Feedback: August 2008

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Excellence Matters

I just read Lior Arussy's article ("The Excellence Myth," May 2008) and wanted to say thanks. Good stuff! But what I'd really like to know is, Why? Why are so many deep-pocketed companies -- with MBAs out the yin-yang -- seemingly clueless about true excellence? Is this a management/vision issue, or is this a battle that companies lose in the trenches?

If Rule #1 of going to market is to have a better mousetrap -- or at least to believe that you do -- why are there so many me-too, cookie-cutter, just-good-enough companies? And why is it such a shock when the less-than-excellent ones run into trouble (e.g., Linens 'n Things, Borders, etc.)? Maybe excellence is too nebulous and/or too subjective to define, something that doesn't go hand-in-hand with the distraction of quarterly results. Still, some companies do manage to pull it off. What do those companies know and do that so many others are clueless about? Maybe I have to buy Lior's book to find out. [Shameless plug: It's available now. See the ad on page 41 of the August 2008 print edition. -Ed.]

I believe in excellence. What would help me is figuring out how to overcome those who do not. Along those lines, I also enjoyed Woody Driggs' recent column (The Tipping Point, "Serving Up Customer Delight," April 2008) on how detailed attention to the total customer experience is the difference between success and failure. Still, shouldn't this be obvious? Again, the real issue is, Why? Why is there so little differentiation between companies? Why are so many delivering what they themselves wouldn't buy? Worse, those same executives are expecting to rise to the top of their industries. On what? The strength of their averageness?

In general, the goals seem clearly defined -- attract customers; keep them; make a profit -- yet the methods continue to fail. That's where I think we need input, guidance, etc. Maybe there's even a test (like the Myers-Briggs personality assessment) for identifying truly customer-focused employees?

Thanks again for the great articles. I look forward to more coverage that addresses why so many get the what so wrong.

Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist, Alchemy United

Lior Arussy responds:
Mark, thanks for the passionate message. Did you consider the possibility that these companies are simply incapable of producing excellence? That all these MBAs are simply not capable of squeezing a piece of passion out of their spreadsheets? In that case, they simply resort to copying others. If their hearts are not in their work, no innovation or excellence will ever come out.

Selling to Salespeople: The Real Dilemma
I used to agree with your view on moving sales reps into CRM usage ("Selling CRM to Your Sales Force," March 2008). That was before I conducted an extensive research project -- on what I call "The CRM Dilemma" -- that convinced me that sales reps' aversion to activity controls is so strong, they'll do everything in their power to defeat CRM. To my knowledge, no one has identified this issue before. I've informally presented my research on "The CRM Dilemma" on my blog of the same name.

Arne Huse

Monitoring the Quality Monitors' Reports
I enjoyed reading Donna Fluss' column, "Monitoring the Quality Monitors" (Scouting Report, February 2008).I was glad to see her statement that "it's essential to carefully analyze and identify the right offering for your company. There are huge differences in functionality, ease of use, implementation, ongoing support, and price." I might add that canned reports -- which are what most of these vendors offer -- may not provide contact center management with the level of detail needed to identify the potential improvements that may be most beneficial to operations.

Andy Falke

Where 'At' Is At
Regarding your February 2008 cover line, "If you have to ask at which stage your company is": It would have been far more grammatically correct to write, "If you have to ask which stage your company's at." This may seem like an unimportant detail, but CRM is all about details.

Lauri Turevon

Managing Editor Joshua Weinberger responds:
Thanks for the feedback. I agree about the importance of details; in fact, we considered many options (including the one you mention) before settling on the aesthetically pleasing version that ran. We may quibble over the grammar, but there's no doubt which side our bread's buttered on.

Contemplating Loyalty
I enjoyed reading Marshall Lager's article on "The Loyalty Riddle" (February 2008). The area of customer loyalty is one that I have been researching for the last 20 years. You make some very good points and I find your writing refreshingly clear. I have a few comments to which, if you have the time, I would appreciate your response.

I keep hearing that the Net Promoter Score is being accepted by many. I also read that there are arguments against it. What is your opinion on the validity of the method?

You also reference some work by Jim Kane from the Brookeside Group in your article, and indicate that he has identified six factors that predict loyalty. Were these six factors derived through research, and if so, is there a reference I could review? If there is not research behind these six factors, how were they derived?

Also, are you aware of the new methodology for evaluating customer loyalty being promoted by IBM? If you are aware, what is your opinion of its validity?

Dr. Bill Bleuel, Professor
Graziadio School of Business and Management, Pepperdine University

Senior Editor Marshall Lager responds:
Thanks for the note. I'll do my best to answer your questions as you've laid them out:

  1. I think the NPS is a good first step. Loyalty maintains business -- at least it's supposed to -- but advocacy grows it. While NPS is a wonderfully simple way to measure that effect, I think it's too simple to be the final word in customer metrics because it doesn't measure the strength of advocacy, nor does it consider all the other factors that go into a person's decision-making process.
  2. To the best of my knowledge, Jim Kane's six points are based on research; whether it's from a single project or compiled from his decades of experience, I'm not sure.
  3. I haven't been briefed by IBM on its new approach, but based on other work the company has done in related fields I'd be willing to say it's worth considering. IBM tends to take a full-bore approach to things like this, with smart partnerships and heavy business intelligence.

Business Intelligence Is Mission-Critical
Good writing! And good coverage on the 2008 Gartner Business Intelligence Summit (April 2, 2008). Helpful, insightful data and reporting.

Mike O'Sullivan

Right Launch, Wrong Rocket Scientists
I very much enjoy Marshall Lager's monthly "Pint of View" column, and read with personal interest June's installment ("Houston, We Have a Problem"). I was hoping to visit Kennedy Space Center (KSC) during summer vacation this year. In planning the visit, I noticed on KSC's Web site the following:

Kennedy Space Center Tours is an authorized ticket seller for the Kennedy Space Center, but is not a part of NASA or the Visitor Complex.

So, you were dealing with a government contractor (or concessionaire) and not an agency of the federal government. (Of course, this might be akin to choosing between two poisons.) I look forward to Marshall's next "chief ___ officer" designation.

Mark G. Koenig, MS, CHSP
Director of Accreditation, Licensure, and Risk/Safety Management (ALRMS)
Dameron Hospital Association

Great, funny article. I also was at Microsoft Convergence and heard through the grapevine that there were no tickets for the launch, so I called KSC -- even though it was 5 p.m. on Monday -- and was told that, as long as my driver/vehicle had a yellow pass, they didn't care who was in the car. So I headed there with a car (full of Microsoft employees) that had a "golden pass" -- and that pass allowed the entire car in, regardless of who had an actual entrance ticket. Upon arriving at the main gate, they happily sold me a ticket!

Mark Spikula
Manager, Solution Sales
GaleForce Solutions

Senior Editor Marshall F. Lager responds:
Wait...they didn't care who was in...? And they allowed the entire...? And sold you a...? But...but...>whimper<.

WFO Magic?
Regarding your recent online news article, "It's Been a Gloomy Decade for Contact Centers" (May 22, 2008), workforce optimization (WFO) is not the "magic" that's going to fix this problem. In fact, I can argue that WFO is intensifying the problem.

Jim Rembach
Senior Vice President
Customer Relationship Metrics


Letters may be edited for length or clarity.

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