By Ben Henry

Customer satisfaction is an emotional response to the difference between what customers expect and what they ultimately receive. Customer satisfaction is therefore about expectations. If the customer's expectations are equal to the reality, then the organization will have met the customer's expectations. That is, if a customer expects friendly, courteous and efficient service from an organization and actually gets it, then that organization will have met the expectations of the customer.

If the customer's expectations are greater than the reality, then the organization will have failed to meet the customer's expectations. In this scenario, the customer is not likely to come back and a few will tell the organization that its service stinks. Twenty-six of every twenty-seven customers who get bad service fail to report it, but the average dissatisfied customer tells ten people about his or her negative experience. Customers need to let organizations know when their service stinks. They should hear, loud and clear, what customers need and expect.

If the customer's expectations are less than the reality, then the organization will have exceeded the expectations of the customer. In this scenario, the customer is likely to come back and also tell other people about the experience. Diehards will have been spawned by the superior customer service delivered by the organization. A diehard is immune to the pull of the competition ... he/she becomes addicted to the brand. Diehards will never leave an organization, no matter what. These are customers who are not only loyal, but are so satisfied that they recommend the service to others. They become an extension of the organization's sales force ... passionately recommending the organization to friends, neighbours, and colleagues. They purchase the organization's products as gifts for others. They believe in the organization's product or service. They provide unsolicited feedback or praise.

How does an organization make customers feel good about it? By stroking every customer that does business with it. Stroking the customer is definitely good for business. Everybody needs stroking, but it's not the physical one I am talking about here. I am talking about positive verbal and non-verbal strokes.

Everybody needs positive strokes - you, me, the customer. You know the feeling when your boss compliments you for a job well done, or someone compliments your appearance, or greets you with a genuine "Good morning". You know the feeling when you walk into a store and the service provider greets you warmly with a smile that says "I'm glad to see you". You know the feeling when a service provider acknowledges you with eye contact and a smile, and call you by your name. Positive strokes enhance people's self-esteem, making them feel good about themselves.

The concept of stroking grew out of our experiences when we were children. It has been proven that babies grow up much healthier, both physically and psychologically, if their parents touch and stroke them frequently from the time they were born. It has been said that babies abandoned at birth, brought up in crowded, busy institutions often do not get much stroking, with the result that their physical and mental development may be delayed or permanently damaged. To a baby, his/her mother's touch is a sign of affection - it says, "You are important to me."

We never outgrow the need for stroking, but as we get older, we learn to get most of our strokes from verbal and non-verbal communication instead of physical touching. A common example of a verbal stroke is when you say to the customer, "Good morning, Mr. Jones." This simply says, "I see you, I recognize you, and you are important enough to me that I have taken the trouble to remember your name." This makes the customer feel good.

There are both positive and negative strokes. Nobody wants negative strokes - neither you, the customer, nor me. A negative stroke says, "I recognize you, but I'm not happy about it." A restaurant customer who catches the attention of a very busy waitress to ask for the check may receive a sigh of exasperation in return. The customer is recognized, but it is a negative kind of stroke.

Negative strokes assault people's self-esteem, making them not to feel good about themselves. A classic scenario is when you walk into a store and you stand there and nobody notices you. They see you come in, but they continue to "labrish" among themselves, totally ignoring you. Then another customer comes in and is warmly greeted and given prompt attention. How would you feel about yourself if that were to happen to you? Not very good! Research indicates that the single most important reason customers give for not going back to a business place is the attitude of indifference demonstrated by management and staff. Any organization with service providers who practice "selective customer service" does not deserve to succeed.