Every business owner or leader must study his/her customers (or potential customers for those in start-up or new product launch mode) and gather as much potentially useful information about them as possible. The first and greatest commandment of business is “know thy customer” and the research must continue for the life of the business. We can never stop learning.
The important matter of measuring customer satisfaction and customer loyalty became the life’s work of Frederick F. Reichheld, now an Emeritus Director of the Boston, MA consulting firm Bain and Company, also the founder of its Loyalty practice and author of The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth (2006). Reichheld reported that it took two years of studying customer satisfaction and customer loyalty survey responses and correlating those responses to actual customer behavior—i.e., purchases and referrals made and then linking customer behavior to growth—to discover that a single survey question can reliably predict sales revenue growth.
The big reveal question does not directly address either customer satisfaction or customer loyalty. Rather, it simply inquires about customers’ willingness to recommend a product or service to someone else. While other factors besides customer loyalty play a role in driving a company’s growth—economic or industry expansion, a product or service line that reflects the needs and tastes of current and prospective customers, good financial management and so on—repeat business and good word of mouth are indisputably two of the most important drivers of sales revenue growth and in general, no company can be profitable without them.
Loyal customers talk up a company to friends, family and colleagues. Their recommendations are among the truest demonstrations of loyalty because the customer puts his/her own reputation on the line when making them. Customers will risk their reputations only if they feel intense loyalty.
The customer experience is, I am certain, another significant factor in a customer’s willingness to recommend a business and many actions contribute to that experience. Marketing Departments point survey questions toward metrics they control, such as brand image, pricing and product features and benefits. But a customer’s willingness to recommend a business is also connected to how well the customer is treated by the front line employees—are they friendly (but not intrusive)? Are they helpful?
According to Reichheld’s findings, customer loyalty differs subtly but substantively from customer satisfaction. Gauging loyalty by way of the usual customer-satisfaction survey questions is not helpful. His research indicates that customer satisfaction lacks a consistently demonstrable connection to customer behavior and growth. Reichheld says it is difficult to identify a sufficiently strong correlation between high customer satisfaction scores and outstanding sales growth. “The question ‘How satisfied are you with (company X’s) overall performance?’ is a relatively weak predictor of growth,” he says.
One of the main takeaways from Reichheld’s research is that companies can keep customer surveys simple. The most basic surveys, providing that the right questions are asked, can allow companies to obtain timely data that is actionable. Reichheld goes so far to assert that a customer feedback program should be viewed not as “market research” but as an operating management tool. Below are five of Reichheld’s survey questions.
- How likely is it that you would recommend (company X) to a friend or colleague?
- How likely is it that you will continue to purchase products/services from (company X)?
- How strongly do you agree that (company X) makes it easy for you to do business with it?
- If you were selecting a similar provider for the first time, how likely is it that you would you choose (company X)?
- How satisfied are you with (company X) overall performance?
Thanks for reading,
Photograph: (l-r) Phyllis Povah, Rosalind Russell and Joan Crawford in The Women (1939). Sales girl Crawford is showing her customers the fictitious fragrance “Summer Rain.”