Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Multi-dimensional Customer

As this series continues to probe into the area of multi-dimensional customer satisfaction, one of the first topics of concern is the multi-dimensional customer. In previous blogs measures were taken from purchasing, operations and management in many companies through a survey instrument. The average level of satisfaction was determined for respondents in each of these internal departments. When the averages for each group were determined, measured differences between the averages were noted and examined as a macro measure of the way in which different departments within the customer organizations perceived the products and services being provided. In that blog, no concern was given for the individual differences within a specific customer organization. This blog will look at the measures of satisfaction one customer-at-a- time.

Macro versus Micro

The previous blog provided a macro look (big picture) of the satisfaction level of different “kinds” of customers; such as, purchasing types, operations types and management types. In that way the survey could address issues that can best be resolved at the strategic level. For example, the previous blog indicated that satisfaction scores were lowest when reported by customer personnel in the operations area, If this situation is not consistent with the company strategy (e.g., we sell at the operations level), this measure provides the feedback to management that indicates selling at the operations level may be difficult since they seem least satisfied. Thus, the survey results provide a measure of the satisfaction level of different organizations with target customers and can be used to detect differences between the groups (purchasing, operations and management.
As a quick review, the macro measurement can be considered a strategic measurement because it measures (examines) satisfaction levels in areas addressed in the strategic plan of the company. As noted in the previous paragraph, if operations is the strategic area to sell to, then effort should be focused on activities that will assure the maximum perceived value and satisfaction in the operations area. When this measure indicates a level lower than planned or expected in this area, it can be a sign that the strategy is not being implemented to the extent expected by top management.

There is a tactical aspect to the measurement of satisfaction at multiple levels within the customer organizations. The tactical component can be considered the micro measurement since it measures satisfaction at multiple points within a single organization. The micro measurement provides the individual company personnel responsible for a customer with satisfaction measures at each level of the customer organization. Hence each customer can be managed individually from the measurements as well as the macro measurement for strategy.

Scenario 1 - The operations/purchasing problem

If there is a great negative difference between the satisfaction level of the operations/purchasing organization and other areas of the customer company, the difference may be an indication that there is an unresolved product or service problem within the customer organization that needs immediate attention. This scenario will manifest itself when the survey from the operations group or purchasing group indicates low satisfaction when compared with the satisfaction levels reported by other groups within the customer company. One way this occurs is when the operations group at the customer company is involved with the selection and/or purchase of equipment or services. There may be a short term requirement for answers to questions that relate to the product or service being provided. When the company is not available to respond quickly to the request for assistance, pressure is exerted on the customer’s operations group. This pressure may ultimately lead to sufficient stress within the operations organization to respond negatively to the survey. Thus, even though the current products and/or services are performing properly, the operations organization or the purchasing organization is losing confidence in the company which may lead to a deterioration of loyalty and ultimately the loss of the customer when the next purchase cycle occurs.

Scenario 2 - The operations problem

A large negative difference between satisfaction levels in the operations area and other areas of the customer company generally indicates product and/or service problems in the operations area that have not been communicated to the other areas. This may indicate that operations personnel do not communicate well with the other organizations or it may reflect the fact that the location of operations is sufficiently remote as to limit the amount of communication to other areas of the organization. One additional reason may be that operations personnel do not believe the problems to be sufficiently severe to warrant attention beyond their own organization. In my experience, operations personnel do not usually get other organizations involved until the problems begin to impact the performance of the operation. While the operations area may not make decisions about which company to purchase from, they do have influence. For this reason alone, low satisfaction scores from the operations area should be a “red flag” to the field organization to marshal the resources to get the problem resolved as expeditiously as possible.

Scenario 3 - The decision maker (management) problem

Similarly, if there is a large negative difference between the satisfaction level of the decision makers and other areas of the customer company, the difference may indicate a communications lapse within the customer organization. A problem may have been detected and corrected but only the problem detection was communicated to the decision makers; hence, they may not be aware that the problem has been successfully resolved. Experience has led me to the obvious conclusion that bad news travels fast and good news travels very slowly. Thus, the company may have spent a great deal of time and energy to respond to a problem that was escalated up the customer organization (perhaps to the point that a customer executive personally called an executive from the company). After having spent the time and energy, the company often will leave with the operations personnel very satisfied that the problem was addressed quickly and efficiently. They will say that the company did every thing correctly and that the problem was resolved. However, they may be hesitant to notify all the people who were contacted within their organization to get the problem resolved. They may not want the executives to find out that some of the “very serious” problem was the result of their mistakes. When this occurs, the executives are left with the belief that the products and/or services are less than adequate and that it took a great deal of effort on their part to get the problem resolved. The conclusion of the executives at the customer company is that they should reconsider vendors when the time comes to change (and they will NOT forget).


The micro measurement occurs for each customer company surveyed and hence becomes the unbiased feedback tool of the field organization. When used as a diagnostic tool, the multi dimensional survey for a customer becomes the roadmap to real customer management! Since there will be surveys for each area of a customer company, the account manager for the customer should use the information to direct the company personnel either directly or indirectly through the organizational structure. When company resources are used efficiently to manage customer problems, “fire-fighting” and other non-productive activities will diminish and profits will increase.

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