5 steps to becoming a thought leader

 

If you’ve decided that your next career aspiration is to become a thought leader, that’s definitely a great decision. As an individual who drives innovation, ideas and industry experience, the path to thought leadership should be an easy one to attain – if you know the right steps.

  1. Create a strategy

Decide what your main purpose is in becoming a thought leader or having thought leadership within your organization. While monetization could be the ultimate goal, consider what other goals you’d like to see attained. Once you know what these are, you can create a strategy for content, networking and marketing.

  1. Establish your personal brand

As an individual thought leader, you need to create a brand for yourself. First, define your target audience and then decide who you will be for your audience. While authenticity is one of the best ways to succeed and have continued success as a thought leader, having a consistent image that resonates with your audience is going to be the best way to pull off an authentic personal brand. Your personal brand is your reputation and if you have a good one up until now, continue to grow it. Building your personal brand will also involve creating content and building up your online assets, which we talk about below.

  1. Work with other influencers

The best thought leaders are always educating themselves on the industry, on other thought leaders and on just the world in general. If you have access to mentors or influencers, take full advantage of this and reach out to them for advice. Subscribe to their blogs and social media accounts and learn everything you can as you try and build your own reputation and knowledge base. Keep abreast of studies and happenings in your industry, again by subscribing to relevant content and making time each week to read it and understand it. Be sure to comment on your mentor’s work regularly on their social accounts, as this will help you to get your name out there.

  1. Create valuable content for your audience

One of the most important steps on the journey to thought leadership is to create valuable content. You should be publishing this content regularly to a blog you created, as well as sharing it in as many places as possible. If your ideas and thoughts resonate with your audience, they’ll share them too and you’ll begin to build up a good subscriber base. Reach out to others in the industry and see if you can publish on their blogs as well, driving their readers to your space. If your knowledge is great, but your writing skills aren’t, consider hiring a ghost writer who can succinctly develop your ideas on paper. This can make a huge difference in how your content is received, as readability is very important.

  1. Network every chance you get

Move outside of your circle and introduce yourself to people with which you wouldn’t normally interact. Take every opportunity to be present at speaking events, conferences and other networking events, where you can really make an impact on getting your personal brand recognized. With more people in your network, your work will be shared more frequently and your authority will increase. This often happens exponentially, so put in the man-hours and do the work to show your face and speak your mind. Networking doesn’t just have to happen in person anymore either – there is quite a bit more you can do online these days to develop contacts and reach out to potential leads and subscribers.

If you found this article interesting, you may also enjoy reading the other articles I’ve recently posted on Executive Outlook about Thought Leadership.  Please feel free to share these articles with your network.

Your LinkedIn profile is a great place to build your personal brand and position yourself as a Thought Leader. If you need assistance optimizing your profile or writing content, message me at ron.morris@socialselling123.com.

Creating a thought leadership strategy that drives results

For many organizations, establishing thought leadership within the business is a top priority. While your individual goals may vary, the basic purpose of creating thought leadership and its incumbent assets is to differentiate yourself from the competition, to gain the trust of your audience, to gain leads and eventually, to monetize what you’ve done. Anyone can create thought leadership content and other assets, but can they drive results? Here is your quick guide to creating thought leadership that helps you meet your ultimate goals.

Strategize

Going into anything without a strategy is a poor idea and the same goes for your quest to become a thought leader. Align your thought leadership strategy with the growth strategy of your organization. This should include how you position your brand, how you communicate and should integrate the sales process and sales goals. In order to see results, your efforts need to parallel the efforts of the rest of your organization.

Your focus should always be quality over quantity, but should be consistent and continual. Think one month, six months and one year ahead when developing your strategy and decide where you’d like to be and how you’d like to be there. What results would you like to see? Be realistic in recognizing that becoming a thought leader doesn’t happen overnight, but that your consistent effort will help to keep your goals moving forward and drive results.

Create content

Content is king when it comes to thought leadership. Not only will you want to deliver new ideas to your audience in order to gain leads, you want to provide them with relevant advice and solutions that will help solidify their trust. A trusting audience is one that is buying your products. Thought leadership assets can also be all-encompassing and create a system of education for your own team, allowing them to be more effective and easily recognize the goals and innovations of the company. They will then go into the sales process more prepared and better able to close a sale.

