Customer satisfaction: What is a CPI?

By Anders Björklund

Customer satisfaction: What is a CPI?

Most companies talk about how important it is to be customer-centric and how serious they are about that. I claim that they have a considerable challenge due to that all they measure is company-centric. 

But there is one metric that customers miss from all companies, CPIs! Perhaps the only metric that potential and existing customers would want you to care about. 

Because companies that genuinely desire to become customer-centric must measure how their company is performing from their existing customer's point of view, and that is through CPIs.

What is a CPI?

CPIs are the most exciting business measurement for the moment, and you should prioritise them today! While companies typically have online dashboards visualising data that reflect how their companies perform, every customer interaction brings a purpose, problem, challenge, need, intent, or question along with high expectations for how quickly or easily that outcome will be realised. 

These outcomes must be measured through relevant Customer Performance Indicators (CPIs).

A growing number of companies are becoming more customer-centric by adopting, measuring, and optimising CPIs. How well a company performs against the CPIs often serves as the most powerful tool for achieving their KPIs.

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A CPI insight

Consider an example from any B2B-interaction. When an existing customer is looking for something and submits an online form or provides information over the phone or a video meeting, companies offering to price within seconds are much more likely to win the customer's business. In this case, the customer's expected outcome of fulfilling the form is to get a quote, with speed.

While some companies follow their process of routing the inquiry to an appropriate individual following their geographic rules, the customer collects quotes from and interacts with, competitors. 

By the time their appropriate individual contacts the customer, she may have already proceeded with another company that performed better upon her fast quote expectation. Companies that measure time to respond, e.g. response time on forms as a CPI, find a direct correlation between this CPI and customer satisfaction.

The primary rationale for adopting CPIs

The more you and your company focus on outcomes important to your customers (CPIs), the better your company will perform on things that are critical to your own business KPIs.

How to distinguish CPIs from KPIs

Two elements qualify a metric as a CPI. 

  • Most importantly, it must be an outcome that is important to the customers. 
  • Secondly, a CPI shall be measurable in increments that customers truly value. 

Speed, convenience, knowledgeable help, number of options, and friendly service are some gains that almost all customers value. Many others are depending on the context.

Many believe that the Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a CPI. But NPS measures a customer's eagerness to recommend a company, their products or services to others. 

Only companies themselves care about their NPS; the customers typically do not. NPS is just another internal business KPI. 

Unlike CPIs, NPS doesn't provide direct traceability to any single customer-expected outcome or show where the company may be falling short.

Any group that directly or indirectly involves customers can use CPIs, and the CPIs work very well for, e.g. sales, product management, customer service, marketing, finance, and operations. 

CPI examples


  • To track, e.g. payment flexibility as a CPI, as they offer online selection and management of multiple payment plan options. 
  • The company follows how the number and types of opportunities they offer impact customer acquisition and retention KPIs.


  • To track, e.g. turnaround time of quotes, with an impact on successful sales in the same way as in the example above.

Customer service

  • To track, e.g. first time resolution, measuring whether a customer's issue is addressed during the first inquiry. This CPI impacts customer retention and lifetime value KPIs.

These examples aren't metrics that companies traditionally track, but they're what their customers care about. By monitoring what's important to the customers, your company can gain better visibility into actions you should prioritise to improve your customer's outcome, directly impacting their business performance.

When employees are measured on – and compensated for – performance on KPIs, they naturally strive for the maximal outcome. Often this involves manipulating customers, which of course is not liked by the customers. Conversely, when employees are measured on CPIs, they're motivated to help customers achieve the customer's desired outcome. CPIs align employee and customer interests toward a shared success.

Adopting CPIs typically results in more, and often faster, business. Also, customer sentiment, behaviour, and loyalty usually improve. The key is to make the whole organisation focus on how it is to be the customer and what the customer's expected outcomes are.

How To define CPIs

The most effective approach to identifying your company's customers CPIs is: 

  • A contextual inquiry, or
  • An ethnographic research method

How to connect CPIs to KPIs 

Once you've defined your CPIs, you need to measure them and find the potential impact each CPI might have on your KPIs. 

To prove or disprove the CPI-KPI relationships takes running managed experiments. Once you've established relationships between specific CPIs and KPIs, you shall begin holding teams and individuals accountable for the CPIs. The employees will then be managing the outcomes important to customers, which results in company growth.

It's remarkable, that in an age where so many companies claim to be customer-centric, customer-first or customer-obsessed, most of them focus solely on their company-centric metrics. 

If you and your company decide to transform to adopt CPIs — and a customer-centric culture and the practices that CPIs engender — you will increasingly outperform your competitors and increase your customer satisfaction.

Download the ebook below to learn about the key reasons you should prioritise customer satisfaction today, and make sure you take a look at our in-depth customer satisfaction guide.

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Anders Björklund
Founder, CEO & Strategist since 2001. Anders provides thoughts and reflections about how to think about onlinification and digitalisation in B2B.
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