The Ultimate Question

Posted in Big Thought by Harsha on December 15, 2010

I was recently referred the book The Ultimate Question by a senior executive at my employer and found myself completely reprogrammed about customer service. That coupled with a few searches on and Tony Hseih made it clear that the ideal path to profit is through happiness.

Of course, there are other ways that may lead to bigger personal and corporate profits, as evidenced by the fat cats on Wall Street, but you know that I have already rejected that notion, at least for myself. The author of this book calls such profits as “Bad Profits”. He also states that one cannot distinguish between good and bad profits on a balance sheet, but that bad ones look great in the short-term and erode customer happiness and referrals in the medium to long term. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) helps one identify which profit is which and reduce the bad while increasing the good.

Ask yourself – how do you feel about the revenue that the airlines have raked in from every checked-in bag and other fees? Now think of how you feel about Southwest where you can check-in up to 2 bags per person for free! Is Southwest losing profit? SURE! But they are only losing “bad” profits. Delta is looking great now, but think of how many people love and recommend Southwest and how many love and recommend Delta?

By the way, two companies that I LOVE and always RECOMMEND are Enterprise Rent-a-Car and Valvoline. They reside in two highly commoditized worlds and their front-line employees are not exactly high-powered and highly-paid executives with a lot on the line! Will you believe me if I said I have never had even one bad interaction with either company over the past 8 years?

Accomplishing that level of customer happines is hard to do and takes a lot of discipline. But a large part of the challenge of implenting this idea is getting employees on the same page.

Richard Owen, CEO of Satmetrix – the company that built tools for the management of NPS – recently wrote about the reality of persevering with this strategy. He had a great quote on his post by Philip Dick (“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away”) when talking about the resistance in understanding customer happiness because it is in the boggy world of “culture management”. Salespeople are especially resistant because either they don’t want to face reality because they’re optimists, or they do not care/want to understand this metric. has been wildly successful (enough to be bought by Amazon for $1.2b) with this metric in mind. I don’t know if they use it formally, but one look at their “core values” tells you that they really, really care about customer happiness. In my world of contingent staffing, I do not know if any agency out there thinks about customer happines in such a way, but it appears so far that none seem to care. Like every other industry, staffing is about chasing the next sale or the next deal. Agencies are so sales focused that it is easy to see why NPS implementation will be a challenge.

This is not to say that one agency will sweep the market by going the NPS way. But it would certainly mean that customers that work with that agency would love doing business. It would make their lives more meaningful and happy. Isn’t that enough for a staffing agency to build a great book of business?


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