NPS Blog

The inner loop of the Net Promoter System: Connecting employees and customers every day

Fred ReichheldOne of the great ironies of modern business practices stems from the way traditional “voice of the customer” programs alienate employees from their customers. These programs generally deliver customer feedback to employees in the form of statistics and reports several weeks, and sometimes several months, after the customer interactions that spurred the feedback. If you have ever been subjected to this process, you know how frustrating it can feel. The scores come to you devoid of context. They are disconnected from any particular customer. Comments, when they are included, come in a list, not attributed to any individual customer you can remember. How are you supposed to use this as a way to get better at your job?

Yet if you’ve read The Ultimate Question 2.0, you know that the Net Promoter System was inspired by the way Enterprise Rent-A-Car used a simplified form of feedback to connect its car rental agents and managers to the customers they serve.

When we first introduced the concept back in 2003, we focused on the scores. At the time, there was no tool in business that offered comparable simplicity and speed when it came to collecting customer feedback. More important, we had never seen anything as powerful for motivating frontline teams to learn and act on customer feedback.

Net Promoter System podcastSince then, we’ve come to appreciate that some of the other things Enterprise was doing were just as responsible as their system’s radical simplicity for making those scores more effective. One of the tactics that most impressed us was a process we now call the inner loop. It’s when companies ask a customer for feedback about their experience, share the input directly with the employees involved and then follow up with those customers to learn more, address any unresolved issues and connect with them in a more personal and human way.

With the benefit of hindsight, this might now seem obvious. Of course we should share feedback from individual customers directly and immediately with employees. Obviously, we should follow up with customers whose feedback merits further exploration or action. Yet today, too many companies still let their employees toil in the dark, giving them feedback so infrequently that it’s impossible to learn and make rapid changes that lead to happy customers and an empowered staff. Employees in these situations often feel helpless and disengaged, and the customers feel they’re not heard. In contrast, employees at a company with a strong inner loop feel a sense of mastery and ownership. They know that they have the power to delight customers and develop their skills. They feel connected.

The key to an effective inner loop is granularity and timeliness. The feedback must be detailed enough that employees can learn from what they did in a particular interaction that they remember. They have to be able to link the outcome to the actions and behaviors that created it. Aggregate data just won’t do. Companies must also relay the feedback while the experience is fresh in the minds of the employee and customer.

I recently talked to my colleague Fred Reichheld, creator of the Net Promoter Score, about the origins of the inner loop and its role in inspiring employees to do a better job for their customers. We also discussed how the inner loop can go beyond call centers and sales groups to support back-office teams and other support organizations—people who have less contact with customers but still impact those relationships.

A new installment of our Loyalty Insights series will take an even closer look at what makes an inner loop effective.

You can listen to my discussion with Fred on iTunes or through the player below. Click here to browse more Net Promoter System podcasts.

When employees say goodbye, don’t let a bruised ego cloud your judgment

four-reasons-not-to-be-a-jerk-220x207It’s often hard for executives to see young, talented people leave their company, but people often have to change jobs, employers or careers to broaden their skills and explore new challenges.

While these shifts can be rewarding to people, more companies are realizing that they also have a lot to gain when employees come and go. In fact, some smart companies, including Procter & Gamble and IBM, learned long ago that fostering positive relationships with outgoing employees—treating them as esteemed alumni rather than traitors—can help the bottom line. In my latest post on LinkedIn Pulse, I explain why.

Read the post: Four Reasons Not to Be a Jerk When Employees Say Goodbye 

Sophisticated simplicity: How Delighted makes Net Promoter feedback easy and appealing to customers

Net Promoter System podcastI’m often surprised to find that some executives will accept single-digit response rates in their customer-feedback programs.

One recent conversation centered on a company’s 4% response rate. My concern about the low response rate met resistance. The executives responded that their market research partners had assured them this was typical. Anyway, they said, the statisticians had told them their sample was adequate.

