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Customer Satisfaction Surveys

Learn about 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.

Business Imperatives:

  • 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 for survival.

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.
  • Enhance profits.
  • 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 pro-actively, 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, including:

  • customer characteristics;
  • time availability;
  • 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.

Example Rating Question
Please rate Company X's customer service overall.

  Poor       Fair       Average       Good       Excellent    

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)?

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 and analyzed.

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 "production."

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 advantage.

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