Getting Aligned With Customers

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Last month, we started discussing how to drive changes within your company that will impact loyalty. The first topic of discussion was why change is hard and the management breakdowns that can limit an organization’s ability to become truly customer focused.

This month, we will discuss how companies are often out of alignment with their customers and suggest some steps to help front-line staff become more aligned with the customer priorities that impact loyalty.

Without data to inform its strategy and direction, a company easily can get out of synch with customer priorities. Unfortunately most companies have only a vague idea of what is important to customers, and they don’t quantify how customer experience impacts loyalty and share of business. Like playing golf on the darkest night of summer, it doesn’t appeal to me.

To help front-line staff become better aligned with customer priorities, managers must provide a clear marker of where the company is today. Second, management must show staff how the company performs against key customer expectations. Sales staff and customer service representatives generally want to do well by customers, so this type of information is typically well received by them.

The graph shows data from AgKnow­logy’s Customer Experience Monitor. Customer rankings of priorities (and what drives loyalty) are compared to one of our client’s perceptions. Our client is a leading Midwest retailer. The 18 customer priorities we looked at are shown across the bottom of the chart. To protect our client’s proprietary information, I have left out the names of each customer priority.

From the “customer” point of view, our client’s performance on q9n was the most important in terms of impacting loyalty. This is shown in the red bar at the far left of the chart. Moving left to right on the X axis, you can see how growers ranked each experience in terms of impacting loyalty. We compared customer perceptions of what drives loyalty to what the employees of our client believed drove loyalty.

Look at q9o, (second experience from the left). This is the second most important experience for the customers of this retailer in terms of impacting loyalty. Our analysis showed that the management and sales staff of our client believed q9o was the 12th most important experience (out of 18) in terms of impacting loyalty. That’s quite a difference.

Typical Results

I use this as an example, but the result is typical of what we find in the Customer Experience Monitor. If companies don’t know the priorities of their customers, how can they focus correctly to deliver a superior customer experience? Each time we interact with customers, we bring a set of assumptions on what customers need to the table. Sometimes these assumptions are correct and sometimes they are not. Looking at the chart again, you can see our client incorrectly assumed some customer experiences were very important (i.e., the retailer thought they were more important than the customer). In other cases, the retailer thought some experiences were not very important, but customers thought they were vital.

I hear retailers frequently mention that they are customer focused. But what does this really mean? As usual, I will let data and analysis provide my answer. In most cases, this means a company is focused on what they think is important. They actually don’t know what customers value most.

Let’s get back to the challenge of getting employees aligned with customer priorities. Here are four suggestions:

•  Measure. You knew I would say this. You wouldn’t make a fertilizer recommendation without matching a yield target with current soil nutrient levels. Why not measure what your customers really value and need from you and link your performance on these priorities to your sales results? A large amount of evidence shows that when companies truly understand their customer priorities and measure how they perform against these priorities, they tend to outperform their competitors.

•  Inform And Educate. Measuring is only part of the success equation. When front-line staff knows what matters most to customers and then are trained to focus on these priorities, you will begin to achieve the customer alignment that is a precursor to loyalty.

•  Refine. This is the pay-off. Once you know what drives loyalty, you can refine how front-line staff delivers each customer experience. As customers react to this improved experience you will create more Promoters and less Detractors within your customer base. Your Promoters are a revenue-generating machine that works for you every day of the year.

•  Link To Compensation. Once your Net Promoter program is entrenched within your company, consider linking customer ratings of your performance to front-line compensation. This clearly communicates that front-line staff makes a difference in customer loyalty, and this has a financial reward.

Alignment is a powerful concept. The online encyclopedia Wikipedia defines alignment as “the adjustment of an object in relation with other objects.” If you’ve never done it, think about taking your business in for a tune-up that identifies what drives customer loyalty and share of business in your area.

And oh yeah, ask the technician to check where the rubber hits the road, and ask for an evaluation of how well you meet customer expectations on the key drivers of loyalty and share.

Keogh is president of AgKnowlogy. AgKnowlogy is a group of agribusiness professionals, Certified Crop Advisors, software developers and analysts who created a suite of knowledge tools that improve customer loyalty and company profitability.

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