Thursday, February 26, 2009

Have you thought about your tracker lately?

Even though tracking studies are considered by many organizations to be one of the most important research programs to conduct, they may be wasting a lot of your research budget that could otherwise be spent in more fruitful endeavors.

Tracking studies typically represent the largest portion of an organization’s research budget, but sometimes they fall victim to a condition of “status quo” in order to preserve historical trends which represent significant investment by the organization. On the one hand, the history that existing tracking studies may have represents a view of “from where we’ve come” and offers the best empirical basis for the potential of seeing into the future. Yet, on the other hand, revising, upgrading, or downsizing tracking studies may, in fact, represent the best opportunity to maintain the viability of an organization’s set of customer satisfaction programs and initiatives that are designed to improve customers’ perceptions and strengthen the ties that bind them to its products and services.

Given the economic conditions our nation is currently experiencing, that is, recession, deflation, increasing unemployment, tightening of credit, and other bear market characteristics, it is safe to assume that the importance of various aspects of the relationship between an organization and its customers may have changed from last year to this. As such, the exact same set of the organization’s performance measures, i.e., key drivers of overall customer satisfaction, that have been tracked in previous waves of research may no longer be valid. Indeed, the shelf life of previously identified, key drivers of satisfaction may have expired.

For example, take the case in which customer satisfaction with a checking account has been tracked for at least a year or more. Perhaps that tracker began with a key driver study that was designed to identify, among all aspects of the checking account relationship, only those aspects that showed a significant (statistical) relationship with overall satisfaction. Subsequently, it was only those key drivers that were included in the tracking study -- that is the proper way to initiate a tracking study. It may be that the initial key driver identification study did not find that the speed at which the funds from checks deposited to a customer’s account became available had a strong relationship with overall satisfaction. But now, this particular aspect may have a strong affect on overall customer satisfaction due to the recent, drastic changes in the economy, and how that has affected household budgeting.

Proceeding along with an existing tracker, without tracking on this particular aspect of a bank’s checking services, may be a major mistake. The inherent benefit of tracking on key drivers of satisfaction is to initiate programs, messages, and other organizational efforts to lift satisfaction over time. Instead, the “same old tracker” may have the organization flying blindly.

In essence, it may be time to stop tracking on things that have been heard in the past, and start fresh by listening to the new paths pinpointed by key driver research to capture the hearts and minds of customers. If you can hypothesize that the same old performance items that have been tracked have changed in importance, it’s appropriate to test that hypothesis empirically, with a new key driver identification study. If a new set of key drivers emerge, it’s time to take a long, hard look at your existing tracker and weigh the merits of this historical, trended data that are otherwise valued so dearly.