The ONE Question To Ask Customers

Larry Freed really tees off on Fred Reichheld and the Net Promoter Score concept on his blog, calling the book a fraud. I think Larry is too harsh — but I would assert that “likelihood to refer” is not the ONE question to ask.

I’ll propose a different question, but first want to share some thoughts.

Many financial services firms segment their customer base. Many use a “value” approach, segmenting customers by their value to the firm — looking at the number of products owned, or estimating profitability. Others use psychographic approaches to identify the differences among customers as they relate to attitudes about life in general or about managing their financial lives.

But both of these approaches — and most others in practice — fail to identify something very important: The type of relationship a customer wants to have with the firm.

Consumers enter into “relationships” with firms with different expectations — and desires — for what that relationship will be. I put the word in quotes, because in some (many?) cases, a consumer doesn’t want a relationship — he simply wants to buy and use a product or service from the firm. But as maketers, we’re looking to deepen the relationship our customers have with us.

So, what’s the one question to ask customers?

What are your expectations of us and how well are we meeting those expectations?

(OK, I cheated. That’s really two questions. But even Reichheld’s one question becomes more helpful when you ask “why are you likely to refer us?”)

The challenge is in constructing the right prompts for the expectations question. From the research I’ve done with financial services consumers, I strongly believe that many consumers’ expectations will fall into one of the following buckets:

  • Interpersonal excellence. These are the consumers who are predmoninantly looking to deal with employees who are friendly and helpful; take the time to listen to problems, concerns, and needs; and live up to values portrayed in the firm’s ads.
  • Advice and guidance. These consumers are expecting objective advice and guidance in making product decisions and making the best use of those products. They may or may not care if the people they deal with are “friendly”, and they may not care if the advice and guidance they get even comes from a human (versus a Web site).
  • Operational excellence. These consumers want to do business with a firm that’s easy to do business with and never makes mistakes. Again, they may or not care if the people they deal with are “friendly and helpful” — in fact, they probably don’t even want to talk to those people in the first place.

If you don’t know what your customers expect from you — and how well you meet those expectations, then: 1) you can’t know what you have to do to grow the relationship, and 2) who cares if they’ll refer you to their friends and family?

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12 thoughts on “The ONE Question To Ask Customers

  1. Pingback: What do customers expect of Banks? « The Bankwatch

  2. I see where you’re coming from but IMO it’s too open ended. Asking the referral question is easy for a customer to answer with a straight yes or no (and therefore easy to quantify). The thought of having to think about the type of relationship that I want with a brand would be a non-starter with most customers. It would with me anyway.

    Also, you could argue that by answering yes to the referral question they are stating that you are meeting their expectations already. If you’ve profiled your segments, you could develop communications programmes around finding more yes type profiles or moving the no votes into the more correct buckets that you’ve already identified.

    Hope that makes sense.

  3. Andrew — Thanks for your comment. You make perfect sense, and I agree that the question is open ended. But:

    1) It boils down to what are you trying to do? To learn something, or quantify something. The NPS question is good to quantify — my point is that its not helpful to learn.

    2) That’s why I suggested that firms (banks in particular) develop some theories about what those expectations are and provide a list of prompts. I couldn’t agree with you more that if simply asked “what do I expect?” that I wouldn’t know where to start (except, in many cases, to say “I expect that you wouldn’t ask me silly questions like this one”).

    3) I think many banks existing segments are insufficient to provide guidance (i.e., segments based on internal value to the firm or generic psychographic dimensions).

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  6. Ron,

    Have you even read the book (The Ultimate Question)? If you haven’t, you need to. If you have. You need to read it again.

    Loyalty economics is not the study of “satisfying” my needs. That’s been the problem with banking. Our goal has been to satisfy.

    We’re an errand. What are my expectations? Get in. Get out. Nobody gets hurt. I would say my bank meets those.

    Ken Blanchard said it best in his book Raving Fans:

    “Your customers are only satisfied because their expectations are so low, and because nobody else is doing any better.”

    If you WOW me I will recommend you to my friends. That’s the ONLY marketing that works today. Period. If you meet my expectations I probably won’t say anything bad (or good) about you. I’m a “passive” that can be easily wooed by the competition. Banks are loaded with passives.

    Thanks for the blogging opportunity.
    I’ve seen you “around”


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