How Well Do you Assess Customer Satisfaction?

Published: 14th May 2010
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How to ensure every sales person finds out the client's real needs and then meets these needs is the focus of many sales managers on management training courses I have attended. This is hardly surprising because high priority has to be given to ensuring customer satisfaction. If customers are not with the products and services you supply you will not ensure the on-going success of your organisation.

Despite this, how many companies really know how satisfied their clients are? Often the managers in charge shy away from exploring client satisfaction as a result of prejudices against satisfaction analyses.

Only 28% of companies regularly assess the satisfaction of their clients according to a study carried out by the WHU in Koblenz under the supervision of Professor Christian Homburg.

The survey involved 1,000 marketing and sales managers from industrial goods companies. The survey not only provides information about the current state of client satisfaction assessment. It also shows the uses client satisfaction surveys offer and provides recommendations which can be implemented in practice.

Which client groups are targeted in client satisfaction assessments? Most companies limit themselves to asking existing clients. Potential clients, on the other hand, are seldom asked. This selection appears completely sensible, bearing in mind that new client acquisition is considerably more expensive than caring for existing clients. Therefore the key priority is to ensure existing customers are happy.

Who is asked? Companies generally ask product users or decision-makers. Unfortunately most companies tend to limit themselves to asking only one person.

You should take into account, however, that one person can reasonably assess just one part of a supplier's performance, not the whole. It is therefore important to ask several people from different areas within the client's company to get the whole picture.

What do companies ask? As the data for the following question shows, client satisfaction analyses tend to concentrate on the technical service side and the product.

Companies should bear in mind the fact that other processes in order processing/logistics, quality of client care by the sales department and delivery times are comparatively seldom investigated.

Which performance criteria are assessed? Technical service 90%; Product 84%; Company (in general) 74%; Order processing/logistics 68%; Sales department client care 66%; Comparison with competitors 58%; Delivery times 55%; Other 13%.

Note: It is precisely in these "other" areas that gaps in performance lie.

Substantial amounts of important information regarding client satisfaction is lost by companies who limit themselves to assessing only technical and product satisfaction.

How and how often are clients questioned? Approximately 68% of the companies asked said that they assess client satisfaction through personal questionnaires. In more than half the companies asked (58%) this is carried out by their own salespeople. Herein lies one of the critical points of satisfaction analyses. Clients feedback can be distorted by the presence of an interviewer, this is especially true if the sales people interview the customer.

Trying to collect objective information in this way is, according to the experts, illusory. The only way to collect reliable information is to have a written questionnaire.

The results on how regularly client satisfaction assessments are carried out is also extremely unsatisfactory. Only 11% of the companies asked carry out annual assessments.

What prejudices do companies have against client satisfaction assessments? The problems of client satisfaction analyses are generally overestimated. Oft-quoted problems of resources (time, personnel, cost intensity) and uncertainty about know-how are over-rated.

It can be concluded from the experiences of companies which carry out client satisfaction analyses: The problems which arise during client satisfaction analyses are relatively minor.

90% of the companies asked believe that the use of carrying out such an analysis, on the other hand, is high to very high.

A dangerous misapprehension is the assumption that companies can form an opinion about client satisfaction by purely looking at complaint statistics. Surveys have shown that only 15% of unsatisfied clients make complaints. According to the leader of the WHU study, Professor Christian Homburg, "Any company which limits itself to complaint statistics is only concentrating on the tip of the iceberg."

What recommendations can we draw from the survey results for assessing client satisfaction that can be fed back as good practice to the sales managers responsible for measuring customer satisfaction via management training?

1. Assess client satisfaction on a permanent basis and systematically. This is the only way of being able to draw comparisons and it is the only way to make mistakes visible.

2. It is a common mistake to believe that internal surveys and complaint statistics are sufficient to indicate client satisfaction/dissatisfaction - this assumption is not true.Only a minority make complaints.

3. Use external know-how, rather than making the wrong decisions as a result of incorrect internal surveys.

4. Bear in mind the complex decision-making structures in your clients' companies. Your analyses should therefore not concentrate only on one person, otherwise you will miss vital information.

5. Do not be put off by potential problems. Many problems are over-rated and the uses that you can gain from client satisfaction analyses are considerably greater than any obstacles.

6. And last, but not least: do not sweep the results of your client satisfaction analysis under the carpet. Use the information that you have acquired and implement the requisite measures in your company to increase client satisfaction. Make sure you include the results in your management training sessions to help increase the awareness of all managers on what they need to do in their departments to improve customer satisfaction.


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Richard Stone is a Director for Spearhead Training Limited that runs management training programmes aimed at improving business performance.

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