Why “We Suck Less” is Not Enough for Customer-Centric Success


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While perhaps not the most noble or customer-centric statement of competitive advantage, this somewhat tongue-in-cheek quote from one of my favorite all time clients, masks two subtleties of which she was keenly aware in designing the customer loyalty and experience research for her firm.

  • First, a company’s performance and the strength of its customer relationships and the customer experience are better understood in a competitive context than in a vacuum. In general, customers are won from (or lost to) competitors and share of spend typically is measured in the context of a competitive set.
  • More importantly, however, she implicitly understood that to “suck less” is not a viable competitive strategy, that unhappy customers who are hostages are not a stable base for future success. Even in a B-2-B setting with high fixed-cost investments and multi-year contracts (she is with a B-2-B IP Telecom provider), positive stickiness is a more effective form of relationship glue than being seen as the lesser of evils.

Recognizing both the opportunity and challenge of her firm’s position, she led, pushed, pulled and cajoled her organization from a sense of marketing lethargy rooted in technological laurels and advantage to a focus on measuring and improving the customer experience and relationship.

The journey has not always been direct, as mergers, reorgs, management changes and economic challenges have forced detours in both the research and the implementation of learnings. But through a series of projects and programs evaluating customer needs at key touchpoints, measuring and modeling the customer experience at those touches, and assessing and modeling the overall customer relationship, she has helped navigate the company to increasingly focus on strengthening the positive bonds with customers and move beyond the “we suck less” mentality.

I see a few keys to her success that have universal application to companies of all stripes in designing effective VOC research and implementing change.

  1. A journey starts with a single step (as Confucius aptly noted) and is comprised of a series of ongoing steps, not a single leap. At every step, she has carefully planned, marshaled the appropriate resources and support, and executed against specific objectives, with each success laying the foundation for the next phase.
  2. She has judiciously nurtured Executive Sponsor(s), recognizing that senior leadership involvement and support is essential to implementing the research and effecting change in the business (not to mention providing the necessary budgetary support).
  3. The business units have been partners from day 1. She carefully cultivated the involvement of key business unit managers and decision makers in the design of every project – and always made certain those same people were among the audience receiving the presentation of findings and insights. 
  4. As a logical consequence of the above, the work always has been designed to address practical customer and business applications and needs, yet still meet best-practice research standards. This has meant flexible design in both qual and quant projects based on real constraints and opportunities, not simple cookie-cutter approaches. Design, analysis and reporting have been aligned to be meaningful to how the company manages its business.
  5. Survey results have been integrated with customer-level data for validation (i.e. do customers expressing higher degrees of loyalty spend more, buy more services, etc.?) and deeper understanding (i.e. what is the relationship between customer perceptions of how quickly an issue is resolved and how the firm tracks and measures the same issue?)
  6. Communications and feedback have been relentless, both internally and externally. Internally, results are shared with employees and have been partially integrated into the employee engagement research of the firm. Externally, results have been used in communications and actions directed to customers to inform them that their voices have been heard and that the company is committed to improvement.

The results: a methodical, sure-footed research program that has changed the “we suck less” mindset into a “we are better” mantra more centered on the customer. I must confess that there were times when I wanted to accelerate the pace and swing for the fences, but her disciplined approach and pace provided a more sure-footed path to success.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Howard Lax, Ph.D.

Supporting better informed decision making with technology, research and strategy. With a focus on CX/VoC/NPS, Employee Engagement and emotion analytics, Howard's domain is the application of marketing information and SaaS platforms to solve business problems and activating CX programs to drive business objectives.


  1. Apart from the manifest intelligence and real-world logic behind your blog post, we both know who should receive attribution for the “We Suck Less” quote. Herein, I acknowledge Ruth B. for the street-wise, straight-talking guru that she is. On the subject of gurus, the Yoda in my being compels me to state that it was actually Lao-Tzu who actually uttered the “journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” quote.

  2. Michael, I stand corrected on Lao-Tzu. While there are numerous references to this quote from Confuscious, the majority seems to lean towards Lao-Tzu as the author. You are incorrect, however, about the source of the “We Suck Less.”

  3. Well, then at least two people have used “We Suck Less” as a superordinate goal and shared value.


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