Customer Satisfaction Surveys
Successful customer satisfaction surveys maximize the retention of current
customers, and help enterprises to better position themselves among prospective
clients. However, customer satisfaction surveys that do not uncover customer
perceptions or needs, improve customer loyalty, or help the enterprise to make
improvements are essentially useless. To develop successful customer
satisfaction surveys, IT and line of business (LOB) executives and their staffs
should learn how to plan, design, implement, and manage survey questions that
lend themselves to effective trend analysis. This will help ensure that
customers are completely satisfied with enterprise offerings and/or support,
and identify areas of potential improvement.
Customer satisfaction surveys are important vehicles for enterprises, as they
measure customer satisfaction, and therefore help to determine customer
loyalty. However, with the advent of globalization and the Internet, today's
customers expect more from the enterprise. For this reason, IT and LOB
executives need to ensure customers are completely, not merely, satisfied to
achieve competitive advantage in the marketplace.
Historical data tracking is crucial in the customer satisfaction survey system.
If an enterprise does not manage customer data, it cannot analyze responses
over a given time, making it difficult to see if products, services, and/or
support are improving, worsening, or remaining stagnant. IT and LOB executives
should therefore design a database for question and response management, to
monitor overall satisfaction as well as to observe satisfaction by sub-groups.
Successful customer satisfaction surveys require clear and well-understood
processes. This means that IT, LOB executives, and their employees need to set
concrete and realistic objectives, and to understand different sampling,
methodology, and design issues. Moreover, survey developers should understand
customer satisfaction question creation, and how each question helps to attain
the desired objectives.
In an era of high competition and expectations, customer satisfaction surveys
are essential tools for listening to customers about their satisfaction levels,
and for developing strategies for improvement. Now that quality has become a
deciding factor in product selection for the customer, IT and LOB executives
must leverage the customer relationship through customer satisfaction surveys.
Knowing what customers think about the enterprise's product(s), service(s),
and/or support, as well as their opinions of competitors' offerings, is crucial
Consequently, the primary reasons for assessing customer satisfaction are to
maximize customer retention, and to gain and build customer loyalty. It is
important to realize that customer satisfaction does not equate to customer
loyalty. Merely satisfied customers will switch to a competitor that will
exceed their expectations, especially in a highly competitive market, within
the blink of an eye. True competitive advantage therefore requires that
customers are completely satisfied. In addition, it is important to inform
customers that their opinions matter, and that their responses will instigate
change within the organization.
Before a customer satisfaction survey can be designed, it is necessary for IT
and LOB executives and their staffs to have a clear process in place. The first
step is to establish comprehensive and realistic objectives. If objectives are
not set, the survey will be of little to no value. As a result, survey
developers should ask themselves why they are conducting the survey, and what
do they want to learn from it. Moreover, if a process is not in place,
objectives cannot be met, and survey developers will see results they do not
want to see.
There are a multitude of reasons as to why enterprises perform periodic studies
of customer satisfaction. Figure One below discusses some of these motivators.
|Figure One: Reasons to
Conduct Customer Satisfaction Surveys
Demonstrate commitment to listening to customers.
Gain feedback from customers about products, services, and/or support, outside
of what customers provide the sales force.
Improve customer satisfaction and retention.
Improve quality of service.
Increase market share.
Increase repeat business.
Learn where the company stands in comparison with competitors.
Measure and compensate the sales organization.
Obtain information on product developments, priorities, and requirements.
Obtain input on new products or services.
Provide a way for unhappy customers to vent.
Target resources on issues of concern to customers.
Source: Robert Frances Group
It is imperative for the enterprise to conduct surveys proactively, and not
merely in reaction to a problem. More often than not, a company assesses
customer satisfaction after it has already experienced a negative event, such
as a decrease in market share, or an increasing number of complaints. To
prevent this from happening, IT and LOB executives should anticipate a
potential problem, survey customers in regard to the issue, and then bring
about change and inform clients about those changes to ward off the problem.
Once the objectives have been determined, survey developers need to decide
whether or not they will use an existing customer satisfaction survey, or
develop a new one. RFG believes it is best to reuse a survey that has been well
designed, tested, and proven. This approach allows the enterprise to compare
results over time. Such comparisons enable IT and LOB executives and their
staffs to monitor products, services, and/or support to see if they are
improving, worsening, or staying stagnant. In addition, such an approach avoids
the cost of developing a new survey, and if results are released to customers,
it enables customers to also monitor change.