Establish a consistent publishing process for all of your thought leadership work. As an organization, you will want to put one person or one team in charge of the documentation process for your thought leadership assets. This person should have valid experience in creating and publishing your assets and furthering your organization’s goals. You may also want to get professional help from organizations that provide thought leadership advice, so that you can ensure you are on the right track. Keeping up with the content needs of your organization may be somewhat difficult if writing is not in the skill-set of your team. Hiring a ghost writer is a good solution for ensuring you stay on track with your goals and for having your thoughts expressed in a thoughtful and engaging way.

Multi-channel delivery

Aligning with your organization’s strategies, ensure that all of your thought leadership content is shared, using a multi-channel delivery system. You don’t want to just publish on platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook, you also want to share this content with email subscribers and on your other media and sales channels. Getting your content out to the largest and most-relevant audience is the best way to drive results and monetize your goals.

If you found this article interesting, you may also enjoy reading the other articles I’ve recently posted on Executive Outlook about Thought Leadership.  Please feel free to share these articles with your network.

Your LinkedIn profile is a great place to build your personal brand and position yourself as a Thought Leader. If you need assistance optimizing your profile or writing content, message me at ron.morris@socialselling123.com.

What inspires you?

As many of you know, I have made it my mission to help people better understand what it takes to become a “thought leader”. One of the thought leaders that inspires me is Simon Sinek, a self-built thought leader whose motivational “Start With Why” axiom has enjoyed great celebrity. Not only does Simon Sinek motivate people towards success, he does so by telling us how other thought leaders inspire people to act.  Here’s a link to one of his recent youtube videos that I’ve summarized below. I’ll be curious to find out if any of his words of wisdom inspire you. Let me know (ron.morris@executiveoutlook.com).

  1. Go after what you want, but don’t deny others access to it

One of the first general rules for any person is to go after what you want. Obviously, if you don’t try, you can’t achieve. But, for Sinek, this includes not getting in anyone else’s way. Achievement shouldn’t be focused on what you can take from others, but what you can achieve and bring to others.

  1. Interpret what you’re feeling differently

Sinek says the best athletes are the ones who’ve interpreted their feelings differently. Rather than see fear as an obstacle to a challenge, those who interpret that feeling as excitement, rather than fear are more apt to move ahead. By changing your interpretation of what your body and mind are feeling, you are essentially telling yourself to go at full speed, rather than be cautious and hold back. This doesn’t just work in the fear sense, but with other feelings that you’re having that may be holding you back.

  1. Take accountability for your actions

With great success comes great failure and by being accountable to this, you’ll make yourself an even better leader. Sinek believes in a balanced equation of taking credit and holding yourself accountable. Sometimes you are the problem and by recognizing this, you are truly on your way to success.

  1. Set your goals to beat only yourself

Finite players play to beat all of those around them. Infinite players play to beat only themselves. In order to be successful you only need to be playing the game to become a better version of who you were yesterday. Once you make yourself the competition, you are ensuring you can stay in the game longer and enjoy it more.

  1. Stack the deck

When you surround yourself with those who believe what you believe, you essentially stack the deck, Sinek says. Rather than work with people who put you last or even in the middle, work with the people who put you first. While the ones who put you first could be “bit players”, they will help you gain strength because they’ll support you and you’ll support them.

  1. Be the last to speak

One of the most important skills any successful leader can have is the ability to speak last. Many leaders employ the tactic of stating facts and then listening to arguments. By letting others speak first, you are doing two things: 1) allowing everyone to feel like they have contributed and 2) lets you make an informed opinion after hearing what others have to say.

  1. Be authentic

The things you say and do matter and it makes you who you are. If you aren’t being honest about who you are, by coveting a look or a vision that is someone else’s, it will show. Many people and organizations tell people what they want to hear, rather than speak what they believe. The unfortunate side effect of this is that when you get found out, you get branded as a liar. If you put something out there that is truly authentic, you will attract others who share your beliefs. Sinek says that once people give themselves up, strange things start to happen.

  1. Feel passionate

To Sinek, passion is not an actionable word, it is a feeling. You feel passion when you are engaged in something you love – something you love so much that you’d do it for free if you weren’t already paid for it. Your career should always follow what you feel passionate about because it is one of the best ways to realize success.

