I recently came across a very intriguing bit of research that suggests the benefits of investments in the customer experience in terms of shareholder return.
Great customer service processes and people are not built overnight. They take years of investment to cultivate. Unfortunately, for some publically traded companies, the short-term demands of Wall Street make such investment difficult. The demands of investors to meet earnings estimates for the next quarter can make it difficult for managers to invest in the customer experience – the payback is too slow and uncertain.
Stockholders have little patience nowadays with investments that do not show a clear and quick return. To ensure that managers are acting in the owners’ interests, management incentives are more frequently tied to quarterly financial performance than to difficult-to-measure variables like customer loyalty.
Given great customer experiences are not built overnight, they are constantly at risk of budget cuts by managers who would boost short term earning at their expense. Service initiatives have a tendency to come and go in large companies before they have a chance to prove their worth, resulting in customer frustration, employee cynicism and widespread service mediocrity.
Service gurus talk about the need for “investor loyalty” as a counterbalance to customer loyalty, but that requires a visionary, motivated and stable management team who can convince investors to look farther ahead.
Easier said than done, right? How does one make the case for investments in the customer experience in an environment that demands making the next quarters numbers?
Jim Picoult, founder of Watermark Consulting, has an answer. Jim has created a stock index based on Forester’s annual Customer Experience Index (CXI). Jim calculated the returns of two hypothetical portfolios consisting of the top and bottom 10 publicly traded companies in Forester’s CXI for a six year period ending in 2012. Each year he rebalanced the two portfolios based on Forester’s new rankings. The portfolio comprised of companies ranked in Forester’s top 10 yielded a cumulative return of 43%, compared to 14.5% for the S&P 500. The portfolio containing the bottom 10, yielded a cumulative return of negative 33.9% – it lost a third of its value.
Now, correlation is not causation, and there are a lot of factors at play here. But clearly the managers of firms in the portfolio of Forester’s top 10 were able to both deliver shareholder value and invest in the customer experience.
It all comes down to thinking of the customer as an asset in which to invest and realize a return.