It’s not “all about you”: A more customer centric approach to customer satisfaction research

The irony of most customer satisfaction research, including Net Promoter Score, is that it uses a vendor-centric lens to evaluate the health of the customer base.  The most commonly-used metrics in customer satisfaction research are more about the vendor than about the customer (e.g., likelihood to recommend, satisfaction with vendor’s service, satisfaction with vendor’s product, etc.) The reason for the vendor-centric approach is a desire to focus on the levers that the vendor controls and can take action on using the data.

Of course there is value in these metrics; they often provide very concrete direction for improvement. But what’s typically missing from customer satisfaction or NPS studies is whether the products/services are enabling the customer to achieve their ultimate outcomes or objectives.  Organizations use technology to achieve an outcome—run their organization more efficiently, improve compliance, provide increased reliability or security, gain a competitive advantage, etc.  Vendors that understand customers’ desired outcomes sell more effectively; They understand customer needs and position their offering to align with those needs.  But this focus on outcomes shouldn’t stop with customer acquisition; Aligning to outcomes is also important for customer retention.  When a solution is recognized as contributing to key business outcomes and objectives, vendors enjoy greater customer loyalty and more opportunities to expand the relationship.

Most organizations have a general sense of the desired outcomes that drive customers to purchase their solution.  And, there’s a common sense argument that a general measurement like customer satisfaction or Net Promoter Score correlate to outcomes: i.e., customers are more likely to be satisfied with or to recommend a vendor that enables the customer to achieve their desired outcomes.  So what’s the benefit of measuring specific outcomes in the research rather than just inferring the relationship?  Here are a few of them:

  • A customer outcomes focus requires vendors to know and articulate the overall goals and objectives that drive customers to invest in the vendor’s solution. In some cases, the act of defining metrics to include in the survey can be a learning experience in and of itself.
  • Customer outcomes provides a more complete picture of the relationship between discrete vendor behaviors—e.g., quality of customer support—and key customer outcomes (e.g., operational efficiency).   With this insight, vendors can prioritize resources to improve in areas that have greater impact on key customer outcomes.
  • Accountability: Rightly or wrongly, organizations act on what they measure. If customer outcomes aren’t directly measured, the vendor organization is less likely to have processes in place to identify and deliver on customers’ ultimate objectives.