But this sort of logic fails to account for the human part of the equation. With a 4% response rate, 96 out of every 100 customers are ignoring the company’s call for help. Ninety-six percent of the customers won’t bother to tell the company what they liked, what they hated or how they thought it could do better.

Of course, single-digit response rates probably shouldn’t surprise us. The way many companies ask for feedback fails the simple test of The Golden Rule. These companies ask for “just a few minutes of your time,” but then present customers with a seemingly endless list of multiple-choice questions. The survey questions and answer options often feel irrelevant or relate to features or experiences the customer never had. The survey might even ask for customer information the company already has.

At Bain & Company, we’ve long advocated a much simpler, customer-friendly approach to gathering customer feedback. We focus on two simple questions: How likely would you be to recommend the company or its products? Why?—letting you answer in your own words.

Now a company called Delighted has taken this customer-friendly approach and embodied it in a beautiful, simple package. Under the hood, there’s a ton of sophistication enabling that beautiful simplicity and creating the support for a more comprehensive Net Promoter System, complete with follow-up call support and rigorous analytics.

caleb-elston-120x113I had a chance to talk with CEO and cofounder Caleb Elston. You can listen in on the conversation in my latest Net Promoter System podcast. Caleb is quite thoughtful about how to solicit feedback in an engaging and relationship-enhancing way.

Companies using Delighted’s software send a short email to customers, often right after a transaction. The likelihood-to-recommend question is included right in the email, complete with a zero-to-10 response scale. It’s mobile-friendly, so all you have to do is touch or click on a number. The software then takes you to a Web page where you can give the reason for your rating or offer any other kind of feedback you want. The whole thing can take less than a minute. Really.

Delighted’s software platform makes it easy for a company to get started on the system, and then to scale up its use over time. So a small business can get up and running on the light version for a very low fee and with just a list of email addresses to get going. For a larger company, the software can plug into an existing CRM system so that the feedback is linked to the customer’s buying history or other variables.

The retailer Bonobos, an early user of Delighted, used the software’s fast-feedback capabilities to test some modifications to its shipping procedures—and quickly learned that the change was making customers unhappy.

And what about that 4%? Delighted’s results with Bonobos and a handful of other early customers show response rates reaching 40%. It’s an exciting development. A platform so simple it takes just minutes to get up and running, but sophisticated enough to integrate with a larger company’s internal technology and support a Net Promoter System.

You can listen to my discussion with Caleb on iTunes or through the player below. Click here to browse more Net Promoter System podcasts.

Net Promoter at the heart of a cultural transformation: How Safelite turns hassles into smiles

Net Promoter System podcastWhen I was in college, I had the unfortunate experience of living in a high-crime city. I got a lot of experience getting my broken car windows replaced. It was not a fun process. You’d call your insurance company, try to persuade them that the breakage wasn’t your fault (again), get an estimate or two, call again for approval and finally take your car to some out-of-the-way shop for the repair.

Today the hassle is almost entirely gone from auto glass repair: Auto glass companies come to your car wherever it is and replace your broken glass on the spot. When a rock on the highway cracked my windshield recently, I was surprised at how easy the process was.

It turns out that making the process easy for car owners can prove challenging for the companies doing the repair and replacement. Insurance companies pay for most repairs, and they drive hard bargains on pricing. In fact, these days the auto glass companies handle many of the insurance companies’ tasks. For example, when you call your insurer about a glass-only claim, chances are quite good you’ll speak to someone at an auto glass company acting on behalf of your insurance provider. And getting the field technicians out to your car—no matter what the weather—and making sure they have the right parts and the right training and that they do a great job can pose significant operational issues.

Safelite AutoGlass is a leader in this difficult business—in fact, it’s the only national glass repair and replacement company in the US. It deals with hundreds of different insurers. Its 8,000 field technicians work largely on their own, far from any supervisor. And the field techs must be able to repair or replace the glass on countless car makes and models—often a difficult and demanding technical job. So Safelite’s story is pretty interesting.

