10 Ways for Maximizing the CRM Impact of Your Customer Survey Program

(Originally published in the July/August 2004 issue of AFSMI's Sbusiness.)

By William K. Pollock and Leo A.P. Moerkens

If the only thing your organization is getting out of its ongoing customer satisfaction surveys is survey results, then it really hasn't done its job effectively! In fact, if the end product of all the time and expense you have put into your customer surveys is nothing more than a series of periodic tracking reports, you may have missed the boat altogether! Because simply conducting customer satisfaction surveys on a regular basis, and merely monitoring the results via a series of quarterly tracking reports, is a potentially great waste of both your time and money. Read on to see how you can cost-effectively leverage your customer satisfaction surveys into more than just "easy reading"!

We believe that the only thing worse than never conducting a customer satisfaction survey is conducting one, but not being able to leverage its full value into your customer service and support operations. The results of our AFSMI CRM Preparedness Survey revealed that nearly 75% of services organizations regularly measure customer satisfaction (Figure 1). The question that was not asked, however, is "What do they do with the results of their surveys after they have read the tracking reports?"

Figure 1

On the basis of our experience in designing hundreds of customer surveys for a variety of product and services organizations, we have identified the following 10 ways to maximize the CRM impact of your survey program (Figure 2):

Figure 2

  1. Be Sure to Match the Survey Design Directly to Your Specific Goals and Objectives.

  2. Many businesses rely on the results of their customer surveys to help them improve their product and service offerings. However, there are many different types of surveys that may be utilized, each with their own pros and cons, depending on the specific goals and objectives of the organization. Before you design your survey program, you must first determine which of the following goals and objectives you will be trying to meet, and then plan accordingly:

    • To establish a baseline, or benchmark, for customer needs, requirements, and satisfaction against which future trends can be measured and evaluated;
    • To generate strategic data that can be used as input into a strategic, marketing, CRM or business development plan;
    • To measure the impact of specific tactical events such as direct marketing or promotional campaigns, new product/service launches, operational/ organizational changes, acquisitions, etc.;
    • To determine the relative strengths and weaknesses of the organization with respect to its products, services and customer support, and identify the critical areas requiring improvement;
    • To collect data that can be used to set targets or goals for improvement, and to serve as the basis for formalizing internal strategic and marketing planning programs;
    • To evaluate and compare the performance of individual product/service lines, business/sales divisions; geographic sales/service territories;
    • To provide the necessary information and tools to make decisions that will improve the organization's ability to convert high levels of customer satisfaction into long-term customer loyalty; and/or
    • To assess your competitive position with respect to market awareness, image, reputation, and perceived capabilities, in order to verify and update your business strategy.

    As such, there are essentially three basic levels of customer surveys from which you may choose, depending on your specific objectives and focus (Figure 3). These include:

    • Operational - where you measure the performance of your processes and service delivery, compared against specific performance goals.
    • Tactical - where you measure the effectiveness of your service delivery from the customers' perspectives and perceptions.
    • Strategic - where you measure your position in the overall marketplace, and compare it against both user needs, and competitive performance.

    Figure 3

    The possibilities may appear endless, and the nuances somewhat vague; however, there is generally only one "best" way to approach customer satisfaction for any one specific goal. That is why the type of survey methodology you choose becomes such a critical decision! However, by selecting the most appropriate methodology, you can maximize the ultimate value and usability of the survey results. The key points to remember are that generic surveys will only provide generic information, and generic information will not enable you to improve your business.

  3. Get Input and Gain "Buy-In" from Key Departments Before Designing the Survey.

  4. Regardless of which department is actually sponsoring (i.e., paying for) the customer surveys, all key departments should have their input specifically addressed as part of the overall design process. This is important for a number of reasons including:

    • The ability to create an effective multi-departmental team for planning on how best to use the survey results to improve existing processes, and implement organization-wide change;
    • Gaining sufficient "buy-in" from each of the key areas within the organization so there will be as much corporate acceptance and "ownership" as possible throughout the survey process;
    • Reducing or eliminating the instances of finger-pointing that may otherwise occur as a result of unanticipated survey findings;
    • Building direct links to business areas and processes in the overall survey design, so that the survey results may be used to drive specific improvement programs; and
    • Assuring that each of the departments represented will benefit from an appropriate share of actionable survey results that will empower them to make the necessary changes.

    Remember - it's not just your department interacting with and supporting the company's customers. Customer support ultimately comes from all departments within the organization - and all processes, regardless of whether they directly or indirectly involve customer contact, will play a role in determining and influencing customer satisfaction and perceptions.

  5. Differentiate Between Collecting "Nice-to-Know" and "Need-to-Know" Survey Data.

  6. In a world where time and money are irrelevant, there would be no difference whatsoever between "nice-to-know" and "need-to-know" survey data. However, this world does not exist! The key rules of thumb for survey design, therefore, should focus on the following:

    • Identify the key objectives for the survey in terms of the operational, tactical, or strategic goals that you want to accomplish.
    • Don't ask a question if you have no way - or no plans - to use the resulting information.
    • However, if you absolutely, positively, need to acquire the data, then be sure to ask all of the right questions, in the right format.

    While "nice-to-know" data is still - well, nice to know, we would strongly suggest that for every "nice-to-know" question that fits into your questionnaire, there is at least one more "need-to-know" question that can take its place.

