thinking like a customer

thinking like a customer

Abundance Gaps

By on September 24, 2008

In the book Making the Impossible Possible, Kim Cameron and Marc Lavine define an abundance gap. It is an elegant concept that fits perfectly in describing how to take care of customers.

There is often a disconnect between what customers want and what organizations choose to give them. Most companies believe that if they eliminate problems--if everything "works" to a standard--that the customer will be satisfied. Cameron defined this as a deficit approach, narrowly focused on problem-solving gaps in an organization's performance. Closing this gap, using a healthcare example, would be equivalent to the move from illness to lack of illness. From a business standpoint, this is a move from problem-laden and inefficient performance to average efficiency and reliability.

There is no doubt that customers don’t want problems. However, this approach manifests itself as a “break-even” mentality in the organization. That is, management thinks that a lack of problems means the customer is satisfied. That is too old school. Today, customers want something better.

An abundance gap represents the leap from a state of “no problems” to spectacular performance. Closing this gap, from a health standpoint would be equivalent to the move from lack of illness to vitality. From a business standpoint, this is a move from average effectiveness to excellence. Organizations that can close these abundance gaps really win the hearts and minds of their customers. Customers are not only satisfied, but they keep coming back because they want the flawless performance that only these organizations can provide and to have a relationship with the suppliers that think the way they do.

The phrases ‘delight our customers’ or ‘WOW our clients’ have been batted around long enough. Frankly, most companies that say this are probably closer to lip service than real action. More importantly, employees have difficulty understanding what this means. On the other hand, by defining great customer service as abundance, organizations know to think creatively and innovate with ideas that have never been implemented before—seen through the lens of what their customers want. Employees begin to think how they can make life easier for their customers. Over the course of the next several weeks, my posts will give practical, real-life examples of organizations that thought like a customer.

Successful organizations that focus their efforts on enabling abundance understand the way to win and keep customers is to always anticipate how the customers wants to receive their product or service. They have taken the quantum leap from thinking that all customers want is a lack of problems to educating employees that only extraordinary performance in serving customers is acceptable. This is so powerful because it leads to continuous improvement. Abundance means that companies believe that there is a lot more to give to their customers than the minimum it takes to keep their business. When the organization’s litmus test is “What would the customer think?”, they have a system to deliver products and services in a new form that customers value and have never seen before. Abundance is the new model for serving customers.

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