The Commoditization of Satisfaction – Part 2

Posted on 12. Aug, 2012 by in Customer Research, Customer Satisfaction Measurement

In my last entry I observed how the ubiquity of satisfaction monitoring programs appears to be undermining the authenticity of this very important customer-listening tool.  I identified many of the foibles of current methodology.  It seems only fair to revisit the topic, this time with eight constructive suggestions.

1. Create an Action Plan: No customer ought be contacted, nor any data collected without a process in place to act on the insights gained.  Going under the title, Action Planning, such processes pre-assign items measured in the survey to specific departments.  These departments are considered the “owners” of each measured performance issue.  When survey results are reported, it is clear who will undertake the necessary improvement(s) in the lowest rated performance issues – the departments “owning” these issues.  Highly sophisticated Action Plans also consider the impact (or responsiveness) of improvements in each performance issue to overall customer satisfaction; improvement initiatives are prioritized to those issues whose improvement will most positively impact overall satisfaction.

2. Conduct a Census: When a satisfaction questionnaire is distributed to only a sample of customers, the measurement program fails to communicate the business’s intention of listening to all of its customers.  While packaged goods manufacturers may be hard-pressed to conduct a census, for producers of: durables; specialty items; and services a census is not only achievable, it’s highly desirable.  As an outreach to all customers, the satisfaction measurement program becomes yet another component of the overall customer experience.

3. Measure Continually: A satisfaction process that is conducted on an ‘event basis’ (only periodically) sends multiple messages – all detrimental.  First, employees (and especially dealers or other agents) may become conditioned by the periodicity; performing especially well only during measurement periods – relaxing in non-measurement periods.  Second, employees may begin to question the sincerity of management’s commitment to customer satisfaction as it seems content to only measure satisfaction on a periodic basis.

4. Drive the Questionnaire with Your Database: Far too many satisfaction programs are conducted without any linkage to the customer database.  This estrangement results in the demeaning, typical first question: “Which of our products do you own?”  This is an embarrassment to the business.  If any part of the satisfaction measurement process is targeted to strengthen relationships with customers, that objective is immediately undone by this one, flawed question.  By driving a satisfaction questionnaire with information contained in the customerbase, a business demonstrates that it ‘knows’ its customers.  Customer cooperation with the survey program is bound to increase by virtue of the ‘connection’ the linked questionnaire demonstrates.

5. Disaggregate Your Results: Reporting averages not only hides low scores, it also turns attention away from the percentage of customers who are truly delighted.  And, need we remind ourselves, there is no average….it’s an imaginary median.  An average score of 7.5 on a ten-point scale totally conceals the 18% of customers who are completely dissatisfied and the 12% who are completely satisfied.  It’s far better to report on the extremes of your data.  This way specific goals can be conceived such as reducing the proportion of dissatisfied customers by half, or striving to delight at least one-quarter of one’s customers.

6. Communicate Your Findings: The communication of satisfaction results is a broad field with many options.  Obviously a program that never reports results to the operational level, is either a “showcase program” or one very poorly designed.  For understanding and improvement to occur, results must be communicated to customer-facing employees.  But there’s an additional opportunity that is seldom exploited.  Why not communicate results to customers as well?  By involving customers in the reporting process, a business ‘validates’ its measurement processes.  It demonstrates that the information is actually being analyzed and acted upon.

7. Celebrate Results: Results shouldn’t be rolled out in a punitive way.  A large number of satisfaction measurement programs become the companies’ disciplinarians.  Their critical reports are dreaded by all; they are shunned rather than embraced.  Improvement is unlikely.  With a constructive attitude, even poor results can be announced in a way that coaches improvement.  After all, the tonality of the reporting process will invariably flavor how employees feel about the total satisfaction measurement program.

8. Solve Problems Raised by Individual Customers: Don’t treat the satisfaction measuring process as simply data-gathering.  I’ve seen too many returned questionnaires in which customers beg for help, but the responsible corporate department takes the stand, “we can’t interact at the individual level, we’re sworn to keep customers’ identities anonymous.  This is an archaic attitude.  If a customer takes the time to complete a questionnaire and in so doing asks for resolution of a problem, it’s a dereliction of responsibility not to offer to fix the problem.   (For a further discussion of this ideology, read my article, Customer Research, Not Marketing Research.)

Indeed, if a properly practiced, satisfaction survey can align a business to the needs and wants of its customers – making the conduct of its business a “win-win” situation; both the business and its customers benefit.  Let me know your thoughts, I’d like to hear them!

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