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Unlocking the Value of Your Customer Satisfaction Surveys

In today's business environment companies cannot afford to lose a single profitable customer. By effectively leveraging results from a customer satisfaction survey an organization can respond to their customer's needs in ways that increase revenue as well as improve customer and employee, satisfaction and loyalty. Many companies perform customer satisfaction surveys, but don't receive full value from their investments to administer the program. Too often survey results are used simply for monthly reporting on "how we did last month."

A few years ago I had the pleasure of being placed in charge of a fast-paced and dynamic Customer Care organization. After several weeks in my new role I was in my office enjoying the challenges of my new position when one of my team-members dropped off a stack of "thank you" letters for me to sign. Upon receiving my signature these letters would be sent to customers that had taken our most recent survey. The letters stressed to the customer how much we appreciated the time they invested in taking the survey, and our commitment to using the information to improve the service we deliver to them. We had been doing monthly reviews of the survey data, but something was missing. The reality was that the organization was investing resources in a process to perform customer satisfaction surveys and not getting the maximum value possible. And, we were wasting the time of our customers.

At a juncture like this, you have 2 choices: stop the survey process (save your money and your customer's time) and throw the thank you letters in the trash, or leverage the customer satisfaction survey results as a catalyst for continuous improvement. We selected option 2. Reaping the full benefits of our survey program didn't happen overnight. We ultimately implemented a very effective program that truly leveraged our customer satisfaction survey information. I could again feel comfortable with our investment in the program, and in the fact that we were no longer wasting the time of our customers. Most important of all was the fact that our overall customer satisfaction ratings consistently improved.

Five key elements to unlocking the value of customer satisfaction surveys, include:

  1. Adherence to Measurement Principles
  2. Responding to immediate customer needs identified during the survey process
  3. Implementing customer-focused changes
  4. Implementing account strategies
  5. Management review and assessment

Responding to immediate customer needs identified during the survey process:

Too often companies only use customer satisfaction survey results as a report of "how we did last month". Truly proactive, customer-focused organizations respond to customer survey information to increase revenue and improve customer and employee satisfaction and loyalty.

During the process of administering a customer satisfaction survey program your customer will often express items requiring immediate attention. We will refer to these occurrences as a "HOTLINE". A HOTLINE could include leads for new business, up-sell and cross-sell opportunities, or areas of significant dissatisfaction from an irate customer. This is the moment of truth in the eyes of your customer.

If you respond to these items promptly, you demonstrate to the customer how much you care about their business. If you don't, the customer will perceive that your firm is wasting their time in asking them to participate in the survey. That is, you aren't taking the time to respond to their feedback. A customer that has a need for additional services will now have time to shop your competitor. And, a customer that is dissatisfied with the product or service will only be further convinced of the lack of performance of your organization. The goal is to take this opportunity to show the customer how much you truly care about their needs.

There are 4 steps we will discuss in setting up a process to effectively respond to your customer's needs:

  1. Becoming "connected at the hip" with your survey partner
  2. Establishing your HOTLINE criteria
  3. Implementing a HOTLINE team
  4. Management Reporting

Becoming "connected at the hip" with your survey partner:

To ensure objectivity in their customer satisfaction survey process many companies engage a third party survey firm. If this is your approach to performing surveys, then the first step to setting up a HOTLINE process is ensuring you are "connected at the hip" with your survey partner.

Establishing your HOTLINE criteria:

The next step to setting up a HOTLINE process is establishing specific criteria for which a real-time response is warranted. This could include: identifying keywords that a customer may use when responding to the survey, or indicating that a customer providing at least one response of "totally dissatisfied" to any survey question is a qualified HOTLINE.

Additionally, the survey partner must be prepared to capture the complete context of the customer's comment. There is nothing worse for a dissatisfied customer than to go through a dissertation during the survey, on their areas of concern, only to have you call them and ask, "so why are you dissatisfied with our service?"

Implementing a HOTLINE team:

You now need to define, within your organization, a team of people empowered to effectively respond to your customer HOTLINES. This includes ensuring the team has the ability to immediately [if necessary] engage support personnel to resolve the customer's service issues. The HOTLINE team must also be prepared to initiate the process to fulfill a customer's requirement for new/additional services.

A customer's dissatisfaction is in direct proportion to the gap between what they "believe" they were to receive and what they "perceive" they are receiving. This can be a contractual gap or it could be based on a misunderstanding of what they acquired. The HOTLINE team may need to explain that a particular item or service was not included in their purchase or lease. They should also be prepared to discuss how they may be able to obtain this added level of service, if it is an available option and they so desire it. This team, therefore, must be very knowledgeable about your products and services as the appropriate response may simply be to reset the customer's expectations.

For many companies it makes sense to establish the HOTLINE process such that service issues go to the Customer Care department, and up-sell and cross-sell opportunities go to Sales.

Management Reporting:

The final step of the HOTLINE process is to produce management reporting on a frequent basis; this insures that appropriate attention is paid to your HOTLINES. Reporting should occur on at least a monthly basis. Information on the HOTLINE report should include the customer's company name, contact name, brief description of the HOTLINE, when it was detected, when it was initially acted upon by your HOTLINE team, when it was closed-out and what the final resolution was.

Now you are ready to administer the customer satisfaction survey. And, upon your survey partner sensing that a customer's situation warrants immediate response they can initiate the HOTLINE process. They will know what criteria initiates this process, what information they should capture and how to engage the appropriate personnel in your organization to follow-up with the customer.

Effectively responding to HOTLINES uncovered in the survey process simply requires a closed-loop process between your survey partner and your firm. By so doing you have taken the necessary steps to fulfill a customer's unmet needs and respond to their concerns that may have been previously unknown to your firm. In all cases this is a win-win situation. Your customer's level of satisfaction will increase and you will have increased the measure of loyalty they have with your firm.

The benefits of implementing and following a process such as this include:

  • Turning customer problems into new business opportunities
  • Demonstrating to the customer that you truly care about their experience and are committed to taking immediate action to respond
  • Increasing customer satisfaction
  • Increasing revenue

Implementing customer-focused changes - A Customer Survey Remediation Program:

This step in the process of unlocking the value of your customer satisfaction surveys is where the rubber truly meets the road. You are now measuring customer satisfaction, adhering to measurement principles and responding to the immediate needs of your customer uncovered in the process of executing your survey.

There are 5 steps that we will review to implement customer-focused changes through a Customer Survey Remediation Program:

  1. Management attention and commitment - Management (Director and VP-level) of each customer-facing organization must be engaged and participate in the program. This includes, at a minimum, the areas of sales, marketing and service/operations. This commitment requires their personal review of customer satisfaction survey results as well as ensuring their area is fully represented in all elements of the Customer Survey Remediation program.

  2. Cross-functional review - Each customer-facing organization needs to receive the monthly customer satisfaction survey results report and perform a detailed review. The goal is to identify trends that are impacting customer satisfaction. Additionally, proactive actions must be identified to improve customer satisfaction levels. You may need to follow-up with the customer to apologize for the lack of performance by your firm, reset expectations or obtain additional details regarding their comment. For chronic trends that are impacting many customers you will want to define initiatives to improve the level of performance being experienced by your customers. Finally, each team must come prepared to a cross-functional review meeting, to discuss the survey results reflective of their area and comment on actions that have been, or will be, taken. The cross-functional review meeting should happen 7-10 days after the customer satisfaction results have been compiled by or provided to your firm, from your survey partner. This meeting should be facilitated by a member of your firm that is not part of a customer-facing organization. This role could be referenced as the customer survey coordinator. The customer survey coordinator should be assertive, diplomatic and empowered to "ask the tough questions". Because this person has no vested interest in the customer-facing organizational camps, they can tease-out key areas that need to be addressed to get at the root of issues causing customer dissatisfaction.

  3. Survey remediation tracking and reporting - During the cross-functional reviews that take place, trends will be observed and continuous improvement programs will be defined. The result of this exercise will be a customer satisfaction dashboard that includes high-level reporting on the customer satisfaction trends by month, and a list of initiatives that have been defined to respond to these trends. This reporting is produced by the customer survey coordinator, and distributed to senior management and all levels of management of the customer-facing organizations.

  4. Establishing satisfaction goals and tracking performance against these goals - Here there are 3 things to focus on.

    • First, each area of your customer satisfaction survey should have an established goal that is owned by the functional area whose performance is being measured. Also, each program that is defined to improve customer satisfaction needs to have a quantifiable impact established that can be tracked on a timeline. For example, let's assume that the Customer Care organization will be performing a customer service skills training program in the month of October. It is expected that this will have a measurable impact on customer satisfaction. The first step is to determine when the impact of this training will initially be felt by the customer. Let's assume that the impact of this training will begin to be felt by the customer in November.

    • The second focus is determining when this impact will be observed in the customer satisfaction survey results. In this case, if the training will begin to provide positive impact in November, the full impact on the survey results may not show up until the December surveys are administered. Therefore, it will not be until the January timeframe, when you review your December survey results, that your organization will be able to see the full impact of this training.

    • The final focus is establishing customer satisfaction goals to identify the level of impact. For example, let's say that customers are 78% totally satisfied with Customer Care, at the present time. The question to ask is "how many percentage points will our customer satisfaction ratings increase as a result of providing skills training to the Customer Care organization? How much improvement should we experience in November, and how much in December?" You may decide that the customer satisfaction rating will improve by 2% in the November survey, and an additional 6% in December. This exercise is repeated for each functional area as they identify the impact that their customer-focused initiatives will have on the satisfaction results for which they are responsible.

  5. Communication to the organization, and the customer - Now that you are performing all of the above elements of the Customer Survey Remediation program, you have the opportunity to share the positive results with your entire organization and more importantly the customer. This can be in the form of all-hands meetings and internal newsletters for your employees. For customers, this can be in the form of monthly reporting to your highest priority accounts and newsletters sent to all customers. By taking this final step you will increase employee morale and ensure that your organization is focused on your single source of revenue: the customer. Additionally, you will demonstrate to the customer that you truly value their feedback by responding in ways to improve the experience they have with your firm.


In summary, there is no silver-bullet in the quest to increase customer satisfaction. As such, your team should try various programs designed to improve customer satisfaction, check against survey results and adjust the program(s) based on customer feedback. Finally, by aligning your customer-facing teams towards a common goal and promoting awareness throughout your organization you will find that you are well on your way to continuously increasing customer satisfaction levels.

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