  1. Communicate from the inside out

The main tenet from the Start With Why movement, thinking from the inside out consists of thinking about why you are doing something before thinking about how and what. You want people to believe in you because you’ve got a reason for why you are doing something. Apple computers is a great example of a company that thinks from the inside out. They believe in thinking differently and attract those that feel the same. From there they create innovative and beautiful products (the how) and make great computers (the what). Rather than figuring out how to make great computers, they’ve figured out why they do what they do and then create the what (the great computers).

  1. Follow your beliefs

Sinek believes Martin Luther King Jr. started with why and took his “dreams” to make a cause and inspired others to follow him. Because he followed his beliefs, he attracted others with the same beliefs and made something big out of it. Follow your beliefs and the rest will come.

What you need to learn to stay on top as a thought leader

Becoming a thought leader isn’t an easy task. It takes a superior amount of knowledge and a solid effort of consistently presenting your voice to your audience, whether that is through weekly blog articles or appearances at networking events. Once you’ve made your way up and have a large following, your next challenge is how to stay on top and keep your audience listening. One of the most important characteristics of a thought leader is the ability to always be learning. So, what do you need to learn to stay in the thought leadership game?

The latest research in your field

Sure, you’ve got a wealth of knowledge in your speciality and your audience has been very keen to hear about it, but if you don’t keep up with the latest, you’ll be cast aside like yesterday’s dinner. It is very important for thought leaders to keep up on the latest research and news in their field. Even better, when publishing new posts on your blog or social platforms, try to incorporate any real-time news on subjects that concern your audience. Your credibility will only go up when your audience hears the latest news from you, even before it hits general news sources.

What your audience wants

Just because you’ve already got the proverbial bull by the horns and have a massive following, doesn’t mean you should forget about what it is they want. The best way to stay in any relationship is to communicate and grow, based on the other’s needs. Keep your mind open to what you audience wants and needs and change your perspective accordingly. Using metrics to see if your numbers are growing, stagnating, or worse, declining, will help you easily realize if you aren’t giving the audience value.

What others have to say

When you were making your way up the ladder as a thought leader, you were probably looking up towards others who were already considered thought leaders or influencers. You wanted to emulate their style somewhat and basically do what they did in order to gain the status that they had. As you became a thought leader yourself, you may have stopped looking to others for advice and mentorship. That is a big mistake. No one person is large enough that they can’t learn from others, and as a thought leader who wants to keep being heard, you need to continue listening.

Humility

Some thought leaders who do all the right things and earn a sort of “celebrity” status may believe themselves to be invincible and develop a bit of an ego. After all, they’ve gained a large following and people look up to them. But, a little humility goes a long way towards keeping your initial voice intact. Rather than act like the all-important person that you may well be, the most successful leaders let their modest character and intelligence continue to take the center stage.

The best thought leaders are always learning and growing, as well as teaching and engaging.

If you found this article interesting, you may also enjoy reading the other articles I’ve recently posted on Executive Outlook about Thought Leadership.  Please feel free to share these articles with your network.

Your LinkedIn profile is a great place to build your personal brand and position yourself as a Thought Leader. If you need assistance optimizing your profile or writing content, message me at ron.morris@socialselling123.com.

How to Establish your Credibility as a Thought Leader

One of the most important features that a person needs to be seen as a thought leader is credibility. Your audience needs to trust you and see that you’ve got integrity. Your innovative ideas won’t get heard if the audience doesn’t believe in them. Here’s how to establish your credibility as a thought leader.

Know your stuff

At the most basic level, a thought leader is someone who has superior competence on a subject – be it an industry, a product or a general topic. Thought leaders know so much about that specific topic that they could talk for hours, truthfully, about their thoughts on the topic. If someone were to ask a question, they wouldn’t need to do any research and their thoughts would purely come from the top of their head. Simply put, thought leaders know their stuff.

Make a solid effort

You’ve got the thoughts down pat, now you need to put the leadership into place. You do that with a solid effort to get your thoughts out there. Whether you are publishing articles on a blog and on social platforms or doing presentations and talks to other industry people, you need to do this often and well in order to earn the title of “thought leader”. When people see your face and hear your words over and over, they will come to trust that what you have to say is meaningful. If you don’t make the time to get yourself out there, you will easily be forgotten.

