The adage of capitalism: business is business. No matter what brings in profits, the bottom line is that companies thrive off of revenue.

Fred Reichheld would argue, however, that there is a substantial difference between good profit and bad profit. In The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth, Reichheld focuses on customer satisfaction and how it fosters company growth. Relationship marketing is the foundation of this model.

It’s simple: Good profit—driven by promoters–relies on loyalty and word of mouth to build the company’s reputation. Bad profits—driven by detractors– make a business vulnerable to competitors and therefore undermine long lasting growth.

The “ultimate question” posed on Reichheld’s book is: “How likely are you to recommend Company or Product X to a friend or colleague?” The answer can be found by using NPS: Net Promoter Score. Behind the notion of NPS is that customers are the #1 promoters of a product. According to the equation, P-D=NPS, where P=Promoters and D=Detractors. The higher the NPS score, the higher the number of promoters the company has. Reichheld believes focusing on long term growth rather then short term profits. Building customer loyalty pays off in the end.

Amazon.com used this structure to ensure a loyal customer base. Unlike other websites of the dot com era, it took Amazon.com several years until they were able to make a profit. They used that time to generate satisfied customers through incentives, competitive prices, free shipping, and personal recommendations rather than pouring money into advertising efforts. The more promoters they had—and the less detractors—helped Amazon.com come out on top of the dot-com boom and finally begin to accumulate good profit. Jeff Bezos, CEO and Founder of Amazon.com, said “if you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about.” According to Reichheld’s research, Amazon.com has an NPS efficiency rating of about 50-80%. While there is still room for them to grow, they serve as a model of an effective NPS structure.

Like Amazon.com, JetBlue Airways focuses on their customer service initiatives. JetBlue is known for their consistently low cost airfare and customer satisfaction. On February 14, 2007, however, JetBlue garnered media attention when an aircraft was left on New York’s JFK airport for almost nine hours—without allowing any passengers to exit the plane. A number of other JetBlue airlines were delayed, setting off an immediate backlash. JetBlue tried exceptionally hard to regain their loyal customer fan base. David Neeleman, JetBlue’s CEO, issued a public apology and took an admirable stance. Rather than getting defensive, he acknowledged the problem and even issued a Passenger Bill of Rights. They turned their less than desirable situation into one that promoters would support.

Their tactics obviously paid off—JetBlue is still voted as one of the best airlines for customer satisfaction. The entire crisis shows that JetBlue’s NPS score must be high since customers are continually happy with the airline.

Maybe money shouldn’t be the number one priority of business—customers should be. It’s the customers who rant and rave about products and service, who write on their blogs and forward emails to their friends. In the digital world of hyper communication, the citizen marketer has more of a voice than ever before…so maybe “business is business” isn’t so cut and dry after all.

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