Customer Satisfaction Surveys: Nuts and Bolts
Here are general recommendations:
Keep it simple. Your customers want to respond to your survey, but you
should make it as easy as possible for them. How you invite them to
participate, the way you ask questions and what design template you use will
affect participation rates. In many regards, the simpler the better. Also,
write your questions clearly so that people who are not native speakers of your
language can understand the questions.
Keep it short. Choose the length of your survey based on the type of
product or service you sell, how much they spent for your product or how often
they use the product or contact your company. Generally speaking, about 20 to
30 questions are appropriate for an image-based survey and no more than ten are
appropriate for a transactional survey (more on what these two types of surveys
are in the next section). Any survey over 40 questions will have a high
Keep your implied promises. If your goal is to identify what your
organization can change to improve satisfaction levels, you need to be willing
to respond to survey results. Your customers will view the survey as a
mechanism by which they can affect change. If they don't see any improvements,
they will become disillusioned and will view the company negatively. This means
you need to concentrate on measuring concrete factors over which you have
control, such as response time, delivery policies, support professionalism, and
order accuracy. Avoid generalized questions such as "Do you think XYZ is a good
company?" One respondent may think "good" refers to skill, while the next may
think it means morally good. In both cases, you can't learn enough from this
type of question to make any concrete changes.
What type of satisfaction do you want to measure?
There are two types of satisfaction surveys, transactional and image-based. Both
are easy to implement using eSurveysPro, but both require planning to be
Transactional satisfaction. Each time a customer interacts with
your company is a transaction - whether it is a sales call, a support e-mail,
opening your invoice or using your product. Many companies use ongoing
transactional satisfaction measurements to monitor customer service, support or
sales groups over time.
Image-based satisfaction. Every customer has an overall impression of
your company. These opinions are based on the sum of their transactions, their
beliefs about your competitors, what value they place in your product or
service, and impressions that their friends or colleagues may have shared.
Regular image-based analysis is vital to understanding the company's strategic
position with their customers and in their marketplace.
Although it is feasible to measure both types of satisfaction in one survey,
it's not recommended. Respondents find it confusing, because it forces them to
think in two very different ways at the same time. It is better to conduct
separate surveys, with a few of the same questions, and then compare results
from ongoing transactional surveys with results you gather from quarterly
Identify Your Customers: Who to Measure
To get valid results, you need to identify who to measure and when. Here again,
there are significant differences between transactional and image-based
Transactional surveys can be conducted after each interaction with a particular
department, or can be randomized - depending on the frequency and volume of
customer transactions. For example, if your call center handles 1,000 calls a
day, and each customer tends to call once a week, having every caller respond
to your transactional survey will become burdensome to them, and the number of
responses will not improve statistical accuracy. Instead, choose every tenth
caller. Each customer will average one request every 10 calls, responding will
not take too much of their time (remember, no more than 10 questions!) and the
data set will be just as valuable.
For image-based surveys, the "customer" may not be the purchaser of your product
or service. Channel partners, distributors, consultants, advertisers, past /
prospective buyers, and competitors' customers can be extremely valuable
sources of information about your company. You may also want to include
frontline employees in your customer satisfaction analysis - they have
extremely valuable opinions about how things should be done! Put significant
thought into who you want to survey so that you get a true understanding of
where your company fits in the market.
Since image-based surveys are longer, you may want to select a random sample of
your customer base, eliminating that sample from your next quarterly survey.
Ideally, the composition of your panel will be similar to that of your customer
base. If you are surveying multiple customer types, select the same percentage
from each group (say 10%), then pool the randomly selected lists, rather than
pooling the lists, then choosing your random sample. This assures that each
type of customer has an equal opportunity to respond, minimizing skewed
Critical Performance Attributes: What to Measure
Next, you need to identify what you need to measure. Referred to by some experts
as "Performance Attributes" and others as "Customer Requirements" they both
refer to a single concept: key elements that shape satisfaction.
According to the AMA Handbook for Customer Satisfaction, the
following performance attributes are appropriate for most companies to measure:
Attributes related to the product
Product reliability and consistency
Range of products or services offered by your company
Attributes related to service
Guarantee or warranty
Resolution of problems
Attributes related to purchase (or transactions)
Ease or convenience of acquisition (either buying the product or using the
Some of these performance attributes are appropriate to transactional
satisfaction research and others to image-based surveys. Still others can be
used for both types of surveys, depending on the way the questions are worded.
