Customer Metrics – Disclose, or Not to Disclose, That is the Question
A number of marketing scholars and even the Marketing Accountability Standards Board (MASB) have called for firms to provide more disclosures of customer metrics as they could lower investors’ and analysts’ uncertainty about firm performance. Managers, however, argue that such disclosures are unlikely to help investors or analysts, and could hurt future profits by increasing cost and providing valuable information to competitors. To address the relevance of these concerns, the authors of “Do Disclosures of Customer Metrics Lower Investors’ and Analysts’ Uncertainty but Hurt Firm Performance?” from the Journal of Marketing Research, focus on the Telecommunications and Airline industry and examine empirically the kind of information that firms report about their customers (called “customer metrics”) and how this disclosure of customer metrics impacts profits as well as investors’ and analysts’ uncertainty.
What is the Good and the Bad of Disclosures of Customer Metrics?
The analysis reveals the good news that forward-looking disclosures (i.e., managers’ expectations) of customer metrics are negatively associated with investors’ uncertainty in the Telecommunications and Airline industry, and with analysts’ uncertainty in the Telecommunications industry. Importantly, we also find that backward-looking disclosures (i.e., delivered results) of customer metrics do not have any effects on the uncertainty faced by analysts and investors.
The bad is… – nothing! In contrast to arguments presented by managers, neither forward- nor backward-looking disclosures of customer metrics have a negative impact on future profits (here measured by cash flows) of firms.
What Shall We Do, Then?
A direct implication is that senior managers such as the CEO and the CMO should consider dis-closing forward-looking customer metrics. Such forward-looking disclosures could create a richer information environment for analysts and investors that, eventually, could lead to a de-crease in a firm’s cost of capital.
Additional analyses show that the results are driven by the forward-looking disclosures of customer outcome metrics (e.g., customer satisfaction, customer retention) rather than metrics related to firm actions targeted at customers (e.g., marketing spending and advertising spend-ing). Thus, managers should particularly consider making greater forward-looking disclosures of customer outcomes to reduce the uncertainty faced by analysts and investors. The results also speak for an increased role of marketing managers in managing investor relations.
The beneficial impact of forward-looking disclosures, combined with the fact that the authors do not find any negative effects of these disclosures on future cash-flows, also presents initial empirical evidence for FASB to re-consider its 2004 decision to terminate its project encouraging disclosures of customer information by firms.