Walker Information
Helping you put the customer at the heart of every decision.

Category: Customer Relationship Strategy

The Year in Review

The time of year is upon us when we will be bombarded with “year in review” lists. Over the next few weeks we will be talking about the biggest stories of the year. Some of the top ones that come to mind include the inauguration of a new President, the continued economic crisis, the concern over H1N1, the death of Michael Jackson, and most recently the embattled Tiger Woods. Then, of course, there were the stories that just seemed to get more and more outrageous such as “Octomom”, the Gosselins, and the “Balloon Boy” hoax. Whereas there is a lot of fun in reminiscing about all of the events of the past year, hopefully there are lessons to be learned as we reflect on the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

What does the year in review look like for your organization? How effective were you in being customer focused? If you were to create a year in review list for your company, how would you answer the following questions?

·         What was your biggest success in using customer feedback to improve customer relationships?

·         What was your biggest disappointment in delivering optimal customer experiences?

·         What was the biggest surprise you learned from listening to customers this year?

As you reflect on the past year, think about the ways in which you can communicate back to customers the lessons you have learned from them.  This will demonstrate your commitment to listening to your customers and using their feedback to improve their experiences.

Melissa Meier
Vice President, Client Service

Patrick Gibbons

A framework for customer listening tools

I don’t believe anyone has the definitive answer on how social media is changing the way we listen to customers, but it’s clear that more tools are quickly emerging. In preparation for a presentation at our recent Walker Fall Forum, I began to consider a way to sort out the various uses, applications, and pros and cons of these tools. Without a place to start, what is one to do? Easy — do what any wise consultant would do. Draw a two-by-two chart!

That’s what I did. And I invited colleagues Leslie Pagel and Jeff Wiggington to collaborate with me.

After some deliberation, here is what we developed as a starting point. A brief description is below.

Content. Traditional methods (surveys, verbatim comments, customer advocacy boards, and online customer panels) are included along with emerging social media tools (private communities, public communities, social networks, blogs and micro blogs).

Control. Plotted on the horizontal axis is the degree of control customer strategists have over the feedback they receive. For instance, surveys provide a lot of control because you’re the one asking all the questions. In contrast, you hand over virtually all control in the feedback you receive from micro blogs.

Influence. The vertical axis shows the degree of influence customer insights would typically carry from each source. Customer advisory boards and surveys tend to carry a lot of weight while many are skeptical of customer insights delivered through micro blogs.

Engagement. The size of each circle represents the level of engagement of each tool. For instance, customer surveys aren’t terribly engaging – you ask questions and you get responses. However, communities and social networks are very engaging and can produce different types of customer insights.

The Goal. The goal for customer strategists is to get the most out of each tool so that it rises in the level of influence it carries. There are strengths and shortcomings to each, so we should look for ways to use each tool in ways that produce the richest, most relevant insights to drive your business. 

What do you think?

Are the characteristics relevant for customer listening programs? Are the right tools listed for developing a customer relationship strategy? What is missing?

Comments encouraged!

It’s not all about you

One thing that often gets overlooked in the gathering of customer feedback is what your customers tell you about the competition. Obviously, one of the primary objectives of any customer feedback initiatives is to gauge how your customers perceive their interactions with your company.

But, how you factor in any comparisons to other relationships your customers have may change the perspective on the feedback. For instance, let’s assume that 70% of your customers view your company as Easy to Do Business With. Sounds great, right? You might even be tempted to take this nugget of feedback and trumpet it out to the marketplace. That’s fine if you have benchmarking information that suggests the industry average for this concept is 50%. But, if 80% of your customers view your key competitor as Easy to Do Business With, then this is something you likely need to work on before you celebrate.

Two good examples of taking what customers have complained about have been used in high profile ads recently. Apple has done a good job exploiting feedback about Microsoft in humorous campaign around the launch of Microsoft’s new Vista OS.


Apple has not escaped criticism, and Motorola has recently launched a campaign targeted at some of the negative feedback received about the iPhone.  


Both campaigns are humorous, but are made possible only when these companies listen to feedback about themselves, but also about their competition. 

The same concept works on Loyalty, and can be even more powerful. In this scenario, if you’re measuring your customers’ relationships with the competition, you can begin to understand how plausible dual-loyalty is in your relationships. It’s very possible that while a customer is Truly Loyal to your company, they may also have a similar level of Loyalty to your biggest competitor. In that case, the ability for you to increase your share of wallet may be harder to achieve. However, if another customer is Truly Loyal to you, but High Risk to your competitor, this represents a very strong opportunity that should be explored to help you prioritize your time and resources.

So, while it’s good to be selfish when it comes to customer feedback, don’t forget that it’s not always just about you.

Brad Harmon
Vice President, Consulting Services

Phil Bounsall

Cannonball Jellies and Spider Crabs

Every once in a while I come across another phenomenon of nature that reminds me of how incredible our world is. Nearly always, these little tidbits have interesting applications to our business world as well.

This summer my family was on vacation in South Carolina, spending most of our time on the beach. One morning, there were a few cannonball jellyfish washed up on the beach. I surprised my kids when, first I picked one up (these jellies, which have a rather solid body that is well-formed in a spherical shape, don’t really sting humans) and second when I predicted that the jellie did not live alone.

Sure enough, when I picked up the jellyfish and turned it over, inside was a longnosed spider crab. It is pretty common that small crabs live inside these jellies. Why? Because they work together to make each other’s life better—the scientific name for this relationship is symbiosis. The jellyfish attracts and kills more food than it actually eats. This provides a rich source of food for the spider crab. The crab, by eating every little crumb it can find, helps the jellie to keep clean, enabling it to live a healthy life and attract more food. The crabs also protect the jellies from other sea creatures that happen by to feed off the jellie, and the crab is protected from its predators by living inside the jellyfish. Working together, both are better off.

Relationships with our customers should work the same way. Good relationships are mutually valuable. We benefit and they benefit. Working together, we should both be better off.

We generally know when we are receiving the right level of value from a customer relationship. We know whether we are enjoying the appropriate level of profitability (contribution to fixed costs, gross margin, customer profit…whatever we measure), share of wallet, growth rate and other financial measures that are pretty easy to measure. We also know if we are getting good referrals or references from the customer, and we have a good sense as to whether they are good partners for us. We usually measure how good of a partner they are by thinking about things like: Is this customer a good strategic fit? Are they easy to work with? Do they challenge us and work with us to co-create?

We should also be clear in terms of the value we are providing them. The best way to determine that is to ask them. Many companies sit down with their customers and interview them about the value they are receiving. Some do it in a very formal scorecarding exercise and others do it informally as part of executive visits. Another way to determine the value they are receiving is to determine how loyal they are. There is usually a strong relationship between customers’ perceptions of the value you are delivering and how loyal they are to you.

In the best relationships, there is not a winner and a loser. There is not a supplier and customer. There are partners. Cannonball jellies and spider crabs. Who’s driving that relationship? Who knows. They work together constantly for the good of them both. I think that’s a good lesson for all business relationships.