  7. Don't Be Afraid to Survey Customers "Outside of the Box".

  8. We believe that customer surveys should be designed and executed on a customized, tailored, and "company-personalized" basis. While a pre-packaged "survey-in-a-box" can probably provide your organization with some of the basic components of a customer needs and requirements assessment/customer satisfaction survey, this methodology typically provides only limited customer insight in most cases, as:

    • These types of "packaged" surveys often result in your ability to only "hit the high points" of what is likely to require much more in-depth research and analysis at a later time; and
    • They are generally unable to identify the more finite, or unique, problems and opportunities that your organization may be facing.

    We believe that the "survey-in-a-box" approach is to a customized survey analysis, what a slice of white bread is to a Thomas' English MuffinTM - that is, you don't get into any of the "nooks and crannies" in the former, but that's where all the flavor is! That is why we strongly advocate stepping "out-of-the-box", and going the custom survey route. Based on our experience, these types of surveys only provide a general indication of problem areas or areas for improvement, without providing the specifics that will enable you to take the necessary corrective actions.

  9. Survey More than Just Your Own Customers.

  10. Surveying their existing customer base is what most companies think about when designing their customer survey programs. However, there are other segments that may be equally worthy of surveying in terms of solidifying your existing market base, or developing future business potential. These may include:

    • Employees/Contractors
    • Dealers/Vendors/VARs/Authorized Service Agents
    • Strategic Alliance Partners
    • New Accounts/"Wins"
    • Lost Accounts/Prospects
    • General Market Users
    • Others

    Since all of these segments ultimately impact your organization's ability to support its customers, they are all relevant for surveying at some point in time. If the required corrective actions involve going beyond just the customer base, then you will also need to survey other segments of your overall supply chain (i.e., dealers/VARs, strategic partners, etc.

  11. Don't Only Survey Your Customers on a Post-Transaction Basis.

  12. Many organizations only survey their customers immediately following a specific service call event. While these types of surveys are generally both meaningful and actionable, they tend to be very narrowly-focused in methodology and scope, and as a result, only provide data and information reflecting the perceived satisfaction ratings of the organization's most recently serviced customers.

    • The upside is that the collected data may be extremely valuable in assessing (and, ultimately, improving) the way in which a specific service process is conducted (e.g., response to an emergency on-site call; scheduled PM, etc.).
    • However, the downside is that only customers who call your organization for service will actually be surveyed. The fact that some customer accounts may no longer be calling you for service (i.e., they're attempting to fix it themselves; or they're calling other services vendors while they're thinking about switching from you; etc.) may be an even more serious problem.

    Surveying accounts on a post-transaction basis is not the same as surveying your total customer base! While this survey approach will provide you with direct operational feedback, it will not provide any real tactical or strategic information. We have typically found that pairing a post-transaction-based survey with a more strategic or tactical survey approach will help to maximize the value of the collected data.

  13. Leverage the Customer Survey Results to Support Internal Operations Improvement and Strategy Adjustments.

  14. Some managers may argue that internal call activity data, information and reports are all they need to measure and track their organization's performance over time, or identify areas that require "fixing" or improvement. Objectively speaking, they may be right! However, the customers your organization supports are typically not objective in the way in which they assess and evaluate your performance and, in most cases, the internal data you are able to derive do not adequately reflect their true perceptions of satisfaction - let alone loyalty - with respect to your organization's performance.

    As a result, we believe that by conducting an objective internal assessment in conjunction with the customer survey program, management can also focus on:

    • Identifying specific areas where improvements can be made through the systematic standardization and/or simplification of services processes, policies, and procedures;
    • Determining whether the existing operational metrics make sense, are right "on the money", or need to be changed to more appropriate standards of measurement for monitoring resources utilized (costs), cycle time, quality, efficiency, and productivity;
    • Recommending a specific action plan for improving the existing business processes; and
    • Identifying any other "soft" aspects, such as perceptions or "hidden" issues.

    This can all be accomplished while ensuring that your customers' stated needs, requirements, and expectations are being directly addressed as part of the operations assessment and planning processes.

  15. Integrate the Results of the Customer Survey Program Directly into Your Business Planning, Sales, Marketing, and Promotional Activities.

  16. When done right, you will gain a wealth of data and information that can be used as direct input into the business plan that will allow you to improve your business processes, service delivery performance, and corresponding levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty. By appropriately timing your survey programs in line with your periodic business planning and budgeting activities is key for yielding fast results.

    However, the results of the customer surveys should not be used solely for internal improvement - they may also be used as marketing and promotional tools. For example, if the survey results from one of your follow-up tracking "waves" show that customers are somewhat dissatisfied with the fact that your service techs often arrive on-site without the proper parts and, as a result, you decide to implement a new parts/inventory/logistics program, you should communicate to your existing customer base:

    • That you will be, or have been, making improvements that will result in specific benefits to them;
    • When they can expect to see the improvements;
    • What you will be doing in the meantime to prevent any disruption to ongoing service and support;
    • That these changes will be occurring as a result of their input;
    • That you will be keeping them up-to-date on the progress of these changes; and
    • Whatever other positive communications you feel your customers would be most interested in receiving (i.e., on the basis of the survey findings).

    Once the improvements have been implemented, and your follow-up tracking "waves" begin to reflect the corresponding increases in the levels of customer satisfaction, you will have even greater opportunities to promote the business, including any of the following:

    • The creation of a "white paper" report, based on the survey results, for general distribution to customers and prospects via the company website, direct mail, e-mail, insertion in corporate literature folders, and/or at industry trade shows;
    • Development of a series of promotