Recently, a good friend of mine gave me a copy of Design Thinking For Strategic Innovation.  I read as far as the fifth paragraph, where the author is describing the effects on business of global interconnectivity, when I came upon this sentence,

“We want more, when we want it, how we want it, and at the price we want.”

This is an amazingly difficult message for a businessperson to receive and try to internalize.

Some of the ramifications of this insight are:

  1. We want real value from our purchases.
  2. We want customized products and services.
  3. We are willing to pay a fair price for the value we receive but not more.  And with social media, it is not difficult for us to find out what others are paying for similar value.
  4. We know the value of time and will only buy and pay for the opportunity to consume the value we purchased on our timetable.

I also know from research I did while preparing a white paper “Because I’m the Customer” that over time our expectations get set less and less by the seller and more and more by our own experiences with the products or services, social media, competitors, friends and associates, and our experiences with organizations in totally different industries.

These two diverse sets of information have serious implications for our business.  They mean:

  1. We have to continuously improve faster than ever.
  2. We need to update our feedback collection more frequently that ever before.
  3. We must stay current about what our customers and prospects value and how we are doing compared to their current expectations.

Unfortunately, most businesses are struggling to keep up with the overall pace of change in their world and have few resources available to frequently update survey scripts, monitor unstructured customer feedback, and link feedback with operational data.  However, as a result of this lagging behavior, they are likely to be working to improve experiences that are no longer on their customer’s radar screen. And they are slipping back, in their customer’s minds, in comparisons to alternatives that customers have or can easily discover.

What should we do keep up with this trend?

There is no doubt in my mind that the rate of change is increasing, especially in things affected by technology.  If you are committed or involved with your company’s efforts to increase customer retention, then you should start working on these eight things now:

  1. At least once a year, conduct a key driver survey for each touch-point you are monitoring.  This process collects your customer’s inputs about what attributes of your business’ performance are most important to them. In the past, many companies did a script review every 3 to 5 years, if at all.
  2. An alternative or complementary step is to perform a correlation analysis to identify key drivers.  The downside is that if you currently do not ask about an attribute you will never know when it becomes important to customers.
  3. Talk to customers.  Ask them about what is important to them, how your business is doing, and what do they think will become important in the short and long terms.
  4. Talk to your front line employees.  Ask them questions that are similar to the questions you will be asking your customers.  Do not discount feedback from either, but blend them into a single priority list.
  5. If the blended list is too long, or “all over the place,” then sort customer feedback by customer importance (i.e., segmentation) to your business.  When forced to make a choice, lean on the feedback from your most important customers first.
  6. Create plans for improving the significant few attributes that drive customer retention.  These plans must include measures and timing.
  7. Implement the plans and monitor progress.  Compare results to plans and make frequent adjustments.  As the saying goes, “Fail early and fail often.”
  8. Finally, be prepared to accelerate this schedule.  It may be a few years, or less, before you discover that the annual review is too infrequent; you may decide that a semi-annual review is appropriate.

What does all this mean?

The pace of business is increasing at an ever-increasing rate.  This means that the things you review and update either annually or less frequently should be put on a shorter schedule. Furthermore, the schedule should be reviewed periodically to ensure that the rate of change has not made the schedule obsolete.