TomFeeney-120x113A few years ago, Safelite set itself a goal of becoming “people powered” and “customer driven.” It’s in the midst of an ambitious transformation aimed at inspiring and engaging employees and giving customers an experience far better than what they expect. “The saying that we’ve been playing with around here is that we turn a hassle into a smile,” says CEO Tom Feeney, one of three Safelite leaders who are the guests on my latest Net Promoter System podcast.

Safelite uses an impressive variety of tools and techniques to achieve its aims. Customers who call for service talk to a person, not a recording. The company sends the customer a short bio of the technician who’s just been scheduled to do the work. Training for the technicians focuses on the “soft” skills for relating to customers, not just the fine points of auto glass installation. In fact, technicians are hired as much for a service-oriented attitude as for technical abilities.

“We introduced a total new performance management system that weighs those competencies,” says Natalie Crede, senior vice president of human resources, and another guest on the podcast. “Fifty percent of your review [is] on those skills and behaviors.”

To reinforce its values, Safelite makes a point of circulating stories that illustrate the sorts of behaviors that make customers smile. One recent story involved a field tech confronted with a hearing-impaired customer. He asked a friend conversant with sign language to help him communicate in a way that would make the customer more comfortable. Today, Safelite provides its technicians with videos in both sign language and Spanish to help them assist customers who rely on those languages.

To further reinforce the culture, Safelite has developed an exemplary application of the Net Promoter System: “It’s front and center for our technicians every single day,” says Renee Cacchillo, vice president for customer and brand strategy and my third guest on the podcast. Net Promoter feedback from customers helped Safelite understand some of the subtleties about why Saturday morning service was so often problematic for customers. Typically, the company learned, customers try to pack a lot into their Saturdays. To help support its customers, the company bolstered its support systems and extended its Saturday hours.

You can listen to my discussion with Tom, Natalie and Renee on iTunes or through the player below. Click here to browse more Net Promoter System podcasts.

Why copying Google won’t improve your employee engagement

Michael MankinsMost companies are looking squarely in the wrong direction for ways to improve employee engagement, says my colleague Michael Mankins. “They’re focused on free food, access to child care,” he says (and let’s not forget game rooms, concierge services and the like), all of which are “basically a different form of compensation,” Michael says. Employees do expect fair pay and good benefits. But those basics alone don’t set one company apart from others, and they don’t do much to build engagement.

According to Gallup, something like 70% of US employees say they are not engaged with their job. In spite of all the money companies spend trying to build engagement, many major measures of employee engagement have declined over the last decade or two.

So what should these companies do? Michael—head of Bain’s Organization practice in the Americas and my latest guest on the Net Promoter System podcast—has some answers to this question.

What’s most important for engagement, Michael says, is the feeling that what you do matters.

Net Promoter System podcastThat’s probably a fundamental human motivation that all of us feel. But younger employees in particular—the so-called Millennials—want to believe that the company they work for has a real mission, that it’s having an impact on the world and that they are contributing to it. As Michael puts it, they want the feeling of “I’m doing extraordinary things for a company that’s doing extraordinary things. That’s pride. That creates a bond” between employer and employee, he says.

Everything else flows from this basic principle. Companies need to emphasize team performance, not individual performance, because it’s the team that has a real impact on the company’s mission. They need to ensure that everyone is in the right job, so that each person can capitalize on his or her strengths and contribute to the mission. They need to create inspirational leaders—people who bring out the best in their coworkers and motivate them to realize their full potential as they pursue their company’s goals.

“Today, the best companies are actually communicating much more about impact,” Michael adds. He cites a speech by Michael Dell to an audience that included a lot of Dell employees. Rather than concentrating on the company’s financial performance, Michael Dell “focused on the billions of people [for whom] they were providing access to healthcare, the billions of people who wouldn’t be educated if they hadn’t had the equipment Dell was providing,” and so on. “It was all about the impact the organization is having on the broader world and the role that the team at Dell played in that impact.”

