Many times businesses fail to “check in” with their customers to determine whether they are happy or not and what it will take to make or keep them happy.
This is a mistake because customers are your best source of business information — whether it’s to improve an existing product or service or whether you’re planning to launch something new.
There’s no substitution for “getting it from the horse’s mouth.” When you open up the lines of communication, you are able to align your resources to best advantage, and you often can make changes or launch products more quickly.
By talking to your customers directly, you increase your odds for achieving success; you “mistake-proof” your decisions and work on what really matters. When you routinely ask your customers for feedback and involve them in your business, they, in turn, become committed to the success of your business.
- Customer satisfaction data are received in a variety of methods, including:
- Feedback received in response to answers to customer complaints
- Dialogue between the customer and field executive or Management which is then documented in a trip visit summary report
- Industry positioning surveys
- Lost business reports
- Meetings with customers / interview sessions with questionnaires
Conducting a survey is an effective method for measuring customer satisfaction and achieving continues improvement in quality.
There are six steps in conducting a successful survey. They are:
- Decide on your objectives
- Determine who should complete the survey
- Develop the survey
- Administer the survey
- Analyze the results
- Communicate the results
The Six Steps of Conducting a Successful Survey
Decide On Your Objectives – What do you want to know from the survey? Be specific. Your objectives will form the basis from which your survey questions will be developed. Limit your objectives to just a few.
If you try to include too much, you will make the survey too long (customers may not complete it), and you may uncover more than you can handle (you can’t respond to it).
Determine Who Should Complete the Survey – First and foremost, know who your customers are and which are appropriate to survey! If your market is large, you may have different segments of customers. Or depending upon the industry you may have different levels of customers.
Also, give some thought to the number of customers you want to survey. Do you have a few key accounts? Maybe you want to survey each of them. If you have multiple customers, you may have to select a sample to survey. Also, you may want to hear from different individuals at the same customer site. Feedback from individuals other than your direct contact may reflect problems that your contact doesn’t know about and report.
Develop the Survey – Having settled on objectives and decided what kinds of customers you’ll target, it’s time to draft the survey. You’ll need to formulate questions whose answers will help you decide what needs to be changed to achieve your objectives. The following tips may help you:
First, list potential question topics. Common service factors for which you may want to ask customers to grade your performance and product value include:
Features, Features desired, Variety, Safety, Durability, Quality, Reliability, Documentation clarity, Documentation adequacy, Packaging quality, Packaging convenience, Cost.
Pushiness, Friendliness, Courtesy, Accessibility, Attention, Care, Competence, Flexibility, Understanding of customer needs, Professionalism, Appearance, Effective use of time.
Appreciated, Respected, In control, Needs and Desires met
(Same list as employee features above), Order processing timeliness, Delivery timeliness, Condition on delivery, Installation problems, Problem solving, Kept promises, Product usefulness.
Confidence, Trust, Honesty, Affection, Efficiency, Stability, Innovativeness, Brand quality
Consider what you know and what you want to know regarding customer perception of each factor you consider to be significant. Then shorten the list to just significant factors that you would be willing and able to work on to increase customer loyalty or attract new customers.
Administer the Survey – You may want to contact the people you intend to survey before hitting them with questions, and ask them if they will help you by responding. Personification will both let the survey candidates know how important it is to you and help you avoid irritating clients who resent surveyors.
If you are handing out survey cards to customers, be aware that research has indicated that it’s better to do it as they depart, not as they arrive. Having a list of features to criticize during the visit makes a customer more likely to notice weaknesses. That inspires useful feedback, but it can cost you the customer.
If you are not satisfied with the initial response rate, don’t give up. Consider supplementing the survey in another medium – for example by asking questions by telephone or on a Web page when not enough were answered by mail.
Analyze the Results – Once your customers return the completed surveys, you are ready to compile the data and analyze the results. In most cases, competency with a computer spreadsheet program is all you’ll need. First, you’ll need to design the spreadsheet, enter the data, and then choose the graphs to summarize the results. These might be pie charts, bar graphs, or line graphs which are available in all of the popular spreadsheet programs.
Communicate the Results – After you have analyzed the data, it is time to communicate the results to your staff and customers.
First the staff: Remind everyone that customer satisfaction is essential for continued prosperity. Emphasize the importance of keeping the customer wants and needs in mind whenever decisions are made – especially in product design, marketing, and customer services.
Then the customers: Communicating survey results and resulting action is absolutely necessary if you want to continue to receive feedback from your customers. If they feel that the survey results do not get the proper attention, they’ll be reluctant to provide you with feedback in the future.
Get your customers involved when you can. This gives them ownership of the issues, makes them part of the solutions and allows them to experience firsthand your dedication in satisfying their needs. You might also want to solicit their input for your annual goals and objectives.
Tell them how you’re doing against the goals, and tell them frequently. That way they know that progress is being made and that you value their opinions and their participation. Plus, it provides you with some great public relations.
Even the best intentions in measuring customer satisfaction are subject to problems along the way. Temptations to avoid are:
Complacency — obtaining feedback is an ongoing process, not a one-time event. You cannot know what your customers want if you only ask them occasionally. Change is certain, and priorities do shift. The most successful companies are those that can detect and respond to customer changes quickly.
Analysis paralysis — when you get your feedback, don’t analyze it to death. Many corporations have departments full of statisticians to determine the reliability and validity of the feedback; however, they never get around to doing anything with the data. In most cases, feedback will make it obvious what you are doing well and where you need to improve, so it’s in your best interest to get started immediately.
Doing nothing with the feedback — nothing will do more to discourage feedback from your customers than not doing anything with their suggestions. You must show them that you appreciate their input as well as communicate to them what has changed as a result of their input. If they feel nothing has been done, then they think their efforts have been wasted and will not participate further.
Failing to listen to your experts — another valuable source of customer information is your employees. They deal with customers constantly and often have first hand knowledge on what the customers’ “hot buttons” are. Too often employers ignore this valuable resource. Big mistake! Talking to your employees should be one of the first steps you take in gathering customer satisfaction data. That way you’ll get a preliminary reading on potential problem areas so that you can focus your efforts when soliciting your customers for their feedback.
Demotivating employees — customer feedback should not be used to punish employees. Instead, use it to detect areas for improvement. Improper training and lack of communication and direction are often the culprits of poor job performance. Besides, if customers discover that their input is used to discipline employees, they may stop providing constructive feedback altogether.
By following these steps you will be able to capture and act upon the “voice of the customer”, ensuring your business has the most important customer data at its fingertips at all times.
About the Author
Cinoy Ravindran is the Key Account Manager – Managed Services at Al Rostamani Communications LLC.