Are Your Customers Really Satisfied?

This may sound like an opening to a candy bar commercial, but this is serious business. Believing that your customers or clients are satisfied is not the same as knowing that your customers are satisfied. Most of us believe that we are doing everything that we can to satisfy our customers, the real question is how do we know for sure?

 One of the most important ways to learn whether we are satisfying our customers is just by asking them. Now that is easier said than done. We often work with clients that have been conducting customer satisfaction surveys for years, but still are not sure how well they are satisfying their customers. The primary reason for this lack of certainty is in the questions that are being asked, by whom and what is then done with the results.

 Here are some thoughts that you should consider the next time you are preparing to survey your customers:

             What process do you undertake to develop your surveys?      

            What questions do you ask them? 

            How do you talk to your customers? 

            What do you do with the results?

The process to develop your customer satisfaction survey is the roadmap that you should use for the entire survey process. This starts with talking with key employees in your company that interact with your customer. This should be done cross department so that you accumulate viewpoints from different perspectives. If today you are solely focused on the sales and customer service teams, then you are missing out on views from other key “touchpoints” with your customer. Don’t forget about accounting, shipping, engineering or product development and other departments that in some way touch the customer and potentially influence your customer’s experience. When we work with a client to develop a customer survey process, we always insist on meeting with people from various departments within their company. We know that without this knowledge the survey that is developed will be too narrowly focused and most likely will miss customer satisfaction improvement opportunities.

 Once you gather information from these internal interviews you are ready to develop the questions for your survey. These questions should not take a respondent more than 15 minutes to complete if they are done via the phone and under 10 minutes if done through the Internet. Your questions should look like a funnel, starting with global questions and narrowing down to very specific ones that almost feel personal to the respondent. The survey should be tailored to the roles and responsibilities of the respondent. Asking a product engineer about your invoicing process will probably be futile, because in most cases they have nothing to do with accounting. Your questions will take some time to develop, but take the time. It will pay off in meaningful information and be well worth the effort.

If you’ve ever conducted a survey with a customer one-on-one, you know first-hand how skewed these surveys can become. Most customers will not be brutally honest with you when you are in front of them. The other reason for misleading answers is that your people will typically have a bias towards particular questions and more likely answers that they feel are the most obvious. This tends to steer your respondents towards particular answers rather than keeping the survey process completely objective. We often suggest that surveys be administrated by an objective third party rather than your sales force or customer service team. We know from experience that you will gain more honest, actionable responses when they are not conducted by your own people.  

 Now once the batch of surveys are completed you need to do something with them. Filing them away in a safe place is one possibility, but then we would recommend that you don’t go through the survey effort in the beginning. What we advise our clients to do is to analyze the results to gain valuable insight into your customers’ mind. This analysis should be done objectively and preferably in a quantifiable way. Categorization of responses is very important and will give you clear direction when it comes time to take action. The analysis should be shared with the entire organization for the purpose of involving the whole organization in the improvement process. The analysis should be done with the same objectivity as all other aspects of the customer satisfaction process. It’s OK to be surprised by the results, let’s make sure we don’t massage the results to fit our predetermined thoughts of what the results should be.