By John Johanson, Business Consultant, Vertek Corporation
Much has been made of relative rankings in Customer Experience Management (CEM). Companies often are more focused on determining how they stack up against their competitors than doing what’s right for the customer. Many CEM professionals and industry experts question whether competitive benchmarking is a waste of corporate resources. But companies continue to make considerable investments in comparative metrics collected from public data, independent survey firms or internal sources.
So, is benchmarking critical or a waste of time? The answer is “it all depends.”
As with any exercise utilizing comparative data, the source of the data must be carefully controlled. As such, public data would be the most suspect, as you have no control over how the survey is conducted. At the other extreme, surveys conducted by internal resources have the potential to be “managed” to a pre-determined conclusion, and typically can’t be as objective as surveys conducted by an independent survey firm. Of course independent surveys are the most costly option, but usually they will yield the most accurate results.
As a CEM professional, you might be concerned that benchmarking statistics will demonstrate that your company outperforms the competition, which in turn will result in the reduction or elimination of funding for CEM. If this is the case you have a major problem – senior management is either not fully vested in your CEM program or has grown complacent with the current positive position your company enjoys. In either case your CEM program may be in jeopardy, and you must invest more, not less, on behalf of continuous CEM improvement.
If you are in an industry with notoriously low CEM scores (NPS, CSAT or others), it is often recommended that you benchmark (if at all) against a higher performing industry. However, the relevance of this exercise is not obvious. This approach might be seen as an “apples and oranges” exercise, and not be of great benefit in positioning a CEM investment to C-level executives. And as stated before, this might erroneously cause your company or organization to take its foot off the accelerator and curtail your CEM program. Better to use as examples those individual companies in other industries that are highly regarded across industries for their customer experience skills such as Apple, Disney or Amazon. This will enable you to gain insight into ways to better serve your customers. This is not so much a statistical exercise as it is a holistic approach.
Conversely, if your program is in the early stages of development, and your company is beginning to progress the change management initiative required to provide a solid foundation for CEM, then benchmarking with industry competition can be very effective. This is especially true if benchmarking indicates that you are a competitive laggard. That outcome can be instrumental in creating the urgency required to successfully shake your organization out of the often ruinous mindset of “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Benchmarking can also be useful when the CEM initiative has been underway for some time and seems to be losing steam. Once again benchmarking can instill a sense of urgency that is required to ensure continuous improvement.
Benchmarking is engrained in the human psyche. It is a result of our competitive instincts and an invaluable tool to measure ourselves against others. Rather than re-purpose benchmark funding for customer-focused program enhancements, management should be convinced to spend the funding as originally intended with the focus on the Customer. Benchmarking is only a data point, but it can be useful in demonstrating forward progress and providing competitive comparative metrics that management needs to present to the board of directors or shareholders in order to obtain, or continue to receive, CEM program funding. Benchmarking is a strategic exercise, separate from the tactical metrics used to manage organizational improvement, and one that provides significant strategic benefit. But it should always be secondary to the real goal of making customers happy and building long lasting loyalty.