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Understanding the WHY behind the WHAT:  When customer satisfaction is lacking what’s your first move?

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article called The Dubious Management Fad Sweeping Corporate America tracking the increased popularity and use of Net Promoter Score or NPS.  You know this score. “On a scale of 0 to 10 how likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague?” If a customer rates their likelihood at 9 or 10 they are called a Promoter.  If they rate their likelihood at 0 to 6 they are called a Detractor. Passives are in the middle at 7 or 8. A company’s NET Promoter Score is the percentage of Promoters less the percentage of Detractors. In essence, the higher your score, the better.

The article identified the rise in popularity and use of NPS by tracking the number of times NPS is cited in earnings conference calls by 50 S&P 500 companies noting “more than four times as many mentions and nearly three times as many companies, compared with five years earlier.”  The article goes on to outline how different companies value and use the score, the benefits of the score from those who are fans and the criticisms of the score from those who are not.  

Our take

What caught our attention were comments and examples that suggested, “organisations tend to focus on the metric as the objective instead of gaining the insight to learn and act on, to improve the customer experience.” As qualitative researchers and strategic planners, we believe that strategies should be driven by insights about customer behaviour and not metrics.  In other words, understanding the WHY behind the WHAT.

Most of our clients use NPS as their key measure of customer satisfaction and loyalty but, what we often find is lacking is an understanding of the customer context that gave rise to the NPS score. Without this understanding, there is low likelihood of efficiently and profitably driving improvement. When coming across these situations we work with our clients and create custom approaches that delve deeper by entering the customer’s world.  We talk and work with customers, often including client teams, to get to the root of the issue and help our clients understand the customer context and what’s driving their customer’s behaviour. 


Our experience

For one of our clients, we interview their best customers twice a year asking them a variety of questions aimed at understanding the value of the relationship from the customer’s perspective.  Our focus is to discover which aspects of the relationship are providing satisfactory value and which are not. These short interviews provide deep insight and detail on what success looks like, what’s working today and, what needs to change.  These insights allow the company to generate specific tactical plans that can be evaluated in the future.

For other clients we have facilitated customer/employee workshops to create something new or solve a pain point.  Sometimes, we map a process from a customer point of view and compare it with how it works internally to identify and fix disconnects. We strive to create ways for our clients to engage with their customers.  All with a mind to determining – what will it take? This allows our clients to know which aspects of the value proposition take priority and what they are aiming for.

NPS will most likely continue to be an important metric for our clients.  It provides a good competitive benchmark and is easily understood by employees.  It helps reinforce success and acts as a warning siren when things aren’t working.  Without understanding the customers’ context and satisfaction with all aspects of the relationship, remedial action can fall short or even be counterproductive. Porting successful practices with best customers to segments that are lagging, fixing a pain point in a customer interaction and, most importantly, truly defining the root cause of customer behaviour needs rich detail and insights that come from talking and working directly with customers. By the way, customers appreciate the interaction too!

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