You can listen to my discussion with Michael on iTunes or through the player below. Click here to browse more Net Promoter System podcasts.

Asking for feedback, but actually getting honest answers

Net Promoter System podcastA few years ago, I bought a new luxury car. While I had struggled with the decision about which make and model to buy, once I locked in, I had a really good experience. A dealer not too far from my home had my model in stock, and he did an outstanding job of making me feel like I was his only customer. He made me feel like I got a fair deal and seemed to do his best to make the process painless.

Of course, the best time when you’re buying a new car is that moment you finally take the keys in hand, stride out to your vehicle and fire up the brand new engine. I felt that tinge of excitement—maybe even bordering on elation—as I sped through the paperwork on the appointed day. Right outside the floor-to-ceiling glass window sat my new car, gleaming in the afternoon sun. My keys were sprawled on the table in front of me, calling to me. The anticipation grew.

And when that moment came—when I’d signed the last bit of paper and the car was mine—that’s when the sky suddenly darkened.

“Mr. Markey,” said the salesman as he gripped one of those leather folio things that holds paperwork, “I just need one more thing.” He edged around the table so he could be right next to me, popped open the folio, pulled out a pen and showed me what was inside. “In a few days, you are going to get a survey. It will look just like this.” He circled two questions. “This question, and this question here. These will determine my future. If just one customer gives me anything but a 10 on either of these questions, I could lose my spot as a top salesman.”

This illustrates just one of the complexities of allowing frontline employees to participate in collecting customer feedback. Even employees who aren’t at risk of losing their top spot on the sales league tables find it hard to resist influencing customers. They might circle the survey link at the bottom of a register receipt, and write their names and add smiley faces to encourage a friendly customer to give feedback. Or they might even stand over a customer who is responding to a survey on a tablet at the point of sale. In any of these cases, the customer’s input is bound to be biased and could easily mask deeper problems that management might never see.

And yet, despite all the potential pitfalls, some companies manage to collect high-quality feedback on-site. Some even find that they can get high-quality feedback when the employees are collecting it directly. My latest guests on the Net Promoter System podcast provide one example of a situation where this seems to be working

gautam-mahtani-120x113I recently talked to Gautam Mahtani (pictured right), co-founder of Customer Feedback Systems, whose technology enables clients to collect Net Promoter feedback at the point of service. Phil Fagan and Sarah Cooper of HealthCare Partners of Nevada use Gautam’s technology to gather input from patients of the company’s physicians. Patients typically share their thoughts through tablet computers immediately after a provider interaction.

Gautam’s company and HealthCare Partners provide a fascinating case study in point-of-service feedback requests. Many companies would envy HealthCare Partners’ 80% response rate. And the rapid input has allowed the company to improve its processes quickly, whether it’s scheduling more staff during busier hours to reduce waiting times or adding a 24-hour hotline that allows patients to check on prescriptions.

phil-fegan-120x130HealthCare Partners doesn’t use the feedback to punish providers or determine compensation. The company doesn’t post the scores to create competition among its clinics. Sarah and Phil say this philosophy has been key to making the program work.

“This is patient feedback to improve the patient experience, period,” says Phil (pictured left).

You can listen to my discussion with Gautam, Phil and Sarah on iTunes or through the player below. Click here to browse more Net Promoter System podcasts.

The ideal Customer Advocacy Officer: Balancing experience, credibility, resourcefulness and perseverance

Few decisions are as vital to a Net Promoter effort as choosing the person who runs it day to day. Bring in an arrogant, detached executive with limited ability to relate to front-line employees or one with flimsy experience but major entitlement, and the effort will be doomed. It’s not uncommon for a company to seek an outside expert—someone who has led a similar, successful transformation elsewhere. Hiring for experience alone, however, often results in missteps, false starts and distrust.

