For many businesses, retaining existing customers is cheaper than acquiring new customers. Customers become repeat purchasers usually because they believe that the products or services they buy are good value for money and the service they receive when contacting the firm is at the very least satisfactory. So the question is: how can one measure if the service a customer receives is of an acceptable standard?
If budgets are limited, there are a number of actions that a company can take to obtain data about how satisfied their customers are with the company's products and services. These include:
- Examining recent correspondence customers have sent to the company (specifically emails and letters). What one should look for here is the frequency with which certain topics are being raised and the language customers use in their correspondence:
- items relating to regulatory matters that are usually out of your control (but if they arise frequently it suggests there is a need to provide some communication about the topic and how limited one is to be able to influence it); items relating to policy decisions (which being under your control you may decide to change) or items relating to operating procedures (again which are under your control).
- If they use a lot of emotive words then it reveals the depth of their concern with this matter.
- If customers mention that they are writing/emailing because they have been unsuccessful in getting through to you on the telephone or in person, or that they have not yet had a reply to an earlier call or letter, then you can be fairly certain that these customers are not 'satisfied' with the service from your company.
- If you have a call centre, or have outsourced customer service to another company, then you should ask for statistics about the number of calls received, the topics and the frequency with which each of the topics are being raised. It is also worth finding out the average amount of time a customer spends talking with an agent and if this varies by topic. You must be careful interpreting the data as some customers will 'store up' issues and then call the company to discuss all of them at the same time.
- Calling a random selection of customers and asking them what they think of the products and services they have bought, or to follow up on a recent call they may have had from a sales rep to find out how happy they were with the call and the matters discussed. If your business involves subscription purchases, then contacting a sample of customers who have not renewed their subscription to find out why may provide useful information.
- The Internet can also provide access to useful information about not only your customers (if you are a larger company) but also about customer opinions about the industry or profession in which your firm operates. You must check that any data is relatively up to date. There are many different sources available, ranging from blogs by individuals about the service they have received (or from employees about their working conditions!) through to reports and other materials provided by individual companies, trade associations, etc.
- It is also possible to conduct your own postal or web-based surveys, but it is usually more cost efficient to use a professional market research agency or trained consultant to conduct these on your behalf. However, if you do decide to conduct your own survey then consider not only the content of the questionnaire but also its design and structure. In addition, do not underestimate how much time and effort will be involved not only in the pre-fieldwork stages but also afterwards when it comes to analysing and interpreting the date customers have provided.
If you decide to use a professional research individual or company then look for companies or individuals that:
- Specialise in measuring customer satisfaction and loyalty, as they will be able to tell you which questions work better than others, the best order in which to ask questions, and will, of course, be able to provide the analysis and interpretation of the data your customers provide to them.
- Have knowledge of your area of business or geographic location.
- Are keen for your business (small and mid-sized agencies are more likely to be interested in your business and being small or mid-sized themselves will usually have a better understanding of the issues a small firm faces).