Thursday, September 26, 2013

10 Lessons in Customer Satisfaction

From 1992 to 2009, I ran online survey companies Decisive Technology and CustomerSat. Here are ten customer satisfaction lessons I learned in those 17 years:

1. Timeliness is critical to every customer.

No matter the industry or touchpoint, timeliness of response is becoming ever more important as a driver of overall satisfaction. The reasons: business is moving ever faster; waiting is frustrating; attention spans are declining; and speedy responses eliminate uncertainty.

2. Focus increases satisfaction.

American General sells just life insurance; 21stCentury, just auto insurance.  Both enjoy higher satisfaction than other companies that sell many types. Serving one set of customers well is hard enough; serving many different customer sets is much harder. Execs at those businesses can’t be as familiar with the requirements of each customer set; they misestimate or misunderstand requirements; and use precious resources and time trading-off one set for another.

3. Satisfaction scores vary widely among attributes.

A 7.5 on a 10-point scale can be high for one attribute but low for another. “Courtesy and professionalism” may be a full point higher than “how well your representative knows my company.” Human-based attributes like these tend to get higher scores than inanimate ones such as documentation. People are more willing to criticize processes and technology than humans.

4. Benchmarks make metrics meaningful and actionable.

By itself, a score of 7.5 conveys little, even if we know that standard deviation is .6. But adding that the relevant benchmark score is 8.1 reveals that performance is one full standard deviation below benchmark.  That tells us a great deal.
Benchmarks let us more effectively prioritize areas of improvement. If our smart phone scores 7.7 in compactness and 7.3 in style, it might appear that style deserves higher priority.  But, if for all brands in the target market, the norm is 7.0 for style and 8.0 for compactness, our scores relative to benchmarks are -.3 on compactness and +.3 on style, giving a very different picture.

5. Every corporate unit benefits.

With today’s feedback systems, teams, departments and business units can all be held accountable for their satisfaction performance and can take immediate and targeted action when problems arise. These enterprise-wide benefits are elevating Customer Advocacy and its importance in organizations, in some cases to the office of the COO.

6. Behavioral data is trumping survey data.

Behaviors include how and when customers make purchases; calls to technical support; attendance at training courses and webinars; “Likes” of Facebook pages; Tweets and re-Tweets; paths walked in retail store aisles; and body language and facial expressions. The number of ways we can track these behaviors – including GPS, cams, motion detectors, RFID tags, and a growing variety of micro-sensors – is skyrocketing. Gathering behaviors typically requires no respondent cooperation. Since survey response rates are falling at the same time, expect to see surveys increasingly becoming tools to validate and interpret behavioral data rather than ends in themselves.

7. Track market share.

Mainframes, fax machines, and travel agencies all enjoyed high customer satisfaction ratings as they lost market share over the last three decades. The last holdouts of a product or service are often the most loyal and satisfied. So track market share as well as satisfaction.

8. Use many metrics.

No one would want to be a passenger in a plane whose pilot had only a single gauge in the cockpit. Similarly, multiple metrics – financial, customer, employee, and market – provide the most complete picture of your business. Any claim that this or that is the “only metric you’ll ever need” is nonsense.

9. Customer advocacy goes through fads.

These including service quality, expectations, loyalty, customer value analysis, six sigma, NPS, and customer engagement over the last two decades. Some of these have little merit but survive by dint of marketing and simplicity; others are rigorous but have relatively few users due to complexity.  The customer metric that has best withstood the test of time is – you guessed it – satisfaction.

10. Feedback truly makes a difference.  

Customer feedback can improve dozens of decisions large and small: product features and positioning, service quality, staffing, organization, order management, even mergers and acquisitions. The evidence from many sources is overwhelming: companies that consistently measure and act on customer feedback really do perform better.