However, in specific cases, there are valid reasons for developing a new survey.
Some of these include the following.
There is no previous survey on the topic.
The old survey does not gather the required data.
The old survey is poorly designed.
The old survey does not touch upon current issues, and is therefore obsolete.
If the survey is not completely out of date, but just needs some rewriting, it
would be best to incorporate new questions into the old survey. By doing this,
the enterprise can perform trend analysis, while learning about new issues.
This keeps the survey fresh, interesting, and relevant, but allows for the
management of customer data.
IT departments [or those conducting surveys] should also use survey question
libraries. Maintaining questions can allow survey developers to easily recreate
similar surveys if they are accidentally misplaced, and enables
cross-referencing with a new survey. In addition, it saves survey developers
large amounts of time in survey creation.
The next phase of customer satisfaction survey development is to decide on the
target population, sampling, methodology, and frequency. To find the target
population, survey developers should ask themselves who has the information
they need - this could be either customers or non-customers. Oftentimes, the
organization will gather data from one or more sub-groups of the target
population. It is necessary to make sure the sample sizes for each sub-group
are the same number, so results can be compared.
As for the methodology, there are several types from which to choose. For
customer satisfaction surveys, choice of method depends on a few issues,
the costs the enterprise is willing to incur; and
the information that the company wishes to maintain.
With regard to survey frequency, IT and LOB executives and their staffs should
conduct customer satisfaction surveys at predetermined times throughout the
year. Several factors drive survey frequency such as:
changes in customer base;
changes in the product or service delivery process;
complexity of the survey;
length of the survey; and
the seasonal nature of products or services.
RFG believes customer satisfaction surveys should be conducted at a minimum of
twice a year and a maximum of four times a year. Such surveys should be
conducted periodically (monthly, quarterly, etc.) to help track seasonality
issues, and measure trends relative to timing. Regardless of how often a survey
is conducted, the enterprise should to allot sufficient time between surveys to
analyze results, make any needed changes to the survey, and measure progress.
When designing customer satisfaction survey questions, survey developers should
use a "drill-down" technique, so the questions flow back up to the objectives.
This can be done by "mapping" objectives to questions, or vice versa, to
determine that every question adds value, and that every objective is covered.
If the questions do not refer back to the objectives, then the survey will be
valueless. Survey developers should try to incorporate a short list of several
types of questions, including closed-ended and open-ended, multiple and single
choice, ranking, and rating. The following is an example of a rating question.
Open-ended questions are difficult to analyze and measure. However, they allow
customer satisfaction survey respondents to elaborate on aspects that are of
the most concern to them. Sometimes, respondents who rate four to five aspects
low on a rating scale focus their answers to open-ended questions on a single
aspect. In such cases, open-ended questions allow the enterprise to pinpoint
specific problem areas for improvement. In addition, open-ended questions allow
customers to bring up issues about which the company had no idea. The following
is an example open-ended question.
Example Open-ended Question What did you like (best) about Company X's customer
service (documentation, support, training courses)?
Nevertheless, open-ended questions should be kept to a minimum. If respondents
are large customers, or if the relationship with the target population is
close, open-ended questions are worthwhile. In short, IT and LOB executives and
their staffs should only ask open-ended questions if they are going to be used
IT and LOB executives and their staffs can also incorporate historical
benchmarking questions, which are provided in some software applications, as
well as by survey design consultants. Historical benchmarking data is biased,
however, as industries and issues change rapidly over time. For example,
historical data may evaluate competitors' products that are no longer current
and have since been improved. Thus, the comparative results of a survey rating
the company's current product against the historical data may be of little to
no value. Therefore, it is best to consult the enterprise software provider or
consultant when using benchmarking questions, to ensure that the benchmarking
is against current competitor offerings.
Once the survey design issues have been determined, the survey should be
pre-tested, ideally on the same kinds of people that will be interviewed in the
main survey . This ensures the survey layout is attractive, the instructions
and questions are understandable, and the length is not too long. Moreover, it
allows survey developers to catch any flaws before the survey goes into
RFG believes customer satisfaction surveys are essential for continuous
improvement of product, services, and/or support, as well as enterprise
competitiveness and survival. IT and LOB executives and their staffs should use
customer satisfaction surveys to verify that they are well positioned amongst
prospective clients, and that clients are completely, not merely, satisfied. IT
and LOB executives and their staffs should learn how to plan, design, implement
effective surveys, track historical data, and incorporate customer assessment
into the organizational culture, to gain customer loyalty and competitive