Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Yes, I'm a Satisfied Customer -- No, I Won't Recommend You

It was all started by Peter McCabe. And what he did was reported by Business Week in their January 30, 2006 issue:

In the fall of 2004, McCabe, chief quality officer for General Electric Co.'s health-care business, read a Harvard Business Review article recommended by a colleague. It suggested companies measure customer loyalty by asking one simple question rather than relying on lengthy satisfaction surveys: "On a scale of zero to 10, how likely is it that you would recommend us to your friends or colleagues?"

At that moment, thousands of marketing executives across the country, most of whom must have had Business Week on their short list of must-reads, all knew what their next sales pitch to the boss would be.

Now, I completely understood the value of this exercise…when it’s applied B2B. Basically, you’ve got one business asking another business “So, how’d we do? Do you think we can do more business together?” And, more important, “Would you feel comfortable putting your good name and reputation behind a recommendation of us?”

But what I don’t understand is how anyone thought this could be ported over to every freakin’ B2C relationship in the land.

Within months of this story I was invited to take an online survey from Chili’s. It ended with “Would you recommend us to your friends?” I answered “No.” And yet, I like Chili’s a lot. I would eat there today. As I recall, the survey gave me a chance to explain why I couldn’t recommend Chili’s.

My reason was simple: everyone I know already knows about Chili’s, has already eaten there and already knows how frequently they’ll continue to dine there. A recommendation seemed unnecessary and would almost certainly produce a lot of arched eyebrows. “Uh, Dave…we’ve gone to Chili’s together, remember? We already know you like it there and you already know we like it there.”

But it wasn’t over. Soon I was receiving surveys from all kinds of well-known, high-profile, national consumer brands….and they all wanted to know if I would recommend them. But no matter how high I scored my personal satisfaction with their product or the quality of my last experience with them, I answered “no” to the recommendation…for the same reason I gave Chili’s.

I could just picture the puzzled looks that would come my way were I to recommend such visible brands. As if I was some amnesiac just now discovering all of the products that were both common and familiar to everyone else.

But the topper was when the same question appeared at the end of a survey from Wal-Mart. I had to ask myself the hard question: was I embarrassed by the de classe notion of coming off like some Wal-Mart zealot to my friends and family? Was I uncomfortable with appearing to convey to others that a trip to Wal-Mart was a pinnacle moment in my simple life?

Ultimately, I decided that my reasons for not wanting to recommend were pretty consistent across the board. The way I see it, you make a recommendation when you have information about a person or a place that others might not have been able to acquire on their own.

Perhaps it’s a newcomer to town or a visitor to your city. Or maybe it’s someone who’s about to travel somewhere for the first time…but it’s a familiar destination for you. You would also make a recommendation about a business that is so small or so new (or both) that it very likely hasn’t been discovered yet. Or the classic: the recommendation of a specific applicant for a job – when the hiring company wouldn’t know the person as well as you do.

But when the subject is a company, a product or a service that is already top-of-mind with everyone…and maybe even a major component in our country’s economy….the idea that you might make a recommendation for it seems akin to telling someone that you’re a big fan of water.

So, if all these companies will just get off this recommendation bandwagon, I’ll be happy to tell them how satisfied I am to be their customer.

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