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ATD Blog

Winning Talent Development Firms Serve Their Customers

Thursday, March 30, 2023

While it’s difficult to identify any of the 12 winning strategies as most important, serving and satisfying one’s customers must vie for one of the top spots. Without customers, we have no one to serve and thus no business. But, if it were easy, more businesses would be highly successful and competitive. As it turns out, the leading businesses worldwide almost invariably tend to have the highest Net Promoter Scores* (NPS), a measure of customer satisfaction, compared with their competitors.

So how exactly do you achieve a high NPS? Part of the underlying formula is an unswerving cultural commitment to customer satisfaction and obtaining their equally unswerving loyalty. Usually, this means abiding by that age-old saying “the customer is always right,” whether this is the case. Yet, this mental mindset is a starting foundation and likely to achieve higher customer satisfaction than the obverse. Second, the offer itself, whether a product or service, must continually meet and even exceed the customer’s expectations. It must stand out competitively in terms of quality, price, and value. Third, you must establish internal processes that make it easy for customers to acquire, use, reuse, and dispose of whatever product or service is offered.

As we know, this is often easier said than done. But relatively simple guidelines can ensure loyal customers. Perhaps the most important is knowing who these are. There are buyers, decision-makers, and users in most industries, and these often aren’t necessarily the same people. But each may have a role in the purchasing process. Buyers, typically from the purchasing department, use only price as the most important criteria for purchase decisions. Decision-makers usually prioritize strategic return, or ROI, as their guiding criteria. And, to the extent users are not the same as the former two groups, they are more likely to value what the offer does for them in providing the skills and knowledge to improve their performance. For all three groups, however, there appears to be common criteria linking them, guided by the “less is more” mantra. That is, teach employees what they must know to perform their best and do so as stress-free, quickly, and cheaply as possible.

It is relatively easy to lose your customers quickly if all the above aren’t consistently met. Customer loyalty is hard to achieve but harder to maintain as the expectations and demand for service increase. So here are some surefire ways to lose customers:

  • Overpromise and underdeliver.
  • Tell them they are wrong.
  • Be rigid and inflexible.
  • Nickel and dime them.
  • Don’t listen.
  • Don’t be available.
  • Violate their confidentiality.
  • Keep supporting information to yourself.
  • Overcharge inexplicably.
  • Bad-mouth your competitors.
  • Believe you have the best solution.
  • Don’t renew an old and tired offer.

On the other hand, although perhaps heresy in any industry, some customers must be fired. They are not worth the time and effort required to satisfy their needs and demands. There are many reasons justifying such action, including lack of integrity, professionalism, and interpersonal skill. These usually aren’t difficult to assess because they usually interfere with delivering what was promised. So perhaps the most important guidance, ironically, when firing a customer is how to do this in a professional and interpersonally skilled manner. Here are the only four options you have.

  • Say goodbye by completing what you currently do for them.
  • Confront the client with your concerns, laying out the situation honestly and transparently.
  • Negotiate a settlement if there is any contention about your deliverables.
  • Grin and bear it by simply sticking it out with the client, hoping no other similar situations arise.

Lastly, in settling any customer challenges wherein things aren’t going according to plan, four service recovery strategies will help to further serve both your and the customer’s best interests. These are based on two situational elements: 1) the “severity” of the situation to the client, and 2) whose “fault” it is. When these are laid out, it looks like the following:

Cohen Customer Service.png
The possible actions within the four strategies vary but can be filled in with basic common sense. Service recovery strategies, whether these or others, should be well thought through with criteria for each laid out so you can quickly resolve any issues and move forward.


As you review how you serve your customers, ask yourself to what extent you have covered the bases and established criteria for determining who you are serving, how your offer meets their expectations, what you can do to ensure you keep them, and in the hopefully rare case, under what circumstances would you fire some.

*NPS is calculated on a 0 to 10 continuum from lowest to highest rating on the simple question to customers: “Would you recommend X company? The computation is taken by subtracting the percentage of Detractors (ratings 0 to 6) from the percentage of Promotors (ratings 9 and 10). For example, if 60 percent of your survey respondents fall into the Promotor rating range but 40 percent fall into the Detractor range, the NPS is 20. Obviously, the bigger this gap, the higher the NPS. NPS scores above 50 are considered very good but leading companies frequently post in the 80s or 90s.

About the Author

Steve Cohen is founder and principal of the Strategic Leadership Collaborative, a private consulting practice focused on business strategy and development. A 40+ year veteran of the talent development industry, largely on the supplier side, he has demonstrated a proven track record for building equity by growing top and bottom-line performance for eight different consulting enterprises in the education and training industry he has either founded and/or led. He has been called on to consult with numerous firms needing strategic planning guidance, business coaching, and board advisory services.

His first book, The Complete Guide to Building and Growing a Talent Development Firm, was published by ATD in 2017. His recent follow-up, 12 Winning Strategies for Building a Talent Development Firm is now available on Amazon.

He can be reached at: 952.942.7291 or [email protected].

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