CUSTOM RESEARCH: IMPROVING THE DESIGN PROCESS
According to independent surveys, Custom Research Inc. (CRI) is a leader in its industry. Unlike American Express Financial Advisors, however, it has no plans for a major redesign of its organization. it has been customer driven since it was founded in 1974, and that customer focus permeates its design process. Like many small companies, Custom Research is responsible for a piece of a much larger organization's process. in CRI's case, that piece frequently fits into the client's design process.
- Like many small companies, Custom Research is responsible for a piece of a much larger organization's process.
- In CRI's case, that piece frequently fits into the client's design process. Custom Research does market research for large companies that want to find out more about their customers' preferences before they make any expensive decisions.
- CRI's clients have four key requirements: they want their research to be accurate, on time, and on budget, and to meet or exceed their expectations.
- For every research project it accepts, the project team assigned to carry it out works with the client to define what these four criteria mean for the project.
- Almost all of Custom Research's work involves custom-designed research. it is the service company equivalent of a "job shop."
- Because each project is unique, each project's design phase is critical to CRI's clear understanding of its clients' requirements.
Beginning of the design process:
- The design begins when a senior executive and the account manager who works directly with the account meet with the client to find out specifically what the client expects in the relationship and how it prefers to work with CRL.
- A summary of the meeting is circulated to the team members who will work with that client. The senior executive also summarizes the client's requirements in a letter that is sent to the client for verification.
- The letter (revised if necessary, to reflect client feedback) becomes the basis for planning and action by the project team and for the team's service standards and account plan.
- Communication between customer and supplier is nothing new, but, for small service companies like Custom Research—law firms, advertising agencies, and medical practices, to name a few—defining specific client requirements on paper and verifying their accuracy with the client are rarely done with any consistency.
- CRI does it every time; a project design, based on the client's expressed requirements, will then guide the project team's efforts.
Custom Research's experience offers three lessons:
- Be explicit about what your clients expect. "We've sat down purpose-fully and periodically with our clients to discuss their requirements. It's rare they don't tell us something we need to learn," says Pope.
- Measure customer satisfaction. CRI sends a short questionnaire to every client on every project, asking about the client's overall level of satisfaction, and conducts a telephone survey of major clients.
- Tie internal measures to customer requirements. CRI has established such internal measures as Project Quality Recap Reports. On each project, every team member documents problems or errors on questionnaires, data tables, reports, and timing. Similar companies (law firms, ad agencies, etc.) like to claim that what they do cannot be measured. Custom Research shows that it can.