Companies spend lots of time and money on complex tools to assess customer satisfaction. But they’re measuring the wrong thing. The best predictor of top-line growth can usually be captured in a single survey question: Would you recommend this company to a friend?

This finding is based on two years of research in which a variety of survey questions were tested by linking the responses with actual customer behavior—purchasing patterns and referrals—and ultimately with company growth. Surprisingly, the most effective question wasn’t about customer satisfaction or even loyalty per se. In most of the industries studied, the percentage of customers enthusiastic enough about a company to refer it to a friend or colleague directly correlated with growth rates among competitors.

Willingness to talk up a company or product to friends, family, and colleagues is one of the best indicators of loyalty because of the customer’s sacrifice in making the recommendation. When customers act as references, they do more than indicate they’ve received good economic value from a company; they put their own reputations on the line. And they will risk their reputations only if they feel intense loyalty.

The findings point to a new, simpler approach to customer research, one directly linked to a company’s results. By substituting a single question—blunt tool though it may appear to be—for the complex black box of the customer satisfaction survey, companies can actually put consumer survey results to use and focus employees on the task of stimulating growth.

See attendee and speaker reaction from our 2nd Edition on Customer Loyalty & Growth

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