This blog was originally published by me on 08/24/2010 at

My Facebook status today reads, “I’m hoping this morning’s travels will inspire another interesting blog post.” Right after I posted that, a thought popped into my head:  it’s not my travels today as much as my destination that has inspired me. I’m on my way to our HQ in Utah to meet with my team for our Quarterly Business Reviews, which got me thinking about how our clients review their businesses, especially as it pertains to their VOC initiatives.

Gathering feedback from your customers helps you understand what you’re doing well and not so well for them. However, if that’s all you do, it’s like living in a bubble. It’s interesting and inspirational to put all of your scores and feedback into the broader context – how well do you do stack up against your competitors? This applies not only to financial/operational metrics but also to  your VOC data.

I’m talking about benchmarking, which means making comparisons to help you understand the perception of your business relative to the competition in the minds of your customers.

1. Competitive Benchmarking helps you determine your performance relative to a primary competitor or a set of key competitors. Competitive Benchmarking data can be obtained in several different ways.
          Third-Party Surveys:  Engage with a third party to conduct a blind competitive survey. This is the cleanest survey approach, but it’s also the most expensive.
          Your Surveys:  Add some questions to the end of your relationship survey that ask your customers to rate one or two of your competitors with which they’ve done business. This approach is a little less clean and perhaps even a bit biased because you’re asking these questions only of your customers. As long as you view the responses in that light, you can still get a decent benchmark.
          External Metrics:  Get access to syndicated results for ACSI, JDPA indexes, NPS, Forrester CxPi Customer Experience Index, etc. that are relevant for your industry, product, etc. Ask a comparable question or set of questions in your own survey(s) to benchmark.

2. World Class Benchmarking is a slightly different approach where you’re not necessarily interested in benchmarking question to question or score to score. In World Class Benchmarking, you ask your customers to tell you about a “world class experience” they had with another company – any company, regardless of industry. What you’re looking for is a way to identify who your customers look up to when it comes to service, products, literature, training, etc. You then study that company – you might even partner with them or find a mentor in that organization, depending on who it is – to identify best practices or approaches that inspire different customer experience improvements or initiatives in your company.

My final thought about how clients review their businesses brings me to Internal Benchmarking, which entails taking the feedback you’ve gathered and comparing scores, ratings, or indexes internally – within your own business, i.e., benchmark business units, locations, sites, etc. against each other. Identify your stars and your dogs, compare practices, and have your stars mentor your dogs.

Ok, it’s time to go update my Facebook status to “another one’s in the can.”

Update (12/06/2011):  I stand by my previous post about being remarkable and finding something that is unique to your brand.  Benchmarking is great to get that relative perspective, but you really need to take that information for what it is and figure out what makes your company unique. How can you be different?  How can your company become the one that others strive to be like? What about your business approach excites customers to consider your products and services first?