The ONE Question To Ask Customers

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Larry Freed really tees off on Fred Reichheld and the Net Promoter Score concept on his blog, calling the book a fraud. I think Larry is too harsh — but I would assert that “likelihood to refer” is not the ONE question to ask.

I’ll propose a different question, but first want to share some thoughts.

Many financial services firms segment their customer base. Many use a “value” approach, segmenting customers by their value to the firm — looking at the number of products owned, or estimating profitability. Others use psychographic approaches to identify the differences among customers as they relate to attitudes about life in general or about managing their financial lives.

But both of these approaches — and most others in practice — fail to identify something very important: The type of relationship a customer wants to have with the firm.

Consumers enter into “relationships” with firms with different expectations — and desires — for what that relationship will be. I put the word in quotes, because in some (many?) cases, a consumer doesn’t want a relationship — he simply wants to buy and use a product or service from the firm. But as maketers, we’re looking to deepen the relationship our customers have with us.

So, what’s the one question to ask customers?

What are your expectations of us and how well are we meeting those expectations?

(OK, I cheated. That’s really two questions. But even Reichheld’s one question becomes more helpful when you ask “why are you likely to refer us?”)

The challenge is in constructing the right prompts for the expectations question. From the research I’ve done with financial services consumers, I strongly believe that many consumers’ expectations will fall into one of the following buckets:

  • Interpersonal excellence. These are the consumers who are predmoninantly looking to deal with employees who are friendly and helpful; take the time to listen to problems, concerns, and needs; and live up to values portrayed in the firm’s ads.
  • Advice and guidance. These consumers are expecting objective advice and guidance in making product decisions and making the best use of those products. They may or may not care if the people they deal with are “friendly”, and they may not care if the advice and guidance they get even comes from a human (versus a Web site).
  • Operational excellence. These consumers want to do business with a firm that’s easy to do business with and never makes mistakes. Again, they may or not care if the people they deal with are “friendly and helpful” — in fact, they probably don’t even want to talk to those people in the first place.

If you don’t know what your customers expect from you — and how well you meet those expectations, then: 1) you can’t know what you have to do to grow the relationship, and 2) who cares if they’ll refer you to their friends and family?

Technorati tags: Net Promoter Score, Marketing ROI, Customer loyalty

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