Nearly every executive I've met has read the business classic "Good to Great" by Jim Collins, although different executives draw different lessons from the book. Possible lessons include "getting the right people on the bus," and "a big hairy audacious goal." (Frankly, the "big hairy audacious" grosses me out, but men seems to like it, for some reason.).

When John Turner at Corporate Synergies Group LLC and I were discussing the book, we ended up talking about another lesson — the importance of finding the right statistic to track. For example, one company in the book found that the longer customers stayed in their stores, the more they bought, so they strategized on ways to keep them in the building.

Turner, the chief executive at the Mt. Laurel health benefits and consulting firm, says his favorite stat is the "net promoter score."

"It's all about listening to customers and engaging customers in the right way," he told me during our Executive Q&A interview published in Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer.

"I call it the canary in the coal mine," he said. "It's a tracking score, a measurement, that will tell you if your customers value what you do or not."

How do you find that out?

You ask them.  You ask them one key question.  How likely are you to refer Corporate Synergies Group, in this example, to a family member, a friend, a peer, a business associate?

Are those separate questions?

No, it's one question.  It's one question.  We add other questions, but that's the one key, critical question and you score between 0 and 10, with 10 being highly likely.

Zero means there's no way on God's earth I would ever do that.  Then there's a couple in between.  Then they're categorized into detractors, passives, and promoters.  That's the whole concept.  It's a net score.  So, you've got to subtract all the promotors.  So, you aggregate the score of the questions over time.  Then you back out the number of passives you have, the number of detractors you have and then you have a score.  Then you measure the score and you see how it goes up and down.  So, that tells you basically how many people are really satisfied with what you're doing.  How many people are, `You're doing an okay job?  How many people are saying you're falling down?'

By doing that, we can know that for sometimes they're saying, `You just didn't do all these things for a while, and we're going to fire you as a company, because you're just not meeting our needs.' When they raise their hand – when they're a detractor, they're things you have to do right away.  They're unsatisfied with something.  So, it's how you create service recovery.

What do you do when you get a low score?

Well, one, you pick up the phone right away and you call them.  They'll get a call from me.  I call detractors.  If we have a detractor – we don't have that many of them, but when we get one, if there's somebody that's upset about something, they'll get a phone call from John Turner, the chief executive.  I'm going to talk to them about that, and we're going to resolve that issue and we're going to figure it out.

Who takes the survey? Is it everyone in the client organization?

No, it's our key contact.  It's who we do business with inside that organization gets the survey.  So, if we're doing something that's not meeting your expectations, and you put it on the survey as a detractor, the day that hits us, I get an email with all your information and what you put down as the issue, and you're getting a phone call from me within 24 hours, usually the same day.

How often do you turn it around?

We've turned all of them around, actually, because sometimes it could be misunderstanding or we just didn't do something right.  You resolve it.  And you create value.  What I do is recognize that you have a problem.  That's number one.  That's the key thing to do.  Recognize that there is an issue.  Acknowledge the issue.  Take responsibility for the issue.

Then, fix it, based upon the expectations we create from there.  If I can do all three of those things, I've built a better relationship longer term with that person than if I didn't do that.

Sometimes having the opportunity to have a tough conversation can be a relationship builder. There’s a little more honesty in the exchange — less glossed over by politeness.

Yes, and it also can better our business, in a lot of ways.  There are discussions that I've had when somebody raised their hand as a detractor and showed me a systemic flaw in our business model.

Like what?  That really interesting.

We had a workflow process in our client services unit that was just off kilter.  Meaning the way we were doing it was creating more work for our client.  Our ultimate goal was to create less work for them, but it was doing the total opposite.  So, it gave us an opportunity to really go back and review our workflow and look at it a little differently from the customer's point-of-view, versus our point-of-view.  So, it's more an external way looking in, versus an internal way looking out.

Interesting.

We not only resolved the issue in a positive way for that client, we also built a better business for us longer term.  Apple built their entire retail model on net promoter scores. It's a whole discipline.