Intuit, ”The World’s Most Admired Software Company” makes mistakes too

In March 2009 Fortune magazine ranked Intuit as ‘The World’s Most Admired Software Company’ ahead of Adobe, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and others.”Canadian Marketing Association, Calgary Chapter

Today, Gene Lewis, Director – Sales & Marketing, Intuit Global Business Division, treated Calgary members of the Canadian Marketing Association to a glimpse of what it takes to delight customers.

Gene Lewis Intuit

Lewis’ presentation was refreshingly frank, a far cry from the infomercial one often gets in corporate presentations.

Emphasizing the importance of the customer’s voice, he pointed out two new blogs are created each second, and that conversations about your products and services are occurring whether or not you are aware or engaged.

While Intuit rates high on customer satisfaction, they have made their mistakes. For example, Lewis recalled the 2008 decision to reduce the number of returns allowed per installation of QuickTax. That business decision was based on extensive polling, market research data, and customer behavior, but Intuit failed to take into account the reputational dynamic of such a decision. The outcry from a very vocal minority was fierce. Lewis showed a few samples of what could almost constitute hate mail; the rage was palpable. The media picked up on that rage and the story “grew legs”.

Intuit logoHumbled by the voice of the customer, Intuit dealt with the negativity by assigning an ombudsman to resolve complaints, and then reversed the decision for the 2009 product.

The incident reminded Intuit management of the company’s roots – 25 years ago Quicken was launched by a three person company promoted by nothing but word of mouth. Now the company employs approximately 8,000 people and estimates 80% of sales are in some way driven by word of mouth. Nowadays word of mouth is turbo-charged, facilitated by social media technology.

Intuit keeps a close watch on word of mouth using the “Net Promoter” system, essentially a measure of customers’ likelihood to recommend the product or company. Respondents are divided into “promoters”, “passives”, and “detractors” and a ratio is calculated that results in a score.

Lewis detailed Intuit’s “True North” philosophy, a navigational reference designed to keep the company on the right track. That starts with developing solutions for all stakeholders: employees, customers, then shareholders, in that order. The theory being that satisfied employees drive customer satisfaction which ultimately rewards shareholders. It also incorporates quantifiable performance indicators such as requiring Intuit products to be ten points higher on Net Promoter scores than their nearest competition.

The 2008 launch of the new Quickbooks version also hiccupped, causing Net Promoter scores to plummet. While each of the feature changes had been tested with users, in the aggregate, the sum of the changes confused and overwhelmed customers. Intensive outreach, support, and tutorials remedied those scores to some extent. Now employees (including management) are required to experience a full end-to-end customer setup in “secret shopper” fashion so as to truly experience what a customer does instead of just theorizing about the customer from the board room.

So how to delight customers? Turns out empowering employees to solve problems and please customers drives career satisfaction, which in turn feeds positive outcomes for shareholders and the company. According to Lewis, Intuit has happily borrowed many of these engagement concepts from Apple, ensuring employees “hear the applause”.

Next steps for Intuit include maximizing the use of crowdsourcing techniques, such as their “brainstorm” idea generator intranet, and external communities like Intuit Labs that bring social media and “the wisdom of the crowd” to all Intuit’s applications and the web. Case in point – applications that failed to navigate the traditional product development process in Intuit were launched via “brainstorm” with a fraction of the resources originally proposed.

To delight customers, leaders must support a culture of employee engagement, innovation, and above all, listen to the customer. While occasionally off-course, Intuit finds “True North” often enough to be world’s most admired.

This event was “live Tweeted” on Twitter – the Twitter stream can be found here.

Doug Lacombe, MBA is a Calgary-based blogger and communicator with over 20 years experience in media, marketing, and communications. More info on Doug can be found on