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Don't Leave Customer Satisfaction To Chance- Design It There are several things you can do to take control of customer satisfaction, and guarantee good results- even at scale.

By Vuk Zlatarov

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If you run a service-based business, you know the difficulties of balancing customer satisfaction with efficiency and profitability. When the results are reliant on people delivering them, it's impossible to keep all of your customers happy all of the time.

Projects are based on an agreed scope of work and executed within a certain timeframe. In this scenario, a lot gets left to chance. No matter how "good" staff are, many things can affect their output on any given day. Even when you include deliverables in the agreement, goalposts can easily change, and misunderstandings arise. Plus, every account win brings more unpredictability and different stakeholders to manage. The results will always be subjective, leaving you arguing with clients about the value of what has or hasn't been achieved.

It's likely that some projects elicit all right feedback, while just as many end in frustration on both sides. Now, if you're being totally honest, how many of your clients are extremely happy? I bet it's rare. And that's not a criticism; it's simply the nature of running a service business. Maybe you even accept a degree of dissatisfaction as the norm.

Unfortunately, while you might get away with it for a bit, your business will eventually suffer if standards are inconsistent. It's also incredibly stressful as an owner. I've been there myself, running agencies, where we were constantly overstretching to meet expectations, often at the business's expense, only to be told we hadn't quite hit the mark.

The bigger you get, the harder it becomes to keep a handle on things. Scaling a service business is notoriously tricky, which is why most of the world's largest companies sell products. Of course, there are exceptions, like the major consulting firms. Bringing these big names on board might be a badge of honor; yet, I wonder what percentage of their customers believe they received outstanding service.

Let's take a completely different kind of company: McDonald's. Its business is simple. It sells burgers. Every McDonald's employee knows what's required of them, and all of their customers know exactly what they're paying for, every time. In another arena, the Emirates Airlines service promise is built on a checklist-based system of delivery. The beauty lies in standardized service delivery, and building that type of business is most entrepreneurs' dream. Psychologists call expectations a happiness killer, because when the reality falls short of what we expect, it causes disappointment. On the flip side, having an outcome that customers can count on is essential for continued satisfaction.

When I launched my podcast production business Poddster, I didn't want to face the same variables as before. My goal was to minimize the chance of disappointment as much as possible, and deliver satisfaction just as McDonald's delivers happiness– not by chance, but by design, every time. That meant standardizing our service to the point of almost becoming a product. I've learnt that there are several things you can do to take control of customer satisfaction, and guarantee good results- even at scale.

Related: Six Lessons In Customer Experience You Can Learn From Tesla

DESIGNING SUCCESS: THE HOW-TO

Firstly, you need to define every step of the service delivery process, then develop a set of standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the entire team to follow. If you design a robust system with little room for interpretation, the results will remain the same no matter who is delivering it.

Make sure you create SOPs for every aspect of your operations, e.g. marketing, sales, ordering, and customer interaction. The more granular you go, the stronger your business will be, and the better control over it you will have. It also means you don't need to hire the most senior, experienced staff, especially in the early days as the information will guide them through what needs to be done.

That said, training your employees and onboarding them to the system is vital to its success. You're not trying to create a team of automatons; you're trying to build an organization where people grow, and feel proud of the service excellence being achieved. Make sure you understand your employees' key drivers, and incorporate gamification in everyday work that will be rewarded with the right incentives- this helps with motivation and boosts morale.

Of course, issues are always inevitable. Just ensure you also have an SOP for handling problems. Don't risk the issue escalating; give staff clear instructions on addressing concerns, and resolving any complaints effectively. When you map out all the steps in your business, it's like creating a control board giving you insights into any weak spots. If there's a break in the circuit, you can trace it back, and see what went wrong, and how to rectify it. You can also respond to neutral or negative feedback immediately, and prevent unhappy customers from turning into vocal detractors.

With the right set of SOPs, your business can run on autopilot, consistently delivering great service, while you focus on growth opportunities and strategic improvements. Whether you plan to scale your business or not, if you build it with that idea in mind, success becomes inevitable. Your service business doesn't have to operate at the mercy of perceptions if you design -and follow- a clear model with customer satisfaction at its core.

Related: How The Right CFO Can Help Scale Middle East Startups For Success

Vuk Zlatarov

Co-founder and CEO, Poddster

Vuk Zlatarov is the co-founder and CEO of Poddster, a pioneering network of video podcast production studios and Dubai’s first podcasting community. He is also the Managing Partner of Creitive Ventures, a venture builder focused on product acceleration and go-to-market routes for early-stage ideas with hubs in APAC, MENA, and Europe.

Vuk launched his podcast, The Change Officer, in 2020, because he wanted a smarter way to build meaningful relationships with people who could positively influence his life and business. The impact was significant in both respects. After two years, 200 episodes, and a transformational personal journey, Vuk decided to create Poddster to make professional podcast production available to everyone. Now, with more than 500 podcasts and 1000 active creators, Poddster continues to set standards, and drive the podcast industry forward, cementing its position as the preferred choice for anyone looking to start or grow their show. It has three studios in Dubai, and recently opened its first international location in Singapore in early 2024.

Born and educated in Serbia, Vuk studied as an information systems and technologies engineer before moving to Dubai in 2014. In addition to his business activities, Vuk mentors startup founders for regional and global entrepreneurship organizations.

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