And how are we feeling about the fact that we don’t have to put on our coats to get the mail after what seemed like the longest winter on record? Satisfaction. Pure and simple. Satisfaction is in the air, which is why, in this month’s newsletter, our colleague Jennifer Lacy elaborates on the theme in this edition, called, “I Can’t Get No…”
Julie Brown President
Mark Palmerino Executive Vice President
I Can’t Get No…
Recently, I had a jaw-dropping experience. My seven-year old daughter asked me, “Mom, what did you do today?” What? For those of you who are not around young children much, perhaps you don’t immediately grasp the rarity of the surprisingly un-self-centered nature of this question. My kids don’t ask about my day – the routine is that I ask them, then I try to drag something meaningful out of them. Or, they keep after me for every and any little thing – I’m sure many parents know what I mean when I say that this is what one of our typical “conversations” is like.
I was therefore so thrown off my game that I blurted out the answer immediately – I didn’t think about how to make my answer in any way kid-friendly or interesting to her. “I’m working on a customer satisfaction study for my company’s newest client.” My daughter, reverting back to a more normal role for her in our conversations said, “Mom, what’s satisfaction?”
Hmmmm…. Good question! It’s so easy to assume that we know what certain ideas mean. Customer satisfaction is one of those concepts that can become meaningless with overuse (like “literally,””strategic,” or “innovation“).
My daughter’s simple question reminded me of how valuable it can be to have an outside party participate in discussions about such important issues as measuring and evaluating client satisfaction. Over the years, as CSR has supported dozens of clients in such initiatives, we’ve identified several benefits that an objective third party can bring to a customer satisfaction program:
Many believe that in order to determine how satisfied customers are, you ask as many of them as possible to tell you how satisfied they are with your company’s services, or how likely they are to recommend your company to another, on a scale of 1 to 10. Conventional wisdom often recommends as few questions as possible.
Responses to these types of ratings questions provide interesting benchmarks, particularly since this is what many organizations do; so, you might be able to compare the responses you receive to others (sourced from secondary, vendor, or industry sources) and gain valuable feedback as to how you stand vis-a-vis your competition or other industry leaders. And, such benchmarks might be valuable for other internal comparison purposes, for example, to see how one business unit performs as compared to another, or how scores change over time.
But, from our standpoint, we’d argue there are far better ways to gain insight.
The client we’re working with now was planning to do what many companies would. They were going to map out customer touch points and ask about those via an online survey, using detailed attributes they’d created themselves. The problem with this approach is that, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” (Anthony Robbins)
We’ve found that improving satisfaction often means understanding what customers want that they aren’t getting from you now. Outside vendors, who typically partner with a variety of clients, can often provide this perspective. For example, this client has historically not provided support in a specific area of product education, and therefore, did not include any questions on this topic while building the initial survey instrument. Based on our industry experience, we suggested that they do so. By adding questions about this topic, our client has quantifiable and measurable feedback to help it make a more accurate assessment as to whether this would be a means for building deeper relationships with its customers.
Do you know who is probably BEST suited to explain what your clients need but aren’t getting? Your clients. If you allow them to. Meaning: quantitative, ratings-based questions aren’t the best way to uncover unmet needs, although they might be serviceable in assessing the importance and influence of unmet needs once they are identified. For uncovering and identifying what isn’t clearly known or understood (in other words, to avoid guesswork and assumptions), we advise conducting in-depth interviews with your customers.
In this case, the simple idea to conduct a couple dozen in-depth interviews with our client’s customers prior to designing an online survey helped immensely with identifying potential product and service gaps. It also allowed us to design an online survey that better reflected issues that were top-of-mind.
And who’s best suited to interact with your customers about how satisfied they are with you? Well … I’m more than happy to tell anyone exactly what I think. But, I’m from New Jersey. We’re infamous for that.
Not everyone is so lucky, however. Many people find it difficult to provide open and honest feedback to any representative of an organization with whom they have an important relationship. And, frequently, those who are put in the position of gathering such feedback then subject it to personal bias and filters when sharing it among their colleagues. And, the very human tendency to look for patterns based on what could be a series of unrelated anecdotes can further influence the way organization representatives gather and report on customer feedback.
One critically important aspect of working with a research vendor is that entity’s objectivity, which benefits your organization in multiple ways, including the ability to offer confidentiality, and an unbiased report on all customer feedback.
Additional capabilities and capacity
On a practical note, we must acknowledge that, even if the team members from the client we mentioned above had decided early on that they wanted to conduct qualitative research before launching an online study, they would have had little bandwidth to do it themselves. Recruiting, conducting and analyzing qualitative interviews is labor intensive (though, of course, made much less so when using CSR’s proprietary qualitative-into-quantitative approach).
Completing just two dozen in-depth interviews can take a combined effort of 60+ hours! Leveraging research vendors to provide the resources to execute this type of initiative can take a huge amount of work off of someone’s (most likely your) plate. And, in fact, what could take a client team member up to 80 hours of time, might take a vendor team significantly less, since vendors have generally worked on similar initiatives many times and have established processes for managing the multitudinous moving parts embedded in a single research study. Research vendors, including CSR, can provide expertise in designing insightful satisfaction research, developing the appropriate sample frame to reflect your customer population, recruiting and interviewing customers in a way that reflects well on your organization, and creating a report that is meaningful to your internal clients.
Here’s the Twist: Communicating with your customers is something your organization does all the time. Of course you’re good at it. When it comes to talking with them about what they think of you, however, some fresh ideas, objectivity, and yes, a helping hand to lighten your load and provide expertise gleaned from other clients, both in and outside of your industry, would make your life easier and lead to better results. In fact, given what we’ve discussed today, we think that it would be quite … satisfying!
Mixology (Putting Research into Practice)
Launching a customer satisfaction initiative takes a lot of careful preparation. The following are the most important building blocks to ensuring that your research program is a satisfying experience for all involved:
Brief your sales team: As the individuals responsible for the relationship with your customers, sales and service representatives should have ample notice that a study will be conducted. In particular, letting them know whether customers will be offered confidentiality in their interviews or surveys, will help set expectations for what these key internal stakeholders can expect to learn as a result of the research.
Update your customer database: Once you’ve secured the approval to conduct a customer satisfaction study, and aligned all of your key internal stakeholders, you don’t want to interrupt the process to track down email addresses and phone numbers. Making sure contact databases are current prior to beginning the study will save valuable time and momentum once the initiative has begun.
Identify and understand programmatic bias risks: We have participated in many discussions with clients about the “best practices” of monitoring customer satisfaction: Is it a periodic or a continuous effort? Which is a better channel: web or phone? Should the sponsor be disclosed? And the answer to each is often based on practicalities that have little to do with optimum research study implementation. For example, if you are in an industry where emails are periodically purged from systems in order to protect confidentiality, this may introduce a bias to overall results. Similarly, if you conduct short satisfaction surveys with randomized callers after their contact with a call center, those individuals then shouldn’t be passed over in regular satisfaction surveys because you “have already heard from them”.
Click here to read a case study describing how CSR leveraged its unique methodology to help a premiere media company get the most out of its customer satisfaction efforts.
The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. (CSR) is a research firm. The “Twist” to what we offer is this: We combine open-ended questioning with our proprietary technology to create quantifiable data. As a result our clients gain more actionable and valuable insights from their research efforts.
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