But when you appoint someone who has earned his or her colleagues’ trust, knows what it’s like in the service trenches and thinks like a customer, you can’t lose. This leader, whom we call the customer advocacy officer (CAO), serves not only as the customer’s voice inside the organization, but also as a guide for nervous, skeptical employees.

This infographic nicely sums up the key traits that can make a CAO successful.

loyalty-insights-infographic-1000-1-30-15

It also helps when this person has the humility and perseverance of Omar Hashem, chief customer officer of Saudi Arabia’s National Commercial Bank (NCB). Omar recently discussed with me the challenges he faces running the Net Promoter System of the largest bank in the Middle East. He brings vast experience in financial services and a keen understanding of Saudi Arabia’s population, half of which is under 25 and comfortable with all the technology that Millennials routinely use.

omar-hashem-120x113The bank’s early Net Promoter journey was rough. Colleagues questioned almost every aspect of the system. Omar knew he needed to listen with empathy—and push forward with some force. In fact, when faced with naysayers and obstacles, he often sought inspiration from the Pixar film Finding Nemo, one of his daughter’s favorite movies.

“I kept remembering a fish. Her name was Dory. And there was a scene where they went down deep in the dark. And Nemo’s so afraid,” Omar says. “And Dory just kept singing, and saying, ‘just keep swimming, just keep swimming.’ And that ran through my head through the whole setup period. I just had to keep telling myself, ‘There is light at the end of the tunnel, and you just need to keep swimming.’”

You can hear more about Omar’s story in our most recent Loyalty Insights brief, Who should run your Net Promoter System? We’ve also been the exploring the Customer Advocacy Office and the role it plays in recent Loyalty Insights briefs. You can find the last two here: The Essential Role of a Customer Advocacy Office and The Customer Advocacy Office: FAQs.

You can also listen to my discussion with Omar on iTunes or through the player below. Click here to browse more Net Promoter System podcasts.

To improve it, start by measuring it

best-advice-fred-reichheld-linkedin-220x207One of the best pieces of advice I ever received came from my uncle, a world-class physicist who later became a business executive. My uncle and his wife graciously took me in for seven years while I was a student and just starting out in my career. He liked to remind me that until you can measure something, it’s hard to get better at that thing. Learning (and most of science) depends on reliable measurement.

My latest post on LinkedIn looks at the importance of measuring relationships and interactions.

Read the post here: It’s All Lip Service Until You Measure It

Planning the marriage (not just the wedding)

Net Promoter System podcastPeople in the US are intensely loyal to their universities. Alumni brand themselves with sweatshirts, T-shirts and even underwear bearing their college’s name. You’ll find them drinking from mugs emblazoned with mascots and driving cars with rear-window stickers broadcasting their alma maters.

Some super-alums have been known to hire their university’s mascot to appear at their weddings. I even have a friend who had his alma mater’s crest tattooed on his body.

Universities depend on this fierce loyalty. Alumni fund research, scholarships and major capital improvements. They interview applicants, fill seats at football games and help raise a school’s profile. They’re a college’s product, as well as its customers and benefactors.

cunningham-reedMy latest guests on the Net Promoter System podcast work hard to fan the flames of alumni loyalty at their respective colleges. Linda Reed and Jennifer Cunningham work in alumni relations at Stanford and Cornell, respectively. On the surface, they organize reunions and other events designed to strengthen the bonds among alumni. But on a deeper level, they view themselves as “engagement officers” who work to nurture these relationships so that they endure for an alumnus’s entire lifetime.

They use the Net Promoter System to guide their efforts. While the system was developed to support businesses, Linda and Jennifer have adapted it for use in the academic world. After all, many of the same rules apply. For example, just as promoters tend to buy more from retailers they love, alumni promoters tend to donate more, go to more events and volunteer.

The Net Promoter System helps Jennifer and Linda focus on the things that truly matter to alumni, rather than event planning minutiae, such as the quality of the coffee that was served.

