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Angry and Bored? You Must Be a Customer

Finding out what customers really think is a crucial first step toward an improved bottom line. New technology may help.

Online surveys alone won’t do that, but they provide a useful start. When the business unit of GE Capital Solutions surveyed customers about the experience of applying for credit by telephone, Schauenberg says, “the NPS was a negative 11 percent, which is absolutely terrible.”

The company put a Six Sigma team on the case and it managed to reduce the process from 65 minutes to 4. The next survey found that the NPS was a positive 11 percent, which the company says translates to nearly $200 million in incremental value. “Whenever we put the NPS of a business unit on a matrix along with the growth rate of that unit,” Schauenberg explains, “there is a definable correlation between the two.” Reichheld says this connection between customer satisfaction and growth is not uncommon. “Our research over the past decade reveals that in most industries, the firms with the highest NPS have the strongest profits and the healthiest growth,” he comments.

Customer feedback takes many forms. For eBags.com, an online purveyor of luggage, handbags, and computer cases, a sophisticated survey process focuses more on customer reaction to the products than to the service itself. Within 21 days of purchase, customers receive an E-mail asking them to rate the product on four attributes (appearance, durability, utility, and price/value) and assign a 1–10 ranking for each. “Then we ask the key question,” says eBags CFO Mark DeOrio: “Would you purchase this product again?”

Customers seem happy to oblige — in fact, nearly a third respond. Popular products have hundreds and even thousands of customer ratings, giving prospective customers a reliable picture of how the product has been received in the marketplace. Additional features, such as customer reviews (“The pockets are comfortable and it holds my gear without becoming too bulky….”), the option of accessing just the negative reviews, and a customer assessment as to whether a given review was helpful to them all help to foster what DeOrio calls “an open and frank approach to shopping that is fundamental to our value proposition.”

The company’s sales are up 40 percent over the past two years, and DeOrio says customer feedback has a lot to do with that. “People want to feel they’re part of the process,” he says. “The customers who interact with us have a strong loyalty to the brands we market. Financially, this equates into the highest lifetime value.”

If “Do you like me?” is the ultimate question, then EFM vendor WebSurveyor got the ultimate answer when one of its clients, DigitalMailer Inc., decided to resell the product as part of its communications offerings. The company, which provides credit unions with a range of Web-based communications services including E-statements, newsletters, marketing campaigns, and more, used WebSurveyor to get a grip on its customer base and liked it so much that it now helps its customers use the technology to assess their customers.

The business-to-business company pays $1,500 a month to WebSurveyor for a multiuser survey-software license, and then customizes the product for its clients, which pay about $1,500 a year to use the online tool to gauge their customers’ satisfaction levels. “They’re using the tool to measure branch and staff performance, in terms of how customers are handled, which tells them where they may need to make staff changes, beef up the staff, or move a branch to a different location,” says DigitalMailer executive vice president and CFO Greg Crandell.

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