It is recommended, however, that you should focus on one or two of these areas
and understand each completely, rather than attempting to include all of them
in every survey.
Bob Hayes, in his book, Measuring Customer Satisfaction,
categorizes four major elements of service satisfaction: Responsiveness, Speed
of Transaction, Availability of Service, and Professionalism. These are
excellent points to measure in transactional satisfaction surveys.
There are a variety of ways you can identify which specific attributes you
should measure and how you should word the questions. Some experts recommend
pre-testing your topics and how you word the questions with a representative
panel of customers and/or asking front-line employees. However you proceed, be
certain to base your survey on attributes that are of significant importance to
The Questions: How to ask
Most satisfaction surveys revolve around gap analysis, where you measure how
important particular performance attributes are to respondents, and then
measure how well your company meets these requirements. A great way to capture
this information is by using two sequential matrix questions with the same
number of scale points, one asking about importance of the defined performance
attributes, one asking about whether these apply to the customer's recent
experience (for transactional surveys) or overall experience (image-based
Here's an example:
Please rate how important the following items are to you when interacting with
the support department of a company like XYZ.
Based on your recent call to XYZ Company, how strongly do
you agree or disagree with the following statements?
Analysis Hint: There are a number of ways you can analyze these
factors statistically, but eSurveysPro's cross-tabulation tool allows you to
see problems clearly by performance attribute. Select the question about importance
for the given attribute. Next, cross-tabulate it with the performance question
for that attribute. In the resulting table, look for high percentages in the
top row, right cells. This is where the table compares "Very Important" with
If you are conducting image-based satisfaction research, you will probably want
to get more detail about each performance attribute with single select,
multiple select or open-ended questions. For instance:
How do you usually contact our support department? (Check all that
Filter your survey results by each response to see if there is a satisfaction
trend based on how people contact your support group. Then you can decide how
to fix any problem the data shows.
As you can see from the examples above, each question focuses on one performance
attribute. Combining performance attributes in the same question can make
analysis difficult. For instance, if you ask "Did the support person answer the
phone quickly and politely?" The only way for a respondent to
answer yes is if both attributes mentioned (speed and politeness) are true. A
"No" to this question would not tell you which performance attribute was missed
- and you wouldn't know how to solve the problem (more people answering the
phones, or better training for those who do).
Satisfaction alone is not a predictor of future purchases. Another area that you
may measure with either an image-based survey or transactional survey is
loyalty. According to Fred Reichheld, in his book Loyalty Rules!,
You can measure loyalty by asking your customers how your company does in the
Play to Win/Win: Customers can rely on the company to deliver
outstanding quality, service, and value.
Be Picky: The company attracts and retains outstanding people to
Keep it Simple: The company makes it simple to do business with
Reward the Right Results: Customer loyalty is appropriately valued
Listen Hard, Talk Straight: The company communicates openly and
Preach What You Practice: Customers can trust company personnel to
behave with fairness and integrity
Overall: Customers believe that the company deserves their loyalty.
If you measure one or more of the above loyalty points in a transactional
survey, understand that the responses may be colored by that customer's most
recent interaction with the company. If it was negative, the loyalty measures
may be lower - but not always. By giving each respondent an opportunity to
explain their answer, you can find issues that may not have been identified
through other survey questions.
The last part of any satisfaction survey should be your demographic questions.
There are certain questions that are appropriate for business to business,
others for business to consumer. By including demographics, you can identify if
there are specific industries, customer types or regions that report higher or
lower satisfaction levels. If you have customer history information, you may
want to pass some of these points to the survey file using hidden fields. Since
knowing who has responded a particular way may skew interpretation, it is
strongly recommended not to pass identifying data. The following points,
however, are often valuable to include in analysis of both image-based and
transactional satisfaction surveys:
Purchase date(s) or dollar volume
Number of calls to support
Support rep identifier (especially valuable if you want to track the
effectiveness of each representative)
Date of call
Date of completion
Customer satisfaction surveys are important tools for measuring the success of a
company. They often predict or explain sales trends, and can give you clear
information on what changes will improve the bottom line. Throughout
satisfaction survey process, include managers and frontline employees so that
they understand the project's value.