“It’s sort of the analogy of planning the wedding versus planning the marriage,” Jennifer says. “We want a marriage with our alums, and the event is just sort of the wedding. So even if the wedding is a disaster, as long as you have that relationship, you know you’re winning.”

During the podcast, we talk about everything from the history of alumni organizations to how the simple act of following up can help mend a soured relationship with an alum.

You can listen to my discussion with Jennifer and Linda on iTunes or through the player below. Click here to browse more Net Promoter System podcasts.

Showing employees how they make a difference

fred-reichheld-first-90-days-linkedin-220x207

CEOs mistakenly think they can create a customer-centric culture on their own, but that’s never true. It’s always a grassroots process in which people throughout the organization actively develop and support the company’s culture. Without an engaged, empowered workforce, a company can only go so far. But those qualities don’t evolve on their own — they’re nurtured and reinforced over time by everyone in the organization.

It starts during the first 90 days by setting a tone of teamwork and inclusion. In a recent blog post on LinkedIn Pulse, I talk about the important window of opportunity that employers have during a new employee’s first 90 days at the company.

Read the post: My First 90 Days: Let Me See How I’m Making a Difference

Love feedback but hate surveys? Join the club

Net Promoter System podcastWho likes surveys? Not me.

I hate them. As a customer, they fill my inbox. They make my phone ring. They generally make me feel guilty for not responding, and when I do take the time to respond I’m almost always frustrated by how long they are, how irrelevant many of the questions feel and how much energy it takes to answer them.

As a marketer and customer experience professional, I hate the low response rates. I hate responder bias and ambiguity of the responses. I hate the inevitable debates about methodology, and I dislike the unavoidable defensiveness from executives who feel judged more than they feel motivated to make improvements.

Richard OwenRichard Owen, my latest guest on the Net Promoter System podcast, also hates surveys. He even expects they will eventually become obsolete. However, he runs Satmetrix, a company that other businesses hire to send surveys, collect responses and evaluate the feedback. How does the CEO of a survey company envision a survey-less future? Here are some snippets from our discussion:

On the decline of surveys as a feedback tool:

“Surveys are likely to decline in effectiveness over time. Surveys are becoming prolific, and as they become more prolific, people are getting saturated with requests and you have what the columnists like to call tragedy of the commons. … And when that happens, our response rates to any particular company starts to decline. And if it declines enough, we end up in a position where you actually start to get adverse selection. The only people left responding are the people who maybe you didn’t want to respond in the first place.”

On the rise of social media as a feedback source:

“Unstructured social data, unstructured internal data, is a huge story. I still think it’s being written. I think that there’s some great work being done. I really like the results we see. But I don’t think that’s to say that it’s a mature spaceship by any means. I think there’s going to be continued breakthroughs and evolution there, and new ideas coming out of it.”

On the feedback companies collect on their own websites:

“Companies are typically running their own communities, tech-support communities. They’re getting a lot of customer conversation going in those things. And that’s really high-quality conversation. By definition, it’s about their product or brand. They often even know who it is that’s saying it.”

On the importance of closing the loop:

“Closing the loop and detractor recovery have always been a great way to engage people. And contrary to people’s initial expectations, it’s not a negative experience. Everyone I talk to who does it says they’re always incredibly empowered by that. … And customers always react very positively to it, even if they don’t suddenly go from detractor status to promoter status, their reaction is uniformly, ‘You’re listening to me. I appreciate the effort you’re making.’”

You can listen to my discussion with Richard on iTunes or through the player belowClick here to browse more Net Promoter System podcasts.

The UK’s grand experiment: A prescription for better healthcare

Net Promoter System podcastHow do you choose a doctor or a hospital? Whether you’re pregnant and sizing up hospitals for your delivery or looking for a dermatologist to examine a mole, you will probably seek recommendations from your friends and family.

That’s because your health—and the health of your family members—is crucial. You need reliable information about how to get the best care. And healthcare is so personal that you probably want the perspective of someone you really trust.

