Your customers love you, or do they?

Your customers love you – or do they?

There is a gap between how organisations think customers rate their relationship and how customers actually rate that relationship. This white paper outlines the findings of a survey to understand the scale of the gap, the impact on the bottom line and what can be done to close the relationship gap.

The survey

I’d noticed in several projects that a company’s profitability was significantly lower than average when there was a big difference between how companies and their customers rated their relationship. This was the spur to researching this relationship gap in more detail to find out if customers really loved their suppliers.

66 companies agreed to help us with the research and they openly shared a lot of information so I owe them a big vote of thanks.

The main component of the research was a survey where I asked the companies how they thought their customers would assess them against a range of relationship questions designed to identify their major points of difference. I then compared the answers to our total database of customer’s responses from previous assignments and measured the gap. This document outlines some of the main findings.

The major finding – Misplaced optimism

Comparing the estimated ratings from the companies to the actual ratings from customers it’s very clear that companies thought they would be rated higher than they actually were. Companies are not as well loved by their customers as they think they are. In spite of optimistically talking about the importance of Customer Experience and being more customer focused it appears that implementation still has a long way to go.

In the survey question about customer focus companies thought that the number of customers who would strongly agree that their supplier was customer focused would be 35% higher than it actually was. The relationship gap on some other questions was even wider.

Customers hate – Not knowing what’s going on

Simply keeping in touch both during the transaction and after it is a key factor that drives customers to stay with, or leave, a supplier. Somewhat surprisingly 23% of all the companies stated that they were not good at keeping in touch with their customers. A similar percentage of customers agreed with them!

On the other hand some positively minded companies were a bit optimistic about how many customers would strongly agree that they were good at keeping in touch. The actual customer scores were 30% lower than they estimated. Whichever way it’s looked at keeping in touch is an issue that needs investigation and fixing. From other surveys I’ve done I know that not keeping in touch is one of the main reasons that customers leave suppliers.

Supplying an excellent product/service isn’t enough

There are a lot of companies that from a customer’s perspective (rightly or wrongly) are very similar. Therefore customers are increasingly drawn towards suppliers who can also help them in other ways. One example is suppliers who come up with ideas to help improve their customers own business. Less than a fifth of customers strongly agreed that their suppliers had come with those types of ideas. Companies thought that the customer scores on this question would be at least 50% higher.

The top way to add extra value to BtoB customers is to provide them with useful contacts or leads that turn into revenue. Do this successfully, ongoing, and it becomes almost impossible for competitors to dislodge you. 77% of companies claimed that they did this but only 48% of customers agreed with them. Understanding this major relationship gap and doing something about it with a little thought does not take much effort. However, the positive financial impact on the business can be very significant.

Would you really recommend your supplier?

Typically most customers say that they would agree to recommend a supplier, but in reality how many of them actually do? It’s much more likely that the 27% who would strongly agree to recommend a supplier would make a specific recommendation. The companies in our survey thought that nearly twice as many customers would choose a strongly recommend rating than actually did.

Customers who chose the strongly recommend rating believe they have an excellent relationship with their supplier and gave high ratings for all the other questions in the survey. Overall though the relationship gap between suppliers and customers is wider than I expected it to be.

“We’re different – we know our customers love us”

How do you know if you are different? Around three quarters of organisations do some form of annual customer survey and the results usually show little change or marginal improvement year on year. Therefore many organisations assume that apart from the odd glitches customers are happy and no further actions need be taken.

Others companies frequently ask their customers the ultimate question “Would you recommend us to a friend or colleague?” Unfortunately as soon as the answer to this question is linked to pay and performance the scores suddenly look fantastic. But, are all those customers really happy? Do they really love you?

If customers never leave you, continue to buy more from you and actively strongly recommend you they must love you. Unfortunately not many companies are in this highly enviable position and very few are able to truly view themselves from a customer’s point of view.

So what you can do?

To really find out what your customers care about and value you typically need help from an independent external expert.  As well as the expertise to run a survey, interpret the results and recommend next steps it avoids any potential conflicts of interest.

If you would like to discuss how much your customers love you please contact me.


Malcolm Wicks
Marketing and Business Consultant
Three Step Consulting Ltd

0118 989 1107

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