Archive for the ‘Customer Satisfaction’ Tag

The virtue of strategic consistency

“Adapt or die” may be one of the most over-hyped business phrases of the last decade. The reality is that most firms don’t face disruptive threats. And seasoned leaders understand the serious business risks of poorly designed transformations.

Fortunately, there is another way to ensure competitiveness and growth. Companies that stay true to a winning corporate strategy over the long run can be very successful. How do you do this, especially when unforeseen internal and external events test your convictions?

In an ideal world, leaders craft and follow a clear, compelling and multi-year strategic plan. Realistically, this approach often doesn’t survive more than a few quarters. Headwinds such as slowing customer demand, rising costs, or competitive moves often spur managers on to increase spending, or to make deep cuts. In essence, leaders overreact to short-term noise instead of focusing on the long-term market.

Furthermore, organizational dynamics can lead to management prematurely hitting the panic button. These include:

  1. Some leadership practices have a built-in bias towards quick reactions at the expense of deliberation and patience;
  1. The need to hit short-term metrics to meet goals creates incentives to do things at any cost;
  1. Without the anchor of an existing strategy or priorities, it’s easy for companies to zigzag with no clear direction.

All of this can lead to operational distraction, wasted investment, high employee turnover and a compromised brand image.

Staying the course

Consistency pays off over time. And companies that stick with a good plan will become more efficient and develop better relationships with customers and partners. Importantly, there is no trade-off between speed and deliberation in a strategically consistent business. Staying the course also enables quicker decision-making and follow-through.

Canadian telecom provider Telus Corp. has successfully used strategic consistency. Telus’s focus on service, brand and culture helped it outperform its rivals during the last 15 years, according to a strategy+business article published on Aug. 31. During this time, the Vancouver-based company’s revenue more than doubled to $12 billion and it returned 351 percent to shareholders, making it a global leader in the sector, the article stated.

Staying the course is particularly important in business services, where clients measure performance over years, or decades. For example, the investment-servicing company CIBC Mellon built profitable market share by remaining true to its goals of focusing on clients and reliability.

“Consistency over the long term has been critical to earning the trust of our clients,” said Claire Johnson, senior vice president, strategic initiatives. “Choosing the right strategy and supporting it through ever improving products and services is the key to long-term market success and customer satisfaction.”

Becoming strategically consistent

Any organization can maintain strategic coherency. Here’s how Telus and others have made it work:

1. Define values

Leaders need to define the winning strategic values (i.e. how the company competes and with what capabilities) that work for their firm and use these to guide important decisions and actions over the long term.

2. Take a long-term view

Compensation programs and reporting tools should prioritize long-term shareholder value creation and reflect the performance of key strategic values.

3. Encourage clear leadership

Every employee, supplier and shareholder takes his or her cue from what leaders say, and more importantly, do.  When short-term emergencies arise, managers need to have the patience, support and fortitude to focus on what is truly vital.

4. Understand the relationship between time and change

New events, competitive moves, or technologies often encourage a short-term overreaction at the expense of more deliberate thinking and prudence. Remember what Bill Gates said: “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.”

Mitchell Osak is managing director, strategic advisory services at Grant Thornton LLP

Great service does not always lead to customer loyalty

Conventional wisdom says that consistently providing service excellence will deliver high levels of retention.  According to new research from the Harvard Business School, this is not always the case.  Companies that offer high levels of customer satisfaction may still experience loyalty problems if competition offers even better service.  In fact, the research suggests that the customers you think are your most loyal are likely to be the first to jump ship when a challenger to your service superiority enters the market.

The researchers, Harvard Professors Dennis Campbell, Frances Frei and doctoral student Ryan Buell explored the link between service levels, customer loyalty, and competitive strategy in the U.S.banking sector. The 2002 to 2006 study analyzed data collected from a large U.S.domestic bank that competed in more than 20 states.

The study’s findings confirmed some earlier research on the impact of corporate and service strategy on retention.  In a nutshell, companies who generate high customer satisfaction scores remain at risk when competition raises the service stakes.  Conversely, the research indicates that firms rated low in service quality are relatively immune to premium competitive service offerings. 

The reasons for these counter-intuitive findings have a lot to do with the customer expectations established in part by the incumbent provider. The longer a firm has held a service advantage in a local market, the more sensitive are its customers to it service levels relative to those of competitors.  Given their higher expectations, service-driven customers are more willing to try other firms and products that trumpet and deliver service excellence.

Despite these conclusions, managers should be mindful of throwing out the service baby with the bath water when setting strategy.  The study found that even though high-end customers can be fickle, a company can still attract and retain customers in a variety of markets with a superior customer experience.  There are a number of ways to do this:

Avoid complacency

Firms can avoid resting on its service laurels by staying abreast of customer needs, focusing on continuous improvement initiatives and proactively investing to significantly enhance their customer experience.

Consider each product category separately

Customers will trade off price and service depending on the product they are seeking and the importance they attach to it.  In general, customers – in the long run – purchase the goods that represent their ideal combination of price and service. As such, delivering more service than is needed (or is willing to be paid for) would be sub-optimal.

Understand that service sensitivity varies by market…

According to the researchers, there are considerable differences in the type of customers you attract and retain between markets.  This variance suggests that managers should tailor their service and marketing strategies depending on local market conditions, competitive threats and customer needs.

…But be wary of too much customization

Local market service strategies come with considerable costs in terms of operational complexity and brand dilution.  Firms need to carefully weigh the pro and cons of service customization for each market.

Make it difficult to leave

If high service levels by itself won’t ensure loyalty maybe raising a customer’s switching cost or providing loyalty-based incentives would do the job.  For example, managers could offer discounts for long term contracts, extend warranty periods or launch high-value loyalty programs.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.