Andrew MacPhersonHistorically, healthcare providers have focused more on what they term “clinical outcomes” than on patient satisfaction or loyalty. But the world is changing. The cost of care rises every year, so governments and insurance companies are pressuring consumers to choose the most efficient providers. Regardless of whether healthcare is provided by private companies or by the government, quality of care has become a political issue of significant importance in many countries around the world. And yet it’s generally been tough for healthcare providers to know how well they’re meeting patients’ needs in a way that helps them improve.

In the UK, healthcare is provided by the National Health Service. In the early to mid 2000s, the NHS began to promote patient choice of providers within the system, partly in response to persistent complaints about quality of care and a sense that patients should be in charge of their own care.

In 2012 UK Prime Minister David Cameron took the controversial step of declaring that patient voice in healthcare would be a central theme of his administration’s priorities. Now, after treatments, NHS providers ask patients for feedback about their experience. The results are public, allowing other patients to make informed decisions about where to seek care. And providers can use the feedback to improve their approach.

I talked to Andrew MacPherson, who leads the strategic projects team for the National Health Service in the Midlands and East regions, in August. During our conversation, which recently aired on the Net Promoter System podcast, we discussed the Friends and Family Test, the National Health Service’s name for its customer service effort, and other challenges that are unique to healthcare.

Here are some excerpts from our discussion:

On the impact of the Friends and Family Test:

“The fact that every single hospital in England, every month, publishes statistics around the patient’s experience in that proceeding month—I think that’s quite a significant. … It makes the patient experience and the acceleration of what’s right and the alert to what’s wrong much more immediate on a day-to-day basis in one of the largest employers in the world. So I, I think that’s quite phenomenal.”

On the technology the NHS is using to collect and share feedback:

“We’ve had a range of mechanisms being introduced ranging from all the familiar ones from tech space, Web, to iPads, etc. One of the areas where we’re having a lot of traction and success now is around text-based feedback. Because quite a few clinicians, hospitals and general practitioners already have appointment reminder systems operating on a text messaging–based platform.”

You can listen to my discussion with Andrew on iTunes or through the player below. Click here to browse more Net Promoter System podcasts.

Powering down the road to customer loyalty in B2B: Cummins Inc.

Lori Cobb and Dave CromptonCummins Inc. makes diesel engines. It’s an old-line manufacturing company with a storied history, and it’s been a leader in its business for almost 100 years.

But what makes Cummins really distinctive is that it competes against its own customers. Every other maker of diesel truck engines is owned by a truck company. The truck companies coordinate with their engine manufacturing divisions, with integrated engineering and a business model that consumes all of its engine production. To overcome this structural disadvantage, Cummins must work a lot harder to earn its customers’ business and their loyalty.

Complicating things further, each of its customers consists of multiple decision makers, influencers and other constituents spread across many different functional and business units. The day-to-day management of customer relationships requires all-in devotion from the Cummins team.

These are the complex situations that business-to-business companies routinely face. When you’re selling to consumers, you generally have just one person to satisfy. But when you’re working with a complicated B2B organization, the path to loyalty might cross five international sub-units, four layers of management and sometimes the CEO. Salespeople and service teams must be experts on their own products, their customers’ products and even broader industry trends.

Sure, B2B companies know they have a lot to gain from earning their customers’ loyalty. But it’s a lot more difficult to earn business loyalty these days. In a recent Bain & Company survey, 68% of executives at B2B companies said their customers were less loyal than in the past. Earning loyalty in B2B markets requires truly unique products and service offerings that advance your customer’s business goals and strategy.

Lori Cobb and Dave Crompton, my recent guests on the Net Promoter System podcast, understand these dynamics extremely well. As veteran executives at Cummins, they’ve experienced the complexities of serving business customers in a competitive global market. In their industry, producing efficient, low-cost engines just gets them to the table. Winning and keeping their customers’ business requires Cummins to adapt its business to fit into the supply chain and operations of the truck manufacturers themselves.

Net Promoter System podcastCummins started using the Net Promoter System a few years ago to learn how it can serve customers better. In our discussion, Lori and Dave share some of the big lessons they’ve learned and things they would do differently.

We’ve also devoted the latest Loyalty Insights to exploring how B2B companies can adapt the Net Promoter System for their operations. While the overall philosophy and principles of high-velocity feedback and learning is the same for all Net Promoter System practitioners, applying them to B2B firms requires unique skills and capabilities.

You’ll find the latest Loyalty Insights here: Get real feedback from your B2B customers.  You can listen to my discussion with Lori and Dave on iTunes or through the player below. Click here to browse more Net Promoter System podcasts.

A finely balanced brew: Consistency with personality

Net Promoter System podcastEver wonder how Starbucks dreamed up the Frappuccino—that frothy, creamy coffee beverage that’s now its own billion-dollar business? It has its own website, Twitter feed and a roster of more than two dozen flavors.

The line is so popular that it has moved beyond Starbucks’ coffee shops to supermarkets and convenience stores. Just the word “Frappuccino” has become so deeply embedded in pop culture—a symbol of the high-end coffee craze of the 1990s—that it earned a zinger in the Ben Stiller comedy Zoolander.

This beverage phenomenon started with a daring experiment by a persistent Starbucks store manager in San Diego. She was simply trying to please her customers and meet local demand. At first, Starbucks executives were skeptical of the idea. But her experiment succeeded because the Starbucks culture fosters creative thinking and personal service. It discourages the robotic behaviors, scripts and sales tricks that can make the fast-food industry such a soulless place to work (e.g., “Want fries with that?”).

Howard BeharHoward Behar, who recently joined me on the Net Promoter System podcast, helped shape that culture during almost two decades at Starbucks. When he joined the chain in 1989, it had just a few dozen stores. By the time he left in 2008, there were thousands of locations. Behar spearheaded Starbucks’ international expansion, blending the quality control of a large chain with the personal touch of a local coffee shop.

Starbucks employees consistently develop the sort of individual, human connection with customers that keeps them coming back day after day. Very few multinational chains have maintained that sort of culture through years and years of rapid growth and all that comes with it. Achieving that level of social chemistry requires a deep commitment to careful hiring, followed by rigorous coaching. At Starbucks, they encourage employees to use their emotional “antennas,” as Howard calls them, to build genuine relationships with customers during these very brief daily interactions.

It sounds complicated, but it’s a way of recreating what used to be the norm. When I was in high school, I used to fetch coffee for all the butchers at my grandfather’s meat company as part of my summer job. After just a few days, the local coffee shop owner had learned my name, my usual order and my thoughts on the losing streak of our hometown baseball team. He was a regular local entrepreneur, forming connections with his regular customers. Now, my daughter has a similar experience at her local coffeehouse, except now she visits a Starbucks.

Howard believes that loyalty is earned when companies encourage employees to be themselves and treat customers like members of their community. It doesn’t come from robotic transactions punctuated by rote recitations of canned niceties. Howard even wrote a book about it a few years ago. Now, he travels the world and helps other executives to create more customer-centric cultures.

You can listen to my discussion with Howard on iTunes or through the player below. Click here to browse more Net Promoter System podcasts.

Delight your employees—fire bad customers

Why companies should fire bad customers

Probably every sales clerk or customer-service rep has run into customers they never want to see again. They’re rude, obnoxious and make life uncomfortable for employees and for fellow customers. Their shouts are often laced with profanity. They abuse the rules and cut into line.

It’s time to empower employees, and recognize that not all customers are worth engaging. The Net Promoter System is built on customer feedback — but if the feedback comes from the wrong customers, then what is the point? Taking feedback seriously from the wrong customers simply diminishes the credibility of the system and alienates frontline employees.

I explore this notion of “bad customers” in my latest post on LinkedIn.

Read the post here: Big Ideas 2015: Why Companies Should Fire Bad Customers