Everyone has customers. 

Whether you execute large contracts for the government, sell the latest widget or run an industry association, customers pay your bills. But the constant pressure to increase revenue and market share makes it challenging to keep the customer in focus. If this sounds familiar, it might be time to revisit the metrics your organization watches and rewards. 

Client First

2015-21-Sept-Hart-Image1My first job out of college had an initiative called Client First. We were told that every action we took should focus on helping a client. When given a choice between two tasks, we were told to determine which one would help our clients the most and do it. We all received some training and pretty coasters for our coffee cups.

The company rolled out satisfaction surveys to clients at the same time. The goal was to measure, year-to-year, the satisfaction level of our customers. If our clients were happy we all got a big thank you from the office manager at an all-hands meeting.

Guess what? Behaviors did not change. To be fair, the organization was already client focused. This effort was more about measuring and maintaining client satisfaction then it was about changing behaviors within the organization. 

If changing behaviors was the goal, a more direct reward system should have been put in place. Something as simple as an award for the team with the highest level of improvement or a lunch for all the teams with the highest level of client satisfaction would have driven behavior change.

Measure the Behavior You Want

A lot of organizations that say they value their customers evaluate their staff on unrelated metrics. This manifests itself in many ways:


If an organization spends more time measuring sales and using that to drive a majority of compensation decisions, it's a clear sign that the customer is not in focus. When sales staff receive commissions solely on new sales and not on renewals of existing customers, customers are abandoned. People often tell me about how they can never get the attention of the person who sold them the software once the check has cleared. If you are going to give someone the title of Account Representative, make sure that they are held accountable for their accounts.

Product Managers

Product managers may be compensated by how well their product sells. That's a nice incentive, but encourages new products and complex price sheets when used in a vacuum. If you also reward product managers by the upgrade rate to new versions and by customer retention, it encourages them to make upgrading easy and attractive. A client should not ask, “Why should I upgrade?” They should ask, “How soon can I upgrade?”

Customer Service

In customer service, the goal should not be to close a case as quickly as possible. The goal should be to close a case to the satisfaction of the customer. 

Granted, every customer service request won't have a happy resolution. But there's no reason why a vast majority of cases cannot. If your customer service team has a hard time achieving that metric, ask yourself some questions. Is the staff incapable? Are they adequately trained? Is the product or service they are supporting flawed to such a degree that positive outcomes are impossible?


User conferences may seem like an unusual focus for customer experience, but how a business runs its conferences says a lot about its commitment to the customer. A few metrics to watch for: 

  • What is the percentage of repeat attendees? 
  • How many customers are submitting topics for talks to be given at the conference? 
  • How many are willing to do impromptu video testimonials during the conference? 
  • Is the conference growing at least as fast as the customer base? 

Measuring a conference primarily upon revenue is a mistake. And for organizations that don't hold user conferences, look at what efforts it takes (or not) to bring customers together. A lack of resources is no excuse for not helping customers to connect in this day and age.

Set a High Bar

Determining what to measure and what constitutes a good score takes effort. Data is out there for many industries for what is considered standard. If the goal is to be customer-centric, then the measure of success should be higher than the rest of the industry. 

If no reliable industry standard can be identified, dive into your data. Determine what metrics put customer success first. If the data has to be meticulously uncovered, put methods in place to capture the information. It is amazing how willing people are to capture information into a central system when their compensation is determined by the resulting information.

How has the organization performed against these metrics? Look at results over the past few years and the current year. Set goals that drive improvement. If improvement is not happening, determine if there are obstacles preventing people from improving upon the metrics. Make sure that the benefits of hitting the goals —and exceeding them — are clear and strong enough to drive the correct behavior. If a sales person can get twice as much money landing a new sale as they do hitting their customer retention metric, it is clear what the sales person will choose to do.

Find, Measure, Reward

Find metrics that indicate happy and engaged customers. Measure them, share them and hold people accountable to achieving the goals. Reward people and teams for exceeding their goal. Make everyone invested in keeping customers exceedingly happy.

When you achieve that, new customers become a lot easier to find.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Grey World