Why happy customers aren’t enough

opportunity-3Over the years we’ve done a number of studies to try to help our clients find out what their customers think of them. These types of studies are often packaged under the term “voice of the customer.” The idea is to survey customers to identify their key buying attributes and their priorities, and see how the company stacks up against competitors and alternatives. They are also quite predictable in many industries. Managers are also surveyed; they often score themselves highly. And so do customers. Companies often fare quite well with existing customers, and even with non-customers, on many important attributes. The problem is that competitors fare well too.

The problem that many companies face is that they exist in competitive industries where all the main players are pretty good. The big danger is that even when customers say that price isn’t the most important attribute, which they often do, it sometimes becomes the most important one. If all the competitors are similar in terms of other attributes, price becomes a key factor in the decision– a point that is often leveraged by expert procurement departments. When price becomes the key focus, margins quickly erode.

It would be unfair to claim that it’s a consultant’s parlor trick, but the real point of the study is often to unsettle what is sometimes over-confidence in existing perceptions. The real opportunity to improve customer preference is to provide a key attribute that is significantly better, and provide it differently than competitors do. But this starts with recognizing that being really good, in your customers’ eyes, simply isn’t enough anymore.