Working as a Customer Sat professional
Much has been said about the importance of customer satisfaction or loyalty with some vague studies on how this discipline can lead to a company’s growth. But I wonder if Customer Satisfaction is a profession anyone will aspire to take up in climbing a corporate ladder, versus a more ‘sexier’ role such as business analyst, financial analyst, sales or business development.
I came from a Quality management background and eventually was introduced to customer satisfaction role of a large telecommunication giant in 1996. In 2002, I eventually led the Asia Pacific region in running the Quality and Customer Satisfaction as there was a renewed focus to instill greater emphasis onto customer satisfaction initiated by an energetic and assertive Vice President who came from outside to lead the division. I would even call him the ‘father of customer surveys’ as he dedicated his entire career in that company on (re) building a resilient customer satisfaction program. Hence a large portion of this global division was to develop and manage customer surveys. From an internally developed customer survey system, we engaged a third party company to be our survey partner for all our customers who were largely telecom operators in various countries. From initial single Relationship survey, we expanded to Relationship (top down) and Transactional (bottom up) survey. The Relationship surveys were done quarterly with a sample of decision makers and key influencers while the Transactional surveys were done in about three or four specific line of business where an individual customer will be invited to complete the survey upon completion of a specific activity. Our survey partner offered web based, phone-in or face-to-face survey types. Since the web based survey was far less expensive than the other two, naturally close to 90% of the surveys were done via web based in multiple languages.
We analyzed the results and put them into beautiful powerpoint slides to be presented during the monthly or quarterly business meeting with the leadership team. In Asia Pacific, it is no any different. Along with my team, we would first review the results with our peers from other regions in analyzing results by quantitatively and qualitatively along with identifying any general trends. We analyze by various segments such as country, sub region and different types of surveys as well as drill down by key accounts in the region by Relationship survey results and attempt to identify links with different line of business Transactional survey results. We identified major issues and key drivers that had the strongest correlation to the main index. Based on the verbatim comments, we deduced common theme and recommendations for action plans along with a recommended action owner.
In the meeting, as one would expect, the CFO will take the center stage and spend say 90% of the entire meeting talking about revenue, cost and projection, followed by NPI (new product intro), business development, human resources and finally customer satisfaction. And by that time, everyone would be too busy to leave the meeting for other ‘more urgent matters’. The few who stayed on would question everything about validity of the data but will leave out the critical question on ‘what to do differently’ to improve the results. Some of the tai-chi* remarks that I could recall are: these questions are irrelevant to my customers, these are not the right customers, this is not a decision maker or he/she is deep in the organization (but it is the country leaders who gave the list of customers to be surveyed), the data is not statistically significant (you would be surprised how much interest they would have on statistics that is so dry a subject compared to real customer feedback), so on and on. At the end of the meeting, at best, someone would suggest that further analysis is required and suggest a separate meeting to review these results and usually that separate meeting will not happen as business leaders are usually busy chasing for sales targets. I am always out of the meeting frustrated that NO action would follow from that poor customers’ feedback who invested their time in participating in a lengthy 40+ question survey in the hope to see us improve. On one occasion, seeing that no much focus on this customer satisfaction agenda, the Asia Pacific business leader decided that we put the customer satisfaction as the first agenda to be discussed. I was thrilled but I also knew that it may not make a big difference as the leader himself did not trust these customer satisfaction data. Though discussed first in the meeting, as usual, everyone played down the importance of the feedback with all talks and no actions.
When Balanced Scorecard was introduced at the corporate level, the Customer Satisfaction index was made one of the key metrics as part of the customer perspective to be measured along with revenue, profit, cost, talent, NPI and so on. I did see ‘some’ focus from the leaders as it had a small impact on the yearly bonus. However, over time the organization learned the results and eventually ‘ensured’ that the results do meet the target every time.
When Netpromoter Score (NPS) was introduced in 2003, we didn’t want to miss the boat and we ‘measured’ NPS. This was accomplished by using the existing lengthy survey questionnaire that had a recommend question in it. During the early days of NPS, we saw NPS was climbing quarter over quarter but this was not in anyway reflected in our business performance even with any lag. I suggested that this could be because market share of telecommunication industry was shrinking at that time and therefore instead of measuring the absolute number such as revenue, we should measure a market relative value such as the market share of our company versus our competitors. There were some debate on this for sometime but this did not materialize as we had difficulties getting a reliable market share data.
As a netpromoter advocate then and now, sometime in 2005 I proposed that we do a simple survey by asking just two questions to only the relevant decision makers carefully selected by the business leaders and the results to be shared only within the regional leaders (and not the corporate). I deliberated the value in doing so as this will give a clear view to the regional leaders on customers’ perception about the state of our business and what need to be done to change that perception to move forward. This was however turned down for reasons unknown to me. Perhaps the company was not ready to face the fact of why customers want or don’t want to re-purchase from us.
Where is the company today? It is no longer in existence today! Of course the energetic leader left long ago as the company did not see any value in a senior leader only focused on customer surveys. This company had the best network product in the world but with new entrant that was not anticipated is perhaps the one big reason for the company to lose out. On customer loyalty front (of course my view may be bias due to my background in this field), I think they could have been a little more focused in building true customer loyalty so that some of the major customers would have continued to stick with the company instead of moving to the competitors.
Looking back on why these company leaders were behaving in such a way, I could narrow it down to several factors.
Could anything have been any different today if the company still existed? Maybe not as the business culture may take years to form and many more years to break. Many leaders of big companies usually get around by using confusing business jargons to stay in office for a long time until such a time that they run out of such jargons and everyone knows that they can’t deliver. Even then, they will find another less damaging role within the company from the many ‘friends’ they have earned while being there for years. It takes a special breed of leaders to hold the bull by its horns to make tough decisions in building real customer loyalty, not the superficial customer retention or whatever other names you may call. It is also my hopeful believe that it is not all that bad as I used to think before. Reading about some of the loyalty leaders such as Apple, Zappos, Amazon, Enterprise Rent-a-Car and Southwest gives me the hope that customer sat is not all dead in corporate world.
Next, I would explore why some companies have used NPS, yet failed.
* Tai-Chi is a form of exercise originated by the Chinese. In the local scene tai-chi would mean avoidance and pushing the buck to another.