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Customer Strategy: It’s not just a survey anymore!

In this entry, I’m going to start on a new theme that I have been thinking a lot about lately. I intend to return to musing on it from time to time—like I do on measurement analogies, the history of applied sciences and other random thoughts that this blog allows me to opine upon. While much of my background is rooted in survey research, I have long been concerned that survey thinking limits our ability to envision and embrace all that customer information can provide an organization, especially in a business-to-business environment.

Using customer information to drive your business strategy, attract and retain better customers and improve your business performance is proving to be a key differentiator for many industry leading companies. By better understanding of the needs of their customers, these companies create solutions which are desired by their customers. In the process they earn the loyalty from these customers because they are viewed as business partners, problem solvers and trusted advisors.  Said in perhaps a simpler and more succinct way, the beneficial outcome of developing a loyalty leading strategy is that you get better customers who are willing to pay you a premium because you help them achieve what they are trying to accomplish.

An essential input into improving our customer understanding is accurate and reliable information.   For most of us that grew up in this business, that has traditionally meant survey research, but in today’s environment, it is much too limiting to think of customer information in those terms.   While use of survey techniques and methodologies remain at the core of collecting the information, there are several legacies that we need to revisit as follows:

1.       Instead of “sampling” we are “defining our marketplace”. We should not be taking samples or even describing what we do in terms of randomness. To the contrary, we should be aspiring to define our marketplace inside of our database and populate it with all the appropriate information we would want about each customer and update it no less than annually.

2.       “Response rate” should become “marketplace coverage”. We should stop talking about how good (or bad) our response rate is. Instead we should be on a continuous-improvement effort to maximize our coverage of the essential elements desired in our “defined marketplace” (see item 1 above). Furthermore, we should seek to have the highest levels of coverage in the segments of the business that are most important to us.

3.       “Analyzing the data” will now become “action planning in-and-out puts”. Way too much emphasis is placed on the output—how to present it, who to present it to, what to call it and when to use it. The word "output" even suggests what it far too often becomes—the end of the process. In our new frame of mind, this is a pivotal event that should be considered both a beginning—to a next cycle of dialogue, collaboration, and shared visioning—as well as an assessment—of the progress and improvements made in the prior period.

Survey research has given us many good tools, methods, and lessons which are useful for helping our companies become better at attracting and retaining good customers. However, there are pitfalls that can doom what should be mission-critical management information back to the pile of “interesting” reports left in a file cabinet somewhere.     

Orginally posted in Customer Connection on March 10, 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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