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Going Beyond Customer Satisfaction: A Roadmap for Strategy Development

A client who was looking to implement a customer satisfaction program in his organization recently approached Blue Canyon about the pros and cons of different methodologies. This is a question we are asked somewhat frequently as companies look to drive growth by gaining a deeper understanding of their end customers. In our experience, however, certain methodologies have a role to play in customer understanding, but not all can be effectively incorporated into a businesses’ strategy development.

Many businesses today have implemented formal programs through which they can listen to their customers. These programs range from classic customer satisfaction surveys to in-depth Voice of the Customer programs to implementing both forms. However, these programs merely scratch the surface. For the purposes of formulating corporate strategy, businesses need to move to a third dimension to ensure that game-changing insights are gathered from the entire marketplace — existing and potential customers at every stage of the customer chain.

Customer Satisfaction Surveys: Looking in the Rear-view Mirror

In a typical customer satisfaction survey, a company may benefit from its ability to cover many customers, many markets, and many businesses. Surveys such as these are popular because they are cost-effective and easy to create. Being metric driven, dashboards can be created easily, allowing executives to monitor progress over varied timeframes.

Customer satisfaction surveys, however, have significant limitations.  Questions are typically closed-ended (i.e., yes/no, a, b, c…), leaving companies in the dark in areas that may require deeper understanding. From a reporting and measurement perspective, customer satisfaction surveys often can point to general trends in a company’s product and/or service value proposition, but are too rigid when it comes to analyzing deeper trends, such as purchase behavior by market segment.

One of the biggest downsides to customer satisfaction surveys is their inability to be forward-looking. It’s almost as if you are driving looking backwards. These types of surveys are typically sent after a purchase is made or service provided (e.g., one question could be, “Were you satisfied?”). The questions themselves are focused on the supplier’s performance issues such as product quality, or delivery speed, and cost value relationship rather than how the supplier can help the customer solve problems.  The key word being customers—meaning your primary buyer only and prospective customer input is not captured.

Voice of the Customer: A Narrow Street

A voice of the customer program allows businesses to listen to their customers at a deeper level. We generally see these types of programs implemented at the start of product, process, or service design initiatives to better understand the customer’s wants and needs, and as the key input for new product development. However, there are two disadvantages that we commonly see with these types of programs:

  1. Inability to capture insights about the customer’s future outlook
  2. Focusing on direct customers only

Messages from the Marketplace: A Way Forward

Blue Canyon’s Messages from the Marketplace approach goes deeper, soliciting insights, identifying unmet needs, and revealing new, emerging opportunities from a business’ customers, its customer’s customers, and potentially prospective customers through an in-depth discussion-oriented assessment. Having conducted thousands of these conversations throughout the world over the years as part of formulating growth strategies for our clients, we have seen many benefits, including:

  1. deeper insight into an organization’s strategy development process by gaining perspective on the future business environment and customers’ most pressing needs at each stage of the customer chain
  2. gained understanding of how customers define best-in-class suppliers
  3. better connectivity to many elements of a company’s strategic plan beyond new product development, such as new services, new applications, customer chain trends, etc.

Customer satisfaction surveys and voice of the customer programs do have a role to play within an organization, but a continuous flow of messages from the market can make a significant contribution to a company’s growth strategy development. Successfully hearing messages from the market can be a challenge though as it requires supplier commitment and experience to ensure value-added, actionable customer contributions can be realized.

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