The thin line between delight and disaster

There’s a very thin line between Customer Delight and Customer Disaster.  Which side of the line will you fall on?

I recently (almost) finished renovating my kitchen. We chose Weizter kitchens for two reasons over the other company we had shortlisted. Firstly, they offered us exactly what we wanted – bamboo counter tops, and high gloss white finishes; and secondly, and probably more important, they were cheaper.  Their sales pitch was brilliant. We weren’t even going to consider them, but we had made the appointment with the rep and let him carry on with the meeting. He set up his laptop, knocked together a design in front of us, and banged out a quote which was way out of the ballpark. Then he gave us the deal clencher. If we signed then and there, we would get some ridiculously huge discount which put our dream kitchen within our budget. He had us.

Now, we sit with an almost dream kitchen, and lot of ill feeling towards the company that delayed our kitchen by three weeks before the expected installation date, and a further two months after the installation was supposed to have been finished, and we sit with a kitchen that looks at the same time beautiful, yet unfinished.

After the numerous phone calls I made to Weizter that were never returned to tell someone with sufficient authority about my frustrations with an incomplete job, I finally managed to get the elusive CEO on the line, but only by calling under the pretence of wanting to build a very expensive new house with a handsome budget for a new kitchen.  That was the only time I ever spoke to the CEO. The rest of the time, she hid behind reps and installation managers. So where did it all go wrong?

In technical terms, Weizter kitchens runs entirely off their Bill of Materials. Essentially, a very dissatisfied and almost vengeful customer was created because the company has three distinct departments that seem to have a chasm in their communications with one another – Sales, Production and Installation.  Sales engages with the client, and employs the very persuasive technique of getting the customer to sign what looks like a very attractive, one-time offer. Then it’s off to production to make up the cabinets and counter tops, and finally to installations to put everything together at your home. However, the golden thread here is that internally, the different silo’s within Weizter kitchens talk to each other by means of one key document – The Bill of Materials.

The customer’s requirements is translated into a schedule of what components the production department needs to make up. This is the Bill of Materials. A simple kitchen counter made of a beautiful bamboo finish, and a cabinet with a cupboard and two drawers could result in a dozen entries on the bill of materials. Shown to the customer, the latter would have to be somewhat of a technical expert to interpret and translate that the items on the Bill of Materials translates to the kitchen counter with a cupboard and drawers that they agreed to on a diagram. Yet, the customer must sign off the Bill of Materials before the job goes into production.

And here is the fine line between Customer Excellence and Customer Disaster. Both are delivered in the simple Moment of Truth when you stand proudly back and say to the customer, “Here is what you asked for.” That moment is either followed by a customer jumping for joy ready to sing your praises to the world, or a frowning, confused and dismayed customer shaking his head sadly saying, “But this isn’t what I asked for.”

All too often, that Moment happens far too deep into the delivery process.

Any company with even a vague slant towards excellent customer service would have dissected its processes and analyzed where the potential gaps in Customer Expectation exist, and in Weizter’s case, it all points squarely to the infamous Bill  of Materials. Delivery hinges on a document that the customer cannot understand.  Had the company adopted a more customer centric approach, the signing off of the Bill of Materials would take place across a table from the sales rep and production manager together with the customer, and each would explain carefully to the other exactly what they understand will result in the ultimate delivery.  It is a simple matter of translation, making sure that anything considered technical or difficult to understand by the customer is thrashed out  between the people that will be involved in the delivery.  The salesman should be saying to the customer, “Is this what you asked for?” pointing to the diagram that the customer understands, which represents his dream kitchen.  The production manager should then pull out the technical document – the Bill of Materials, and say, “If that is what I am to deliver, then I need to see X, Y and Z on the Bill of Materials.  Let’s take a look and see if it’s all here.” And on that basis, when the customer signs off on the only document that means anything in the production and installation process, production will make up what the customer wants, and the customer authorizes work on the right components before it’s too late in the process to correct anything.

As it happens, I have made it my life’s mission to ensure that anyone I know and can influence never has to endure the irritation, frustration, and disappointment that I did when I used Weizter kitchens. Following a botched installation that at the time of writing this has extended 60 days past it’s promised delivery date and is still incomplete, I have been told in these exact words when I demanded to speak with the CEO: “The CEO will never speak to you, of that you can be sure.”

What CEO of a company runs with their tails between their legs away from angry customers? It is at the point of crisis that a company’s reputation is made or broken. In this case, smashed to pieces, in my eyes. If you are the CEO of a company, your role is to maintain the brand, confront potentially damming problems, and quell brand damaging fires.

Well, Michelle from Weizter, this is your chance to step out from beneath the skirts of your salesman, whom it seems is responsible for many Moments of Failure in this disastrous job.

It only makes me feel marginally better to know that three close friends building houses this year will not be using Weizter, but alas, there are still plenty people out there who will fall prey to this incompetent firm, and despite their incompetence, the company will remain in business.

To be fair, I must add that I did get a phone call from Weizter that I did not initiate during this process. It was to ask me if they could come to the house and collect a very expensive piece of bamboo counter top that they had delivered in error and left on site.

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