Be consistent

Your voice is one of the most important parts of your image as a thought leader. But, this voice needs to have a consistency to it in order to gain the trust of your audience. If your thoughts are “all over the place” (think: Donald Trump) your believability will crash and you will lose the belief of your followers. While it is always ok to change your mind, if your overall calls to action are not consistent, your audience will move on.

Actively listen and address your audience

A thought leader doesn’t just spout off their ideas – they actively listen and learn from their audience as well. They answer questions on social media and enthusiastically participate in discussions that others are having, in person and online. Even better, thought leaders show appreciation to their audience for their input and make it a large part of their strategy.

Don’t just self-promote

While one of the purposes of becoming a thought leader is to gain leads and build your brand in order to make a profit, being a thought leader shouldn’t all be about promoting yourself (or your products or companies). Rarely anyone wants to feel they are being sold to, so self-promotion can really alter your status as a thought leader. In order for your audience to trust you, they need to believe that you are giving them valuable information without expecting anything else in return. If you are taking the steps necessary to establish your credibility, your followers will believe in you and in turn, believe in your products and organization and you won’t need to do any promotion.

If you found this article interesting, you may also enjoy reading the other articles I’ve recently posted on Executive Outlook about Thought Leadership.  Please feel free to share these articles with your network.

Your LinkedIn profile is a great place to build your personal brand and position yourself as a Thought Leader. If you need assistance optimizing your profile or writing content, message me at ron.morris@socialselling123.com.

4 Ways Thought Leadership Articles Differ From Content Marketing

Content marketing is an extremely effective way to build your business, increase sales and achieve the trust of your audience. Essentially, content marketing is a very strategic marketing approach where you deliver consistent and relevant content to a clearly-defined audience in return driving profitable customer actions. Most businesses from multi-billion dollar corporations all the way down to the sole proprietorship uses content marketing to build their brands and drive customer engagement.

Many believe that thought leadership articles are just another form of content marketing, but in reality, it is so much more. Yes, thought leaders provide informed opinions through published content that could be described as content marketing. And yes, many do realize the benefits of increased customer engagement and possible increased profit through their thought leadership content. But, thought leadership content holds quite a bit more value than content marketing.

Authenticity

With content marketing, there is so much information out there. As a reader, it is really difficult to cut through the muddle and find articles that are appropriate to you, provide value and are authentic. That’s where thought leadership content steps in. If you’ve already established yourself as a thought leader – someone with innovative ideas, unique perspectives and with superior knowledge of select topics – people want to hear what you have to say. This is because what you are saying is completely authentic – it wasn’t outsourced and relies on your own experiences and doesn’t just come through research or second-hand knowledge.

Crafted Ideas

Content marketing, as with most types of marketing, have set goals in place for factors like reach and engagement. The primary purpose of the written content is to reach that goal, regardless of how it may actually affect the content. On the other hand, thought leaders don’t write content with goals in mind. They write content based on the ideas they’ve crafted in their minds and basically, by being themselves in the process. Thought leaders focus on their message, not the medium or the outcome.

Gets Personal

Thought leaders don’t have a problem with getting personal and bringing their own experiences up in their content. By doing so, they credibly develop a trust with their audience, and readers see them as a fundamentally open book. While content marketing can be seen as a way to espouse certain values or beliefs, thought leadership is the value and the belief.

Learns from its Audience

A thought leader didn’t get to that status by sheer luck – they took the knowledge they learned along their journey and applied it to every facet of their life. With a growth mindset, thought leaders don’t just teach others, they listen and learn. When it comes to content marketing, insight into audience is limited to what can be done to get higher reach and engagement. With thought leadership, insight from the audience is always appreciated, well-received, and helps the thought leader develop and present better and brighter ideas.

Rather than think of thought leadership as content marketing at its finest, it should be considered to be in a category all on its own.

If you found this article interesting, you may also enjoy reading the other articles I’ve recently posted on Executive Outlook about Thought Leadership.  Please feel free to share these articles with your network.

Your LinkedIn profile is a great place to build your personal brand and position yourself as a Thought Leader. If you need assistance optimizing your profile or writing content, message me at ron.morris@socialselling123.com.

What is a thought leader and why should you be one?

