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Which Customer Metric Best Predicts Financial Performance?

Vikas Mittal

Net promoter score, engagement, satisfaction. The list of customer metrics continues to grow, but which is the most indicative of a firm’s financial growth, and which is just a fad? Research points to a clear winner.

Recently, one of my academic colleagues said: “Customer satisfaction is so yesterday. There are so many new metrics like customer engagement. It’s high time we abandon customer satisfaction.” That same afternoon, I was in a meeting with the vice president of strategy for an engineering company with approximately $10 billion in revenue, who said, “Our board wants to increase sales, margins and stock price, so they need to see improvements in promoter scores. That’s what they want, and that’s what we will deliver.”

Both conversations got me thinking about the value of different customer metrics. Executives are confronted with a variety of metrics, such as customer satisfaction, complaints, recommendations, repurchase and net promoter scores. Which metric should they adopt? The market for ideas is efficient and evolving. On the one hand, we should embrace the notion that new customer metrics keep surfacing. On the other hand, executives need an evidence-based approach to separate the wheat from the chaff.

To select the right customer metric, executives need to consider two factors. First, they should focus on a customer metric that is an enduring practice, not a fad. Rather than over-simplifying, a customer metric should mirror the complexity of a customer-centric firm, the needs of its customer base and the ability to implement specific customer-based initiatives. An enduring customer metric will not be a magic bullet. Second, an enduring metric should show evidence for improving sales, margins, cash flow and market share. By adopting and improving scores on the customer metric, executives should show demonstrable improvement in sales, margins, market share and other financial metrics.

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Vikas Mittal, Ph.D., is a member of the faculty at the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University in Houston, Texas.