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Ask your customers what they think

Ask your customer what they think Many organisations believe that they know whether their customers are satisfied with their service, despite having never asked those customers. Holding such an opinion may be presumptious because suppliers often place too great a focus on their technical offer (the product or service) at the cost of the elements of service that customer value

You cannot guarantee that you have guessed your customer's views correctly, and it is not worth losing customers through ignorance. Do all customers hold high views of your products or services on issues that are important to them?

Research has shown that there can be considerable inconsistency in customer perceptions of a service, across senior people and customer-facing functions. Even where customers consider that some people in a business give an excellent service, the service from other people may fall far short of meeting their expectations.

Even if you ask your customer for their opinion, do you actually use the information? Collating and analysing customer' views, deciding on the requisite steps to improve service and then actually implementing them are equally important.

Customers do not mind if you ask for their opinion of your service, in fact many feel quite flattered. What they do object to is having taken the trouble to give their opinion, you fail to take any action to improve your service.

Let's turn to how you might get your customers' views and consider the pros and cons of various methods of customer (satisfaction) survey(s).

How you obtain a customer's views depends upon your resources, the work type, nature of the customer and the customer's value to the organisation. Various methods are given below. You may want to segment your customers according to their value to your organisation or work type and use a different method for each segment. You may find it cost-effective to use an independent third party to carry out the research on your behalf.

Limited resources should not be a reason for not obtaining customers' views, although you sometimes have to think about how you can do so. One organisation, for example, asks customers at about six month intervals when they are in the office whether there is any way in which the organisation's service could be improved. Notes are taken, kept in a separate pocket in the file and periodically collated with notes from other files. Any action is then decided upon and implemented.

The pros and cons of different methods for surveying customers:

Method

Pros

Cons

Postal survey(s): one off

  • Useful for benchmarking
  • Provides comprehensive way of obtaining views of a large sample of customers
  • Best way to reach customers whose responses might be biased or distorted in a personal interview
  • Questions have to be tailored to the specific customer market to obtain full, meaningful information
  • To maintain credibility with customers and organisation, have to put improvements into effect
  • Cost of preparing, sending and analysis
  • Poorer response rate than other methods
  • Slower than other methods

 

Method

Pros

Cons

Phone survey: transactional (ie a specific survey used or when a customer interacts on a defined occasion, such as a car dealership might when a car gets its next service)

  • Monitors customers' views on an ongoing basis
  • Gathers information quickly
  • Allows the interviewer to clarify questions
  • Higher response rate than postal survey

 

  • Similar to one off survey
  • Need to ensure that results are not ignored
  • Have to ensure that they do not fall into disrepute, either from organisations' or customers' viewpoints
  • Time consuming
  • Interviews have to be short and are not too personal

 

Method

Pros

Cons

Personal interviews by:

  • Senior Manager
  • Marketing Executive/External Consultant
  • The most versatile method
  • Interviewer can ask more open questions and, in an unstructured interview, more probing questions
  • Useful for key customers
  • Can be used by organisations with limited resources, by fee-earner as a matter progresses
  • Will customer express honest and views to the person who has been providing the service? Will that person handle the interview in an unbiased and undistorted way?
  • Will independent interviewer have sufficient knowledge of the work type or the organisation?
  • Most expensive method
  • Most time consuming method
  • Needs more administration and planning
  • Information has to be analysed and collated to obtain benefits

 

Method

Pros

Cons

Focus groups of 8-10 customers from a single client market. About 1-2 hour's duration.

  • Better to ask customers to attend "blind" so they believe they are to discuss customer service in general and not of your specific organisation
  • Very useful way of establishing aspects of service important to that market
  • You will still be able to identify where their expectations not being met
  • Often much fuller information, more meaningful information because customers spark views off each other
  • Customers usually willing to attend if given small payment, gift
  • Needs careful planning, an independent and experienced general moderator, and an independent venue
  • Even after transcription by moderator, you may have to analyse responses and identify what action needs to be taken

What are you going to do with the information?

It is vital to use the information or the exercise will have been futile, resources wasted and customers' expectations raised in vain. Plan what you intend to do, your customer contact programme, but do not be over ambitious in the first instance. It is better to do something small that is seen to be successful to bring cynics on board rather than a large-scale project that risks falling down because of lack of commitment. The results of the analysis may suggest one or more of several courses of action:

  • Do new working procedures need to be introduced?
  • Are any problems organisation-wide or limited to departments, offices or individuals?
  • Should customer-facing functions or people be encouraged to change behaviours? Evidence from customers can be a most persuasive tool. This can affect your customer contact strategy.
  • Do customers' expectations need to be managed because it is not possible to deliver what they actually want?
  • What changes can you implement first?

Always take a very positive approach when obtaining customers' views. In many instances, resistance from employees may arise from a fear of finding out that the customer they dealt with is not happy - no one likes to receive criticism about their work. Choosing who will tell the person and how they will be told is important. If behaviours need to be changed, show the person how they need to change - do not expect them to be able to do so without guidance or training. Encourage people to learn from their mistakes and always lead by example.

You must also consider whether to give feedback to customers on the results of a survey. Most customers are very interested to hear how you have got on and will be pleased to have been able to contribute.

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