Tips to stay afloat in the sea of customer satisfaction data

Tom Simpson, managing director, Simpson Carpenter, explains how brands should be prepared to hear what customers want to tell them, and put that information to good use.

Anyone who has ever spent five minutes in marketing will be familiar with the phrase, “it costs X times more to acquire a customer than retain one”. You can debate how much more expensive it is to win new customers rather than hang on to the ones you’ve got, but the fact remains – it makes good business sense to keep your existing customers happy.

For the majority of brands, the mainstay of monitoring how happy their customers are is a customer satisfaction survey. The sad truth, however, is that many of these studies contribute to little, if anything, towards the key objective of keeping customers loyal. So often this is because companies fail to understand that finding out what customers want to tell you is far more important than finding out what management wants to know.

Customer satisfaction surveys are far too often designed mainly to meet management’s need for metrics to monitor performance across a range of departments and contracts. Finding out what your customers really think gets lost in the sea of statistics. The result? Masses of data yet very little insight into what your customers really think about you.

The main responsibility for monitoring customer satisfaction (and more specifically, the nuts and bolts of any customer satisfaction survey) may be the responsibility of the insight department. But marketers are doing themselves (and more importantly, their customers) a huge disservice if they disengage from the process and focus purely on the outputs. Research is, after all, a brand touch point, so remember that your customers are likely to draw just as many (if not more) conclusions about how you value their business from how you conduct your customer satisfaction survey as they are from any other interaction.

Here’s a few guidelines on how to turn your survey into a positive experience for your customers:

  1. Make sure that you put your customers, not your company at the heart of your customer satisfaction process. That means putting yourself in their shoes. So if you don’t like being asked to rate dozens of attributes and not being given the chance to say what you really think, don’t expect your customers to put up with it either.
  2. Find out exactly what your customers care about and then ask them how you measure up. Then dig deep to find out why. Then stop before you bore the pants off them.
  3. Forget about the average. So 69% of your customers think you’re OK. Focus on the 31% that had a terrible or a fantastic experience of your brand. It’s these people who should be your main concern. Find out why they feel as they do. Then do something about it. And don’t forget that driving down the number of detractors should be at the very top of your list of priorities. The advent of the digital age means that a disgruntled customer can do a huge amount of damage to your brand with just a single Tweet.
  4. Don’t find five different ways of asking the same question. Researchers are probably the only people who can split hairs about likelihood to recommend, overall satisfaction and repeat purchase intentions. But frankly your customers don’t care. And they’re likely to think that product quality, reliability and durability are much the same thing – so one question will do.
  5. Think carefully when linking staff rewards to customer satisfaction scores. We’ve seen so many instances of sales reps coaching their customers on what scores to give – now some are even handing out leaflets on the subject. If you link staff bonuses too overtly to customer satisfaction scores, you run the risk of encouraging behaviour that’s damaging to your business and defeats the object of the entire process.
  6. When your customer satisfaction study is done and dusted, make sure that the results are fed back to your frontline staff. And make sure that you do it in a way that is meaningful to them – there’s no point sending shop managers a stack of data and instructions on how to create pivot tables for data on their own store. Tell people what they need to know and, more importantly, what they need to do. And do it as simply as you can.


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