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Posted January 28, 2009 by johnspence

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I just received a wonderful note from my friend Miguel da Rocha Cavalcanti in Rio de Janeiro asking me what I felt was the single most important indicator of business success.  My reply was quite simple: customer satisfaction.  If you have highly engaged, satisfied and loyal customers — then an awful lot of the other things in your business must already be going very well  (of course, cash flow is pretty darn important too — even if your customers love you, if you run out of money you will be run out of business – but lots of cash flow is not necessarily an indicator of sustainable business success!). 

Miguel also asked me what I felt about the Net Promoter Score (NPS) process for tracking customer loyalty. I told him I thought was a very useful, elegant and straightforward metric/discipline for using customer feedback to fuel profitable growth in a business — but should always be supported with, as my buddy from Vienna, Stefan Gubi, likes to say, “four eyes” meetings with your top customers. Nothing in the world can replace sitting across the table from  your customer to truly gauge their level of satisfaction, loyalty and commitment to your products and services.

As Mark Twain once said, “The only critic whose opinion counts is the customer.”  It does not matter what you, or I, or your employees think is “great customer service.” The only person who can make that determination is your customer.  And the only way to find out what your customers want is to ask them, listen to them and do everything you can to own the “Voice Of the Customer.”  Through surveys, customer panels, focus groups, help lines, expert users’ groups, new users’ groups, discussion boards, blogs, special events, trade shows, open houses, visiting customer locations, taking key customers to lunch… and 100 more ways, it is essential that you spend the time, energy and money necessary to find out as much as you can about the likes and dislikes of your customers and precisely how they define great customer service.

How you go about collecting this information can be as complex or simple as you like.  The NPS school of thought says that asking a single question such as: “How likely are you to recommend our products and services to your family and friends?” can yield some very valuable data.  Some organizations do formal annual customer surveys, others ask customers to fill out a brief reply card at the time of purchase, while other organizations have extremely intensive customer relationship management (CRM) systems that slice and dice customer data to determine even the most nuanced preferences, but the truth is that the great majority of businesses do absolutely nothing!

It is shocking to me how little most organizations know about the people who pay their bills.  I mean, please try to help me understand who is more important to your business than your customers?  Without customers you have nothing.  You can have stunning buildings, amazing products, and highly talented people… but if you don’t have engaged and loyal customers there is no way to sustain a successful business.  It is very clear, at least to me, that whoever understands the customer better  than their competition and then uses that information to deliver superior service and build strong trusting relationships, will enjoy the most success.

My question to you: what are the top 10 things you can think of, off of the top of your head, that your company is doing to truly own the Voice Of the Customer?  What programs, systems, surveys and processes do you have in place right now  to assist you in forming strong, trusting, loyal relationships with your most important customers?

If you can’t answer that  question very quickly, with 10 really solid examples, you likely have some work to do.

I hope this helped — I wish you every possible success in 2009 — take good care — John

PS — If you have not watched my video on the Six Key Factors for Business Success in 2009click here — and please pass along the link to anyone you feel would benefit from the ideas I share. Thanks so much – John

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