Why is More Important than How In Customer Feedback


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Why is a very powerful word.

One of the most popular Ted talks of all time, over 19 million views, asks you to start not with the how of your business but the why of your business.

Why asked 5 times is the basis of the incredibly powerful 5 Whys root cause analysis technique.

Young children find out how the world works by asking why a seemingly endless number of times.

So when you are considering investing considerable time and resources in rolling out a new customer feedback or Net Promoter® program you should make sure that why is the first question you ask as well.

Don’t just ask yourself, make sure you ask it of your senior business leaders and don’t stop until you get good answers.

I’ve asked this question many times of client leaders as part of our Net Promoter Rollout program and here are a few of the answers to:

You about to invest substantial resources and time in rolling out Net Promoter. Why? [Tweet This]

To Drive Better Results in Our Business

This response comes in many flavours:

  1. To build our business
  2. To become the best in class in the market
  3. To beat our competitors
  4. To maximise returns to shareholders.
  5. To drive sales growth

Hopefully this is one of the first responses you hear to why. After all at the end of the day the primary reason we do any task in most organisation is to improve the return to the shareholders.

The link to improved business outcomes must be the foremost reason to embark on a customer experience or customer feedback program of any type. Too often this link is not made and long term this undermines the importance of these programs in the eyes of middle management.

If you need evidence that NPS, in particular, improves business check out this list of NPS case studies and statistics.

To Drive Employee Engagement

Perhaps this is a surprising response but a good number of senior leaders understand customer engagement is tightly tied to employee engagement and so use the Net Promoter process to help drive that engagement.

Again there are many versions of this answer:

  1. To support employees
  2. The help employee to have pride in the company
  3. To create employee advocates
  4. So employees can be confident that they are providing customer value.

To Become More Customer Centric

It does seem obvious that this should be on the list and it generally is. The response is generally of the form:

  1. To align our business with our customer needs
  2. To improve our service and make it a differentiator
  3. As a concrete way of putting customers at front of organization
  4. To prompt customer-based discussion
  5. To help us learn by listening to our customers
  6. Because customers are the only ones that know if our service is good

To Drive Evidence Based Decision Making

Employees are tired of doing what the loudest voice in the room directs; this includes their boss. They often desire a more objective was to determine what should be done so it isn’t just one person’s opinion over another.

A well-constructed customer feedback process will inform the organisation of what needs to be done using the most important voice of all and one not often included in strategy sessions: the customer.

To Drive Continuous Improvement

All types of customer feedback are useful for this but transactional surveys are particularly effective at helping to drive continuous improvement in the business

What Gets Measured Gets Managed

The desire to put in place a customer experience metric as a way to keep it top of mind is a good one. However, you need to take care when setting customer satisfaction or Net Promoter targets because they can drive the wrong behaviour in staff.

Another common, related, why for implementation, is as a way to align everyone in the organisation around the customer.

For a detailed discussion on setting targets see this post: How to Set Net Promoter® Targets for Your Organisation and Staff

Not So Great Answers

While there are no wrong answers there are certainly some less helpful ones.

Pretty much any answer that includes “because [someone] told us to” will be an issue long term.

The problem is this why is too transient. If the [someone] moves on, gets another job or loses interest the whole process will struggle.

If the [someone] is the CEO it’s a good start but makes sure that you get other supporting whys so that when challenged you have other long term reasons for continuing the program.

Ask Now

If you are in the early stages of such a program make sure you go out and ask why now so that you have long term support for the process.

If you already have a program it would still be good to go out now and ask why to get a better understanding of what the organisation is looking to achieve.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Good stuff. Almost fifty years ago, quality process guru Kaoru Ishikawa invented the fishbone, or cause-and-effect, approach to understand issues, principally in manufacturing and process management.. It became core to Six Sigma concepts, but, even more, it is fundamental to anything having to do with improvement, All of the areas you’ve identified can be improved with the power of Ishikawa’s original method of investigation. The ‘how’ is simply the technique(s) applied to the ‘why’, the reason(s) or goal(s) for asking the questions in the first place.. If you begin with the end in mind, five whys is a proven way to get you there.

  2. Very thoughtful piece, Adam. Your post reminds me of the great line from evaluation expert Michael Quinn Patton in his book, Qualitative Evaluation Methods, “Any evaluation not worth doing, is not worth doing well.” Customers have stories to tell and we need to provide them many ways to tell their story–quantitative, qualitative, simple, anecdotal and through the microscope of many. Sometime a focused conversation with a group of front-line employees can yield more reliable insight into customers than the most sophisticated survey. Learning does not alway come in a statistically valid form that can neatly adorn a PowerPoint presentation.

    We all have our favorite way to gain customer intelligence. But, a keen grounding in the “why” helps ensure the “how’s” we use will gain the breadth and depth of customer intelligence that can guide how we operate–from the most accurate diagnosis we can gain.

  3. Adam, you’ve hit the nail on the head for the beginning of organizational adoption and accountability of a CXM investment. By clearly knowing why the company is doing something, the effort can be more clearly linked to corporate objectives, shared vision, business unit goals, and internal behaviors to support the success of the investment. It’s the first step toward achieving the company’s desired outcomes.

    I’d like to suggest that this same thought pattern — “Why as the first question” — should also be applied within the VoC instrument itself: “Mr. Customer, why did you want to get X?” Knowing why the customer felt a need for your solution reveals the *context* for their expectation set of goodness and related loyalty behaviors. I’ve written about this several times as customers’ desired outcomes, or jobs-to-be-done. You may find this article to be insightful: Customer-Centricity by Discerning Customer Satisfaction Outcomes vs. Enablers.


  4. I’m glad to see you and other people asking ‘why,’ because I think in an era of big data and predictive analytics, it’s been given short shrift. There are some amazing and complex algorithms that can wow people’s socks off in discovering the ‘what’ (customers who bought x also bought y and z; more Americans now drink more craft beer than Budweiser . . . ). I have heard the rationale: “we’re interested in the prediction, and not what causes the outcome.” But I think we lose much insight by not delving into the secondary layer of understanding. It seems that when we do, innovation is not only much more likely, but more effective.

  5. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    It does seem like I’ve hit a nerve on the why/how perspective. As I noted in the piece, it is the very first question I ask of senior leaders when starting any customer feedback or Net Promoter rollout process.

    If they are not crystal clear on **why** they are doing it then when the going gets tough, and it will, they will not have the perseverance to push through.

    Adam Ramshaw

  6. Great post, Adam. It’s all about the ‘whys’? The ‘hows’ come from the ‘whys’. What I love about ‘why’ whether in a conversation or done as a meeting game (5 whys) is that it gets beyond the obvious or platitude and digs into the real issue. In a group setting, ‘whys’ open lines of communication, clears up misunderstandings and forces people to think as well as be honest.

    Too often, marketers, sales and executives are afraid to ask ‘why’. Personally, it should be the most used word of the day.

  7. Thanks for the post, Adam. I’m glad to see you making the case for this structured thinking and diagnostic work to go deeper into root cause analysis rather than settling for ‘getting lucky’ in uplifting NPS etc.

    Another application where I have found the 5 Whys technique to be powerful is in insight generation for proposition development. Whilst running workshops to help proposition marketers get immersed in relevant data, analytics, research & database marketing results (customer insight), it’s often useful to use 5 Whys to drill deeper. In a similar way to the scenario you describe, it can help participants who have found themes from converging such evidence to go deeper into identifying true insights. Here I mean consumer’s world-views or emotional triggers (a territory that overlaps with the biases identified by Behavioural Economics).

    So thanks for the reminder that 5 Whys can help here too.


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