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Friday, September 07, 2007

The power of J. D. Power

I first learned about J.D. Power and Associates two years ago when home builders began observing that this market research and surveying organization (now owned by McGraw-Hill) would soon start its customer satisfaction surveys of Ottawa home builders among consumers. The impact of Power's unbiased and self-funded surveys became crystal-clear to me this week, when hundreds of people packed a meeting hall to recognize Ottawa-Carleton Home Builders' Association (OCHBA) members who had achieved customer satisfaction success -- and Darren Slind, J.D. Power's senior director of the new home builder and performance practices, outlined some of the consequences -- both positive and negative -- of great -- or poor -- client service.

Power's ability to rate builders (it also surveys automakers -- its original market -- electronics, and other consumer-based services, as well as certain business-to-business services) creates a fascinating and dramatic dynamic in the marketplace -- the possibility of a positive rating spurs builders to improve client service -- and the fear of a negative rating causes angst and anguish among the companies who don't make the grade.

Not all so-called customer satisfaction surveys are honest. Some, essentially, give you a reward and the right to use their image in marketing collateral in exchange for a substantial fee. The survey results are cooked to ensure that the businesses who pay the fees can claim to be providing 'client satisfaction' and the whole award then becomes part of a somewhat scammy marketing ploy.

J.D. Power succeeds largely because it plays it straight. You can't buy in or influence the results of the surveys -- but of course for a substantial fee you can purchase the comprehensive survey report and engage in consultancy services to actually improve your customer satisfaction results. J.D. Power's perspective is that while the marketing value of a 'win' is of course important, what really counts is the impact of great client satisfaction on your bottom line -- the survey just measures what is actually happening in the marketplace.
Slind says truly satisfied clients are far more likely to refer and recommend friends and acquaintances to you than clients who are merely feel things are okay.

"You can't hope to meet or exceed customer expectations if you don't understand them first," he says. "Discovery of home buyer needs is critical. What opportunities do you have to adjust your message and/or process to more clearly match the expectations of your customers?"

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