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What Customers Actually Value

Paul Carroll, Editor-in-Chief of ITL

A partner of mine at a management consulting firm introduced me to the idea of "break points" in customer expectations some 25 years ago, and they struck me as a revelation. 

I had just thought of, say, faster response time to customer calls as a good thing, and the faster the better. In fact, there were break points. Customers would get royally hacked off if kept on hold for a certain number of minutes -- let's say 10 -- so it was worth the effort to keep response times below that threshold. But -- and this was the revelation -- you didn't get additional credit from customers if you cut response time to nine minutes or eight or seven or.... You didn't get credit until you reached the next break point, perhaps at less than a minute, a response time that would delight customers. 

But that didn't necessarily mean you should try to delight customers. The expense might be prohibitive. You might make an economic calculation to merely satisfy them. 

That idea got refined for me a few years later in a conversation with Mike Hammer, the pioneer of business process reengineering and all-around famous professor at MIT. He told me of a large utility that found that the key metric for customer satisfaction when it started service for a customer wasn't what I would have expected: the number of days between the request for service and its initiation. In fact, the key metric was whether the utility lived up to its promise about when service would start. In other words, whether it took one week or two to start service mattered less than whether the technician really showed up between, say, 2 and 4pm on the appointed day.

That's a bit of a long windup, but I wanted to make clear why I was so intrigued by a Hi Marley survey about what really matters to customers in the claims process. While two of the main concerns that surfaced strike me as hard and expensive to resolve, one seems to be really low-hanging fruit ("process explanation and expectation setting"), and another seems within reach ("responsiveness and availability"). 

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