Just as there are different definitions for “success”, there are different ways to look at thought leadership. If you’ve never heard of the term “thought leader”, the basic terminology could be defined as someone who recognizes themselves as an expert or authority in a selected area of specialization and thus becomes the go-to person for information on that subject of specialization. To take this even further, a thought leader is also a person who profits from being labelled as such.

Many have dismissed the concept of thought leadership as a trendy buzzword. But, by looking at the actual goal of a thought leader, it is easy to recognize the value and substance of the concept and that it is a worthwhile goal to achieve for many in the corporate world.

What is the value of becoming a thought leader?

Taking the time to establish yourself as a thought leader is definitely a worthwhile endeavour. Being a person who an audience can trust to learn new information relevant to them in their industry, allows you to establish or enhance your relationship with this audience. Being that know-it-all in your field adds value, not only to your own career, but to their careers, as they learn and grow from your thought leadership. By becoming a thought leader, you not only differentiate yourself from your competition, you prove that your products and/or services are built on a solid knowledge base. Consider that if you own a “green” technology business and market it as so, but take it one step further by becoming a thought leader on the topic of environmentalism and green technology, it will add tremendous value to your customer base in a number of ways. They will understand that your “green” business truly practices what it preaches and it does so based on accurate, well-researched and real-time information.

Whether your audience is looking for information on the past, present, or even the future, when you establish yourself as a thought leader, your customers and potential customers are going to come to you to hear about what is going to happen next. Your insights will be respected and appreciated and this will definitely have a good effect on your bottom line.

How can you become a thought leader?

Deciding that you want to be a thought leader and having the ability to do so are two completely different things. Just as it took time to build your business, it will take time to establish your credibility as a thought leader. Using your knack for being able to engage people in conversations, combined with a very competent insight into your industry, you can build your thought leadership status in a number of ways. Using the tools accessible to you, writing articles, utilizing social media, giving speeches and attend networking events, will all fall under the guise of creating a reputation for yourself as a thought leader.

Even still, there is more to becoming a thought leader than writing blog posts and tweeting. Going above and beyond the simple act of explaining concepts and actually providing your audience with ideas and motivating them to connect and engage with those ideas are the true signs of a thought leader. By focusing on what you know best and what you care about will ensure your thoughts will be genuine and well-received.

As your thought leadership status grows, so too can your business and your profits, solidifying your status as a true thought leader.

If you found this article interesting, you may also enjoy reading the other articles I’ve recently posted on Executive Outlook about Thought Leadership.  Please feel free to share these articles with your network.

Your LinkedIn profile is a great place to build your personal brand and position yourself as a Thought Leader. If you need assistance optimizing your profile or writing content, message me at ron.morris@socialselling123.com.

From Trade Magazines to B2B Pay-Per Action IT Lead Generation: The Ongoing (Re)Evolution

The world of B2B IT marketing used to be simpler and easier to understand. There were only a few choices for advertising and of these the most ubiquitous were:

  • Point of sale
  • Billboards
  • Trade publications and other print options
  • Broadcast
  • Trade shows
  • Direct mail

When it came to B2B IT marketing and display advertising, trade publications were the primary source of advertising prior to the proliferation of web-based marketing. Basically, an advertiser would pay for an advertisement in the publication with the goal of generating interest in the brand or product. They relied on the targeted content of the publication, as well as their loyal and often, well-vetted subscriber base. They knew exactly who they were marketing to and paid using a model of cost per impression. The impressions simply meant the number of people who received and/or read the publication and there were a number of factors that determined the cost per impression. Some of these included:

  • If the publication was free or paid
  • Position of the advertisement in the publication
  • Frequency of placement of the advertisement over time within the publication

While these forms of advertising are still in use, web-based lead generation marketing strategies have boomed and are the primary focus of most B2B IT marketing teams in 2017. Let’s discuss the evolution of IT lead generation from a trade-publication dominated industry.

Web-focused marketing

With a serious cost advantage, content producers started or moved online. Not only was cost a factor, but the barriers of entry into world of publishing content online are so low that anyone with even a start-up budget could be a web-based publisher. And, because of the inherent interactive nature of the web, advertisers could more effectively measure who interacted with the online content and accompanying advertisements. Marketers and publishers soon noticed the  definite shift from the print model where you were not really aware of who looked at your advertisement, only who had the publication in their grips.

A second evolution

When Google exploded onto the scene, they inevitably changed this world forever. With their pay-for-click advertising model, advertisers were thrilled to only be charged for those ads that a reader clicked on (and not the ones that were ignored). This model of pay-per-performance came out of the desire for advertisers to only want to pay for advertising  that actually showed tangible results. Brand advertising on the Internet really never developed. And, under this performance-based financial model, regardless of what those results were, this model allowed advertisers to decide on an engagement strategy and then be charged for the deliverance of the results based on this strategy. For example, if the marketing team was only concerned with their audience clicking on and downloading a white paper, they only paid for the times that this action was taken. If you do it correctly, you are essentially only paying for results and that is obviously  very attractive to  advertisers.

Changes for publishers

This new pay-for-performance B2B IT lead generation financial model gained popularity quickly. Nd, as publishers moved online and others started publishing B2B content online without ever having a print product, the traditional publishing model of monetization of the subscriber base broke down, because now, as a publisher you only got paid if those subscribers actually did something, not just for them being there. In this new model, the responsibility has shifted from the advertiser to produce engaging and attractive content and imagery to one where the publication has to pressure their audience to perform an action.

This has led to the proliferation of tactics by the online publishers to get their audience to take the action that they can be paid for. This meant that the  publications were calling, emailing and putting up roadblocks  everywhere in order to get the audience to perform the required action. Consequently, it has lead to a more and more disjointed audience, where subscribers are becoming disinterested and even angry. Response rates are dropping and the cost of maintaining a subscriber base is skyrocketing. This is a definite breakdown in the entire financial model,  resulting in what could only be described as more work by the publishers to produce leads of an ever lowering quality.

While this shift towards pay-for-action is dramatically different than the days of impression-based advertising, ultimately brand building online will become a more important part of the mix  as time passes. But ultimately, when it comes to IT B2B lead generation, those who are results-focused and have reasonable ROI expectations will be the winners. At TCI, we focus on the result—a better quality lead at a fair price and use many different techniques to assure a great result for our advertisers. One thing is for sure: peddling dead databases where subscribers have become disengaged and have other, better, choices, is no longer a good choice for advertisers.

To reach Peter Ostrow, contact him at postrow@technicalcommunities.com.

 

Linking Customer Satisfaction Measurement to Financial Performance

One of the main benefits of Customer Satisfaction research is provided through the capability to observe trends on indicators that are directly tied to financial performance.  Companies can use ongoing measurement as an early warning system to monitor and detect drops in performance and to determine how to take corrective action.  When performance is stable or trending upward, market position may be considered and calculated risks may be contemplated with respect to the competitive environment.

Under the best circumstances, increased performance in service delivery should be celebrated.

As there are many external factors affecting a company’s financial performance, the capability to observe ongoing performance allows a perspective into the customer viewpoint that can be used to increase awareness regarding overall financial performance.  A key benefit is reduced risk.  While planning matters require a stable environment, the measurement can provides an additional perspective and increased confidence to determine if the time for change is right or wrong.  Customer satisfaction is sensitive to changes in the market place and can warn of a competitive threats and pressures.

In addition to a perspective into key service indicators, a view into the basic health of customer relationships is provided through customer retention and loyalty measures.  These are the early warning measures that are important to track.  Valuable insights pointing to the cause and effect of altering these measures often indicate market shifts or other economic impacts which can be anticipated.

The key is to know when and how to react.  Of course, the business climate is also important.

Science – First, there needs to be recognition of the fact that Customer Satisfaction research relies on scientific methodology.  The research methodology requires reliability to predict the degree of sample representation compared to the total population measured.  Statistical reliability and confidence levels are the key components of research findings when significant differences are reported between distinct populations.  From a practical standpoint, the overall reliability of the data collected is fully dependent upon specific procedures to ensure validity.

 

Benefits – Remember that the outcome of a successful program is more than just a measure of Customer satisfaction.  The results can also be tied to Brand Equity and an assessment of standing within the competitive environment.  It is also recommended to be sure to evaluate findings against competitive benchmark data for a comparative viewpoint.

Components of a Reliable Customer Satisfaction Program

One of the primary indicators of successful business performance is Customer Satisfaction Measurement.  Companies benefit from listening to their customers and taking notice of what they say about their strengths and weaknesses.  It is not enough to just hear what customers are saying.  Companies need to be able to understand the composition of their customer base.  What is the actual percentage of customers who are delighted with the service they receive?  What is the percentage of the customer base that is less than satisfied?  How many are in between?  To what extent is the business vulnerable to customer drift?  In an effort to maintain a competitive edge and because not all customers experience superior service, it is imperative to measure, identify the gaps and correct course, when necessary.  Not all customers are 100% satisfied.

The purpose of the Customer Satisfaction program is to gauge the difference between what the various groups of customers are saying.  While many companies believe that their customers would tell them if there are issues or problems, unfortunately, this is not always the case.  There is usually a deeper meaning to what customers are saying and it is important not to just be hearing the part that we want to hear.  We need to be sure that research operates in a listening mode to uncover the totality of the message.  There are always a number of customers who have important messages to report, to let you know that things don’t always go right and that there is always room for improvement.  If you don’t want to hear those comments, you won’t.  If you listen, you will.

The key is to be knowledgeable about the required process and procedures to use.

Science – First, there needs to be recognition of the fact that Customer Satisfaction research relies on scientific methodology.  The research methodology requires reliability to predict the degree of sample representation compared to the total population measured.  Statistical reliability and confidence levels are the key components of research findings when significant differences are reported between distinct populations.  From a practical standpoint, the overall reliability of the data collected is fully dependent upon specific procedures to ensure validity.

Objectivity – A common problem involves removing bias and the best way to ensure this is to involve a third party.  It is impossible to pretend to be or to role play the part of a third party.  When the researcher is too close to the problem, there is an initial flaw that is impossible to overcome.  It is important to have a view from the outside looking in.  The researcher must not have a vested interest in the outcome.  There is way too much at stake to allow undue (or inside, in this case) influences on the interpretation of the data reported.

Adequate Sample Size – In the final analysis, the results of the survey are only as good as the reliability of the sample selected.  Adequate sample size ensures that statistical calculations are based upon a representative subset of the total population.  This is crucial to the validity of the data collected.  When ratings are to be generalized to total company performance, they must not be taken from a subset only representing the favorite or best customers.  The entire customer database should be used and sampled across the board.

Representation – Sample strategy depends upon proper representation of the sample frame or universe.  Everyone must be included for a sample to be reliable and projectable.  Under ideal circumstances, a census sample would always be attempted to ensure that everyone gets to have a voice and provide feedback.  However, except in the case of measuring small populations, a census sample is not always necessary.  Fortunately, it is possible to utilize proven sampling methods to allow a smaller subset of the universe to fulfill this requirement.  Statistical methods of sample stratification, balancing, weighting and other principles must always be considered as part of the study design. 

Equal Opportunity Approach – All respondents must have an equal opportunity to participate in the survey.  Everyone must be invited to the survey using the same criteria.  If the survey is to be conducted via email invitation, all potential respondents must have email contact information.  If the survey is to be conducted by telephone, all potential respondents must have telephone contact information.  If some only have one or the other, a mixed methodology should be considered.  Measurement must be performed consistent with the Voice of the Customer to ensure clarity and understanding.  To understand the customer experience, it is important to speak the same language.

Questionnaire Design – The right questions to be asked, the way to ask them and the order of presentation are all key elements to the reliability of the assessment.  The questionnaire instrument must have a foundation in The Voice of the Customer and reflect the language that customers use. Questionnaire design is a process that begins with an analytic plan.  First you need to know what you need to measure and then you need to take extra care to make sure that the design reflects the business issues surrounding the services performed.

Always start with an outline and construct a questionnaire that is suitable for the scope of business.  You need to know the type questions that need to be asked, the type of rating scale to use and the techniques used to eliminate response bias.   Make sure that the questionnaire addresses all aspects of the analytic plan.  Take time to make sure all instructions are clear, to socialize the questionnaire among a test population and to revise before using.

Quality Control – Quality does not happen by accident.  Quality controls must be in place to ensure that all of the above principles are planned, provided for and in effect.   Initial as well as periodic monitoring of the study should also be performed during the data collection process.

 

Benefits – Remember that the outcome of a successful program is more than just a measure of Customer satisfaction.  The results can also be tied to Brand Equity and an assessment of standing within the competitive environment.  It is also recommended to be sure to evaluate findings against competitive benchmark data for a comparative viewpoint.