Getting inside your customers' heads

A new study offers evidence that you should take the time to measure how your customers perceive your business.

Obviously, the way customers perceive their relationships with your company is important, but it's also measurable, and those perceptions can lead to some very real returns in the form of retention and referrals.

That's the message from a study of nearly 1,800 members of the Web site CRMguru. The study was unveiled last week at the CustomerThink Executive Summit.

The customer perception measurement comes from a complex index developed by Jim Barnes, co-founder of Canadian consulting firm Bristol Group. The index ranks how people feel about their relationship with a business on a 100-point scale. The index combines psychological, sociological and statistical metrics.

"We've been talking about customer relationships, but no one bothers to ask any of the customers," Barnes said, acknowledging that it's been difficult to convince organizations of the importance of measuring customer feelings.

Barnes asked respondents to answer a long list of questions about their feelings toward and their interaction with five types of companies: grocery stores, banks, computer companies, hotels and airlines. Because respondents were members of a CRM Web site and likely to be demanding when it comes to customer service, the results on Barnes' index were about 10 points lower than the average from previous surveys, he said. However, as expected, some companies did very well when it came to their relationships with customers.

For example, Publix Super Markets Inc., a grocery store chain in the southeastern United States, scored a 60.2 on the index. The Royal Bank of Canada got a 55.6, and Southwest Airlines Co. earned a 63.9. Others scoring well included French hotel chain Accor, which earned a 62.8, and computer maker Dell Inc., which scored a 57.7.

The higher the score, the more likely the company is to see business grow, Barnes said. In fact, 58% of Publix customers and 77% of Southwest fliers said they would refer a friend to those companies.

The five industries selected were ones that the greatest number of people deal with directly. The study did not reflect input about companies that were rated by fewer than 10 people.

The bottom line: The results back up commonly held perceptions about customer service. Dell, Southwest and Royal Bank of Canada all have scored well, in accordance with their strong service reputations, Barnes said.

"The major point is: There do exist methodologies that you can use to measure the quality of relationships with from time to time," he said.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Expert advice: Ask your question to guru Michael Lowenstein

Article: Customers grade CRM vendors

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