In talking with prospective clients, we frequently encounter similar perceptions about research surveys. Clients have become accustomed (through their use of previous satisfaction or market surveys) to the idea that they can gain important insights from a standard set of survey questions and, in some cases, it even equips them with the ability to compare their ‘score’ with that of their competitors. Perfect, right?
Not so fast. The very notion that any old generic survey could provide key insights relevant to a company’s current situation makes us quiver and recoil in horror.
Umbrella surveys with the ability to compare scores are based on a “Normative Database,” whereby data has been aggregated over time to produce averages or themes that are asserted as the ‘norm’. These norms become the basis that drives both standard repeatable questions, and the scores collected over time against which you compare yourself.
The reason these surveys are so popular in the first place is the result of clever marketing. Providers of such approaches know that they’re relatively low maintenance and inexpensive to build. They’re then presented as the gold standard for determining brand position, and managers don’t care to question it because, well, it doesn’t require too much thought or effort.
However, no normative database or score will tell you when their data was gathered and how relevant it is to your situation. You have no way of knowing whether the information you’re looking at was gathered in the midst of The Great Recession or right in the middle of a boom period. Do you see how that context might cause significant deviations in its responses?
As Greek philosopher Heraclitus once famously said: no man ever steps twice into the same river, for he is not the same man and it is not the same river. His insistence on constant evolution being the foundation of the universe is a theory equally applicable to business. The stream is not static. It is always flowing, always moving, always changing. The same can be said of your business and the relationships you have with your customers, suppliers and employees.
Even though other companies may be selling products indistinguishable from your own, or you share a uniform marketing strategy, or you both provide the same after-sales experience; comparing yourselves against a norm effectively renders your scores as mostly arbitrary. Any trends are rarely representative of the here-and-now. At worst, an overreliance on this kind of database may lead to uneducated decision making and — rather than striving for excellence — simply settling for mediocrity.
Take any apparent correlations you may discover with a fistful of salt. It is merely a glorified exercise in benchmarking. Perhaps useful for an expensive pat on the back, but does it really help in assessing yourself against customer expectations? This realisation often sparks a ‘eureka!’ moment. It seems so obvious now. Why would you willingly pursue a course of action that does not hold up to scrutiny; oftentimes paying good money for the ‘privilege?’ And yet countless companies fall into this same trap every single day.
So, what then is the alternative?
There is, thankfully, a significantly more reliable way to gauge your standing in the eyes of the consumer; and yes, even measure your performance in contrast with your direct competitors in a way that does make sense.
This unorthodox approach — best orchestrated by an independent consultancy that knows what they’re doing — involves the novel concept of firstly asking customers directly to provide a reference point of what they expect of an ideal experience with a service provider in your niche, rather than thrusting a standard set of satisfaction questions upon them. It might sound simple, but it’s critical to ensure you’re asking the right questions, lest you end up with an endless data set which provides no real actionable substance.
Now just what is so valuable about gleaning these kinds of insights and what should you be expected to do with them? Well, now that you’ve been able to establish exactly what your customers perceive to be the desirable outcome in doing business with you and how they believe you measure up to these expectations, you’re also able to inquire as to how they consider companies they identify as your competitors to stack up.
What these indications yield is raw (but deeply rich) data which — upon carefully measured analysis — is where the real value lies.
Not too long ago, we performed this work for a client with 44,000 Business to Business (B2B) customers in as many as 12 different countries. The response rate to our research was high, and by the time we finished reviewing the data, the CEO realised he was sitting on priceless intelligence, the likes of which his competitors simply did not have access to. Therein lies a significant competitive advantage in an environment where even minor headway can be the difference between success and failure. He used this knowledge over the course of three years to direct and mobilise a renewed strategy with focus on improving sales, reducing overheads, and improving his service as per his customers’ feedback.
His company is now the market leader in their industry.
While so many other companies are wasting their efforts on comparing apples with oranges, there remains an opportunity to leap to the front of the queue. If you wish to discover how Promising Outcomes can help you achieve the same kind of results, contact us for more information.