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The One Number You Need to Grow (HBR OnPoint Enhanced Edition) [Download: PDF] [Digital]

Frederick F. Reichheld
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Most customer satisfaction surveys aren’t very useful – long and complicated, yielding low response rates and ambiguous implications that don’t correlate tightly with profits (SUSD revenues) or growth. Reichheld’s research found that a single survey question can serve as a useful predictor of growth. That question isn’t explicitly about satisfaction or even loyalty – it’s about customers’ willingness to recommend a product or service to others. Loyal customers talk up a company to their friends and colleagues, putting their own reputations on the line. This tendency of loyal customers to bring in new ones, at no charge, is especially beneficial when operating in a mature industry.

Retention rate measurements are merely the best of a mediocre lot – their relationship to growth is tenuous because they basically track customer defections and ignore how fast a bucket is filling; further they’re distorted by high switching costs, lack of alternatives, inertia, or other barriers. An even less reliable gauge is conventional customer-satisfaction measures - eg. Kmart boosted its satisfaction rating while sales slid and it went into bankruptcy, and some savvy auto customers offer to sell the dealer a set of top satisfaction survey ratings for another $500 off the price.

Reichheld et al developed that he calls the Loyalty Acid Test, tested on thousands of customers in financial services, cable and telephony, personal computers, e-commerce, auto insurance, and Internet service providers. Additional they obtained a purchase history for each person surveyed and asked them to name specific instances in which they had referred someone else to the company in question.
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