Are you brave enough to ask your customers how you are doing?
I am currently in the software consulting business supporting Microsoft’s Power Platform. As you may know, I write about it a lot, but for this post I wanted to veer off a little bit from my typical subject matter. Instead I wanted to talk about customers, and their experiences with companies that provide services.
I was talking to one of our customer-facing people a few months ago, who was working on one of our larger customer projects. I asked him how things were going. He started to go into the customer’s asks, and the hours that had been utilized to fulfill those asks. I interrupted and said, “No, I mean, is the customer happy?” He hesitated, then replied, “I think so“. My brain started churning, “you think so”? Do we know? I came to the realization that I always know when a customer is not happy, because they don’t hesitate to let me know. But they never let me know that they are actually happy… unless I ask them.
Occasionally, my wife will ask me how something like her new hair style looks. My reflexive response is “Fine”, which leads to her stomping off and mumbling, “I know what fine means“. Apparently, I do not know what “Fine” means. It seems that it actually means that I am indifferent, which was not her desired response. Whenever I am on the phone with a current customer, I always ask how things are going, and they frequently say, “Fine”. Until recently, I took that as a satisfactory response. But actually “Satisfactory”, is not a very satisfactory response to that question. “Fine” does not equal “I love you guys!” I think it means they are indifferent to the job you are doing for them, neither dissatisfied enough to get rid of you, nor thrilled to be working with you either. It is a “Neutral” response.
When you put your car in neutral and rev your engine, you go neither forward nor backward. Neutral kinda sucks. While you can know for sure if a customer is not happy with you, you can only intuit whether they are thrilled. But what if your intuition is wrong, and they are only “Fine” with you. Are they going to tell their colleagues about you? Are they going to go to bat for you to stay on the project as it grows or evolves? Or are they going to say, “Eh, they’re fine“? Yes, neutral sucks. So how do you get out of neutral?
You can Ask
Years ago we were brought in by another partner in a P2P scenario to assist with Dynamics 365. I remember some call with me and the partner where he was wondering if the customer was satisfied with things. I said, “Well, we can give them a call and ask?“. He replied, “Hell no, don’t ever do that!“. I said, “Why Not?“, and he said, “What if they’re not happy?“. Obviously I love to hear that my customers are very happy with us, but the value I receive from that is a smile. The real value is received when they are not happy. I don’t like hearing it, but hiding from it is worse. At least knowing, I can take action. If the first time I hear that they are unhappy, is when they take the step of reaching out to me, it could be too late.
The Net Promoter Score idea was brilliant. It sums up the health of your relationship with one single question: “How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague?“. Respondents are asked to rate that question on a scale of 0-10, 10 being most likely. It is simple, and easy for them to provide, unlike a full Customer Satisfaction Survey.
From the web:”Those who respond with a score of 9 to 10 are called Promoters, and are considered likely to exhibit value-creating behaviors, such as buying more, remaining customers for longer, and making more positive referrals to other potential customers. Those who respond with a score of 0 to 6 are labeled Detractors, and they are believed to be less likely to exhibit the value-creating behaviors. Responses of 7 and 8 are labeled Passives, and their behavior falls between Promoters and Detractors. The Net Promoter Score is calculated by subtracting the percentage of customers who are Detractors from the percentage of customers who are Promoters. For purposes of calculating a Net Promoter Score, Passives count toward the total number of respondents, thus decreasing the percentage of detractors and promoters and pushing the net score toward 0.”
I think the most common use for NPS is sending it to customers after they received your product or service, and generating a Score from the aggregate results. I am less concerned about the aggregate score, I am more interested in the individual result. I am also not wanting to wait until the end of the engagement to get it. We instituted a program where we ask regularly, sometimes even weekly, during an engagement. It can be automated. Basically I want to take the temperature of the relationship continuously. Once a week, I may ask a customer for a single button press, so it is not a hassle for them to give it. This is part of the beauty of a single question.
How has this impacted our hiring practices? This seems like a left field topic, but actually it is not. We share the customer score with the team member in charge of the project. What do I consider an appropriate response from a team member for a low score? Well, it does not include things like, “It’s not my fault“, or “The customer is an asshole“, or “It’s okay, I’m billing the crap out of them“. No, I want people who are on the verge of tears when they hear their performance was scored low by a customer. Their tendencies are fairly easy to spot in an interview.
You can no longer build a sustainable business on the “Burnt Bridge” model. Cloud has moved us all into having to think longer term. The old days of trying to get as much revenue as possible, as quickly as possible, are pretty much gone. The new game is revenue generation over time. How much time? It may take years to generate the same revenue from a customer that it took months to obtain in the past. Needless to say, if you are not keeping them happy, you may not been engaged with them for very long. Your best customers are your existing customers, and the best of those are the ones that are happy with you. So you need to be asking, “Are you happy?”.
Not being asked?
If you are a customer, and your partner has not implemented a similar program of regularly asking if you are happy, you are not out-of-luck. You can probably get a similar result by pro-actively telling them on a regular basis. It might also be a good check for yourself. You can set a reminder in your calendar every week to send an email and tell them, “On a scale of zero to ten, my happiness level with you today is…“. Not only will this usually snap the partner into focus, but it will be a reminder to you of whether you actually are happy with them, or not.
I would not expect any of the Global Systems Integrators (GSI) to take this path, nor would they likely respond to your initiated “Happiness Notifications”. Frankly, GSIs mostly suck when it comes to customer satisfaction. They seem to operate more on a “How hard can we screw you, before you sue us” model. There are plenty of examples in the news today, so I won’t go into that any further.
Moving to a model, for which the most critical metric is customer happiness, even over revenue, is not easy. If actually requires you to take a leap of faith. Faith that if your customers are really happy with you, that will result in more revenue over time. I also am not blind to the fact that some customers cannot be made happy, they simply will not allow it. Since my goal is revenue over a long period of time, when I encounter these customers, and I know they will not allow themselves to be happy, I will refer them to another partner… maybe a GSI:). Since I can’t reach my goals with that customer, I am happy to let them do the battling they crave with someone else.
What are you doing to protect your future revenue? Let me know in the comments.