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Written by The Mezzanine Group
on April 27, 2010

If you ask 100 CEOs what their most valuable asset is, I wonder how many will say ‘customers’. It’s been fashionable in recent years to respond ‘employees’ to this question. And yes, employees are vital (especially for services companies). Some CEOs would still also argue that their Intellectual Property (eg patents or know-how), brand or physical plant are their most valuable asset.

But these days, reality is that customers are a company’s most valuable asset.

A company’s success depends on how well it attracts, maintains and understands customers.

Two tools that help companies do these activities well are Customer Satisfaction Assessment and Customer Research.

There are many flavors to customer satisfaction assessment. They can involve complex analytics and statistics, or they can be very straightforward. (And we’ve written a whitepaper on how to get even more from your CSAT, here). Sometimes CSATs can be as simple as taking a genuine interest in customers and asking questions about their feelings, experiences, and wants. “What kinds of products/services would you like to keep buying from us?” “Have you been surprised and/or delighted with any aspect of our products/services and, if yes, which ones?” “Is there anything we can add to our product/service line which you might have a real interest in?” “Have we disappointed you and, if so, how?” “How would you describe your experiences with us over time?”

A word of warning - some of those questions will only get answers if you have some credibility in the ‘bank’ with your customers – companies need to realize that when they have very low response rates to CSATs it’s often because customers can’t be bothered to tell them, ie can’t be bothered to take the 15 seconds to provide a response to the question. That’s a serious concern.

The second tool is customer research. Again, there are many flavors to customer research – surveys, interviews, focus groups and more. One company that does a great job of researching and listening to customers is Tim Horton’s. With 350 million visits annually, they’ve built up a huge business by checking in with customers and giving them what they want. I was reading an article about Tim Horton's launch of their new sandwich bun, which was initiated because ”recent research indicated that consumers were looking for softer, bigger buns...” (I want to make a Botticelli joke here, but won’t)

Even though the softness and size of their bread might seem a simple and perhaps too-obvious subject to conduct research on, Tim Horton's does it because they know that even in small matters, it pays to know what customers want. Every businesses can benefit by doing the same.

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