All companies who use customer loyalty surveys strive to see increases in their customer loyalty scores. Improving customer loyalty has been shown to have a positive impact on business results and long-term business success. Toward that end, executives implement various company-wide improvements in hopes that improvements in customer loyalty scores will follow.
One common method for improving performance is goal setting. There is a plethora of research on the effectiveness of goal setting in improving performance. In the area of customer satisfaction, what typically occurs is that management sees that their customer loyalty score is 7.0 (on a 0-10 scale) at the start of the year. They then set a customer loyalty goal of 8.0 for the end of the fiscal year. What happens at the end of the year? The score remains about 7.0. While their intentions are good, management does not see the increases in loyalty scores that they set out to attain. What went wrong? How can this company effectively use goal setting to improve their customer loyalty scores?
Here are a few characteristics of goals that improve the probability that goals will improve performance:
- Specific. Goals need to be specific and clearly define what behaviors/actions are going to be taken to achieve the goal and in what time-frame or frequency these behaviors/actions should take place. For example, a goal stating, “Decrease the number of contacts with the company a customer needs to resolve an issue” does little to help employees focus their efforts because there is no mention of a rate/frequency associated with the decrease. A better goal would be, “Resolve customer issues in three or fewer contacts.”
- Measurable. A measurement system needs to be in place to track/monitor progress toward the goal. The measurement system is used to determine whether the goal has been achieved and provides a feedback loop to the employees who are achieving the goal.
A common problem with using customer loyalty scores as the metric to track or monitor improvements is that satisfaction goals are still vague with respect to what the employees can actually do to impact satisfaction/loyalty scores. Telling the technical support department that the company’s customer loyalty goal is 8.0 provides no input on how that employee can affect that score. A better measure for the technical support department would be “satisfaction with technical support” or other technical support questions on the survey (e.g., “technical support responsiveness,” technical support availability”). We know that satisfaction with technical support is positively related to customer loyalty. Using these survey questions for goal setting has a greater impact on changing their behaviors compared to using vague loyalty questions. Because satisfaction with technical support is related to customer loyalty, improvements in technical support satisfaction should lead to improvements in loyalty scores.
An even better measure would be to use operational metrics for goal setting. The company must first identify the key operational metrics that are statistically related to customer satisfaction/loyalty. This process involves in-depth research via linkage analysis (e.g., linking satisfaction scores with operational measures such as hold time, turnaround time, and number of transfers) but the payoffs are great; once identified, the customer-centric operational metrics can be used for purposes of goal setting.
- Difficult but attainable. Research has shown that difficult goals lead to better performance compared to goals that are easy. Difficult goals focus attention to the problem at hand. Avoid setting goals, however, that are too difficult and, consequently, not achievable. One way to set difficult and attainable goals is to use historical performance data to determine the likelihood of achieving different performance levels.
- Relevant. Goals for the employees should be appropriate for the employees’ role; can the employee impact the goal? Additionally, the goal should be relevant to both the employee and the organization. Holding employees to be responsible for goals that are outside of their control (e.g., technical support representatives being responsible for product quality) is unfair and can lead to low morale.
- Accepted (or mutually set). For goal setting to increase performance, employees should be allowed to participate in setting their goals. Goals that are not accepted by the recipient are not likely to be internalized and motivating. A good approach would be to get employees involved early in the process of goal setting. Let them help in identifying the problem, selecting (or understanding) the key measures to track, and setting the goal.