By Robert Craven, MD at The Directors’ Centre

Start-ups and early-stage businesses are in a unique position to out-manoeuvre existing less nimble, larger businesses who consistently fail to give customers what they want. The smaller businesses should be more flexible, nimble and responsive to customer needs. The emphasis must be on the word should.

Twelve years of polls and surveys (The ‘Mind The Gap’ Research, 2014) reveal there is a significant gap between what companies believe they deliver, and what customers believe they receive - the service delivery gap.

80% of companies reported that they deliver an above-average customer experience. Yet, only 14% of the same companies believe that their clients think they received an above-average customer experience. That is a service delivery gap of 66%.

When asked, the actual clients (in a smaller dataset) supported the companies’ views about the customer’s experience: only 11% of the actual clients felt they received an above-average experience.
How can businesses be so wildly over-zealous about their product or service? How come so few customers are delighted? Is the reality simply that most customer experiences are pretty poor?

Rather than seeing the gap as something wrong, the more entrepreneurial businesses will see it as a golden opportunity to be exploited. The message from the research is that most businesses believe they are pretty good. But… they are not.

So, first we need to understand why such a gap would occur. While there are many reasons I think that the key ones are as follows:

• Basic blindness or inability to take on customer feedback
• Being too much in love with one’s own product/service
• Not being close enough to the customer
• Failure to track and monitor every step of the customer journey
• Preoccupation with hard measures and statistics
• Inability to believe that there could be a better way of delivering.

While this is not a list of unique sins, one can see that the businesses in question have become removed and remote from their customers and clients. This happens so easily.

What I do know is that many businesses, at any stage, are too much in love with what they do. They work so hard on creating the near-perfect solution that they forget to see things from the customers’ point of view. Be warned.

There are some key points to take away:

• Excellent customer service is difficult to deliver: easy to describe, it seems to be much harder to deliver, consistently.
• Business myopia and communication gaps: businesses seem to be blind to what the customer really wants or needs.
• Confusing products and services with markets and customers: the business needs to see the product/service through the eyes of the customer.
• Similarity and five-year-old-itis: too many similar-looking businesses selling similar products and services. Too many businesses are still working with five-year-old assumptions
• Hard vs soft thinking paradox: It is argued that hard-thinking (measuring and analysing accounts) conflicts with soft-thinking (relationships and service).

Is there a moral to this story? Is the moral that we shouldn’t get too complacent? We shouldn’t make assumptions? Well, in an ideal world, your younger business should be able to get closer to their client. You should be more attuned to delivering what they want rather than what you think they want. But as I said, should is a loaded word.


In some senses, the solutions feel like a return to the basics of a first year Marketing 101 course. Somewhere along the way, businesses have lost the plot.

The key is to design the customer journey through the eyes of the customer. The following strategies and initiatives will start to address the service delivery gap issues:

• Get customer-centric
• Identify key target customers
• Create a clear value proposition and a clear message and voice
• Design and align sales, marketing and operations
• Use the appropriate channels to communicate.

In the world of David and Goliath, it is the speed and size of David that can win the day. You can attack your competitors by focusing on the gap between what they believe they deliver and the reality. However, make sure that no such gap exists in your own business.

Download: http://www.directorscentre.co.uk/downloads/20140423/download