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Customer advocacy isn’t brain surgery … or is it?

Over simplified methods to explain how customer loyalty affects business success just can’t measure up to what history and other sciences have taught us. While it is true that being a customer advocate is not “brain surgery” or “rocket science," it is, in fact, a science and the application of that science can and should have a big effect on our companies.

I like analogies and I use them a lot. They are especially helpful in questioning assumptions and challenging conventional wisdom. I have written numerous entries in this blog about the historical significance of measurement to scientific discovery.   One of my regular “go to” analogies is around human health. That’s because everyone can relate to it. It’s complex, fascinating, and totally personal. Because of these elements it becomes a great analogy for customer loyalty.

There is a great fascination today with the so called simplified ways to describe customer loyalty. Two of the more popular ones are “Net Promoter Score” or “NPS” and “The Service-Profit Chain” popularized by a study involving the Sears department store chain. Both purport to simplify the notion of customer loyalty into something that can be understood by and communicated to many people. NPS states that “netting” promoters from detractors is a proxy for loyalty, and Service-Profit Chain states that improving employee loyalty improves customer loyalty which improves profit in rather specific definable amounts.

The problem occurs because science has never been expanded by simplifying the measurements. On the contrary, you find the real truth by rigorous and exhaustive review of all the pertinent data. Allow me to return to my analogy of human health. The most significant breakthroughs in medical science have come from exhaustive testing, mountains of data, and relentless review and validation. There are no shortcuts when it comes to medicine. That’s because the stakes are so high.

* Think about what it takes to get a new drug approved and how many failures they must endure to find one that really works?

*Or, how about the decade worth of testing, data and experimentation that went into creating the PSA screening for prostate cancer? This disease was a sure killer of middle aged men just a generation ago, but is now easily diagnosed with a simple blood test that results in some of the best survival rates of any form of cancer.

*And, we are just beginning to understand the breakthroughs that we will experience because scientists believed that mapping the human genome might create better knowledge about human health.

Why are the stakes so high? Because the ultimate outcome is that somebody actually lives or dies based on the accuracy and validity of the diagnosis, treatments, and applications of the science.

I have often argued that the world of customer loyalty is no less complex than human health. There is an argument to be made that the consequences of our errors are less detrimental—that is, nobody dies. However, is it not true that businesses fail and/or under perform versus competitors?  If we are not linking our measurement all the way through to long term sustainable business success, how effective can a simple metric ultimately be?

As a customer advocate, don’t take yourself too seriously, but do take your work very seriously. Treat it like your company’s survival counts on it.

Originally posted in Customer Connection on February 18, 2009.

About the Author

Steve Walker

Steve Walker

As the third generation of Walkers to lead the privately-held research and consulting firm, Steve is focused on creating shareholder value for Walker’s clients through customer intelligence and customer strategies. Steve was named president of Walker in 1994 and added the CEO title in 1996. Then, in 2006, Steve was named chairman of the board.

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