The Rediscovery of the Customer

Companies seem to have (re)discovered the customer. You might think that companies can never forget to focus on the customer. I can tell you, they do.

Often customer orientation is just the varnish that hides an internal focus. Instead of focussing on the experience that customers seek, they still focus on efficiency. And if they do focus on customers, too often they apply the old recipes and destroy value.

Here’s an example.

A Story about Customer Feedback

I had to take my car to a garage recently.. The AdBlue was almost gone – yes I still drive a Diesel – and I needed a refill or else the car would stop. So I called a garage I had never been to before , to ask if they would help me on a Saturday Morning. They would. I was delighted.

So, when I was at the reception desk of that garage I noticed signs, informing that the car company might ask for some feedback. And so there were suggestions to answer. A 10 is excellent service. A 9 is OK service. And an 8 is bad service. And the question. Would you recommend the company to others? This is a classical Net Promotor Score approach.

I asked the man behind the desk if he believed in nines and tens. And what’s wrong with an 8?

The man answered. He said that the demands the car company made were high. Anything below 9 is penalised.

How do they penalise you?

They reduce our margins.

I was flabbergasted. Here’s an organisation that steers its performance on metrics that are heavily influenced by the car dealer. The experience of individual customers like me is important. I will leave a brand if service sucks. So getting feedback from customers is not a bad idea.

But not like this.

Destroying Value

This approach destroys the intention. It makes the data useless. The approach to ask for recommendations is questionable in itself, but by doing this there is no point in asking anymore. The bias is enormous. Because who am I to deny someone’s income?

And it changes the relationship the customer has. Whereas the reaction will be lenient, kind and empathic in most cases, it changes the attitude towards the mother company. The brand loses sympathy and identification. Being confronted with the apparent toughness of the company puts the car dealer in the role of the victim and the car company becomes the culprit.

Not only that. It also destroys the intrinsic motivation dealers and their employees have. They do it for the money, or worse, to avoid losing money. They defend themselves against the aggressiveness of the mother company. Instead of being helped by the mother company, they are flagellated.

Feedback is Valuable

Feedback from the customer is valuable. It is a source of improvement, or of confirmation. Every time customers tell their supplier what they feel about the service or product, the company better listens carefully. You can learn a lot. The act of listening might even suffice to maintain or improve the relationship.

This company is not alone in this. As organisations discover that every strategy should start from the customer, they want to show to the world how good they are.

But they apply old approaches. Just like companies put targets on financial parameters, they put targets on customer satisfaction. And these targets are linked to financial incentives. And this changes a lot. People adapt their behaviour to get better results. But that does not mean that the effort is oriented towards improving the customer experience. They put a lot of effort in influencing the scoring behaviour.

Don’t do this. It’s an insult to customers and to employees.

If you want to think about how you can use customer and employee feedback in your strategy, get in touch.

Feedback only works when you follow some rules. Don’t insult customers and employees.

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