, widely and indiscriminately, over much of western Europe. Which meant not just my flight but every one before and after it was full and delayed to boot. It did not look good.

The Customer Driven Company—Moving from Talk to Action: Richard C. Whiteley, Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1991

So what is it that makes for such excellence in customer care and service? In the past, if there was ever such a time, the price of a service or a product in many ways indicative of the support and care you’d receive. However, competition has driven price downwards on the one hand —even without the recession—and in countries such as India, demand that outstrips supply had driven service quality on the same downward trajectory. This is the consumer perspective. Yet businesses, not just those in service industries, but manufacturing and product businesses, are finding that customer support and service often trumps all the R&D and marketing investments they’ve made.

As The Customer Driven Company—Moving from Talk to Action by Richard C. Whiteley points out, it is not enough to process customers but to please them. Most training teaches people to process things—be it a purchase, a check in or other transaction—and fails to please, let alone make ecstatic the customer. In a previous column, I spoke of Hal Rosenbluth and Diane McFerrin authored The Customer Comes Second which spoke of putting employees first as the secret to achieving exceptional customer service. Richard Whiteley in the Customer Driven Company goes a full step ahead, quoting Charles Cawley, president and CEO of MBNA America, to “treat people like customers". Cawley in a speech he gave at the National Quality Forum goes on to say “...employee is a non-functioning word at our company. People work at MBNA... The people at MBNA are treated as customers... At MBNA we are all each other’s customers."

At first glance, this appears like a certain degree of semantic jugglery. Will calling employees, associates or people or even people make customer delight a reality? Of course not. Richard Whiteley delivers a simple 7-point charter or seven fundamental imperatives for organizations to succeed. As with many great truths, it sounds simple. Yet what makes this book so useful is the illustrations that he provides for each of these imperatives and a clear action plan to implement them in your organization. And most aptly, for the impatient among us, he states these seven in his very first chapter “Missing Ingredients". It is clearly something you don’t want to miss.

K. Srikrishna is the executive director of the National Entrepreneurship Network. He writes about issues that business leaders and managers face and books that could help.

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