It’s surprising how often I meet organisations whose leaders want a high score more than they want happy customers.
Some don’t even seem to notice the mental bait-and-switch they’ve played when they pretend it’s the same thing.
In order to improve you need what a client of ours once called a “burning platform for change”.
A score that looks ok, even if we’d rather it was higher, means there is no burning platform. No burning platform means no significant change.
Often what gets in the way is a measurement process which flatters the organisation.
We’ll ignore deliberate gaming of the score, or completely biased questionnaires, and look at two more subtle problems.
Using a weak measure
All customer survey scores show a skew towards the top end of the scale. Most customers are at least reasonably happy with most organisations. After all, how long would you stick with a company that you were scoring in the bottom end of the scale?
At the same time, relatively few organisations have a majority of customers giving them “top box” scores at the extreme end of the scale.
In other words, most companies are quite good at customer satisfaction, but few are consistently excellent. Data from the UKCSI as well as our own client league table backs this up.
When it comes to score, this means that measuring “% Satisfied” (i.e. the proportion of customers in the top end of the scale) is a tremendously weak and flattering measure.
Companies with over 90% “satisfied” customers can be below average performers when a strong measure is used.
But it sounds good, doesn’t it?
Both Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) and Net Promoter Score (NPS) will give you a much tougher measure, one that’s more likely to push your organisation to change.
Benchmarking for comfort, not for ideas
Benchmarking can be a brilliant tool for improvement, or a distraction that does nothing but get in the way. David Ogilvy once said:
We all have a tendency to use research as a drunkard uses a lamppost—for support, not for illumination.
Benchmarking is much the same.
Internal benchmarking is a very powerful way to improve an organisation’s performance by sharing best practice and taking advantage of people’s natural competitiveness. Enterprise Rent-A-Car used this very effectively in the late 90s, as discussed in this classic HBR case study.
External benchmarking is useful to help you understand the range of performance that’s been achieved by others, and to find ideas for improvement (Southwest Airlines looked at Formula 1 pit crews to improve their turnaround time).
In practice, many organisations indulge in what I call vanity benchmarking – redefining your comparison set until you find a league table you look good in.
Even worse, some organisations (inadvertently or otherwise) cheat. They use different scales, or different methodologies, or change the way NPS is calculated, or exclude customers who made a complaint, or any one of 1,000 other tricks.
Benchmarking should be about finding opportunities to improve, not a PR exercise.