Retention tension: how to keep your finger on the customer’s pulse

We’ve got a long way to go in New Zealand when it comes to managing B2B customer relationships. Overseas, particularly in the UK, Joe Public won’t settle for substandard service and is typically very vocal when it comes to dishing out feedback. Whilst being on the receiving end of this is never a pleasant experience, it comes with two extra lifelines. First, a second chance to do right by that one customer and, secondly, the opportunity to spare future customers from a similar experience.

In New Zealand we behave differently. Rather than voicing issues with our suppliers when they arise we choose to operate a secret system of black marks—and once their number’s up we’re out of there. Suppliers are left dumbfounded and a customer down. Realistically, you’ve taken two steps back as you try and bring a new supplier up to speed. So surely then it’s in everyone’s best interest to change this behaviour and offer a chance for redemption?

On the flipside, as a supplier we do little to circumvent this behaviour. Very few businesses in New Zealand actively ask their customers for feedback. They assume (incorrectly) their customers would speak up if there was a problem; the reality is only eight percent ever will, according to Perceptive Insight research.

Feedback mechanisms serve to release any mounting pressure as those black marks build up. Fail to release the pressure and you’ll have a very upset customer on your hands who will take their opinion to the market. With only two degrees of separation in New Zealand this can spell bad news for your business and disaster if the opinion is amplified via social media.

That said, taking action should come with a big warning label: if you ask your customers for their feedback you must act on it. The damage to your brand by failing to act will be huge, leaving you worse off than if you’d kept with the status quo of maintaining radio silence. My advice for any organisation thinking about introducing a customer feedback channel is to lobby and secure internal support. Without this you don’t stand a chance.

Going with a single annual client survey is so 2005. The biggest gripe I have with them is they don’t allow you to keep your finger on the pulse of what is really going on. There is also a tendency for businesses to compensate on the low frequency by asking more questions. The process therefore becomes intrusive and laborious, which penalises engagement rates. I’m an advocate of short, sharp, regular polling, as there’s less chance of that pressure building up.

If you are like me you’ll want to be able to measure the success. Make sure you include a measure that allows you to track and compare performance, so you can see the impact of your changes but also set future performance targets. Net Promoter Score gets my vote. Some would argue this, but I believe as long as it is used in conjunction with a qualifying open-ended question then it does the job well.

There is no shortage of software companies pushing customer feedback tools. The problem is that many of them are using market research tools incorrectly. I came across one that had incorporated the Net Promoter Score (a good thing) but had the scale incorrectly going from 1-10 (the scale should start from 0). They also tend to rely on a series of algorithms to calculate the results, but don’t allow for the human science necessary to factor in qualitative data. So how do you decide?

In my opinion your best bet is a software company partnered with a market research company—or alternatively a market research company that has invested in developing its own proprietary software. Having the backing of a reputable market research company provides assurance that that the right information is captured and then accurately interpreted. There’s also the security that comes with knowing they are governed by a professional code of ethics. As far as I’m aware, there is only one company in New Zealand that ticks all the boxes.

Competition is increasing and your customers are somebody else’s prospects. Retention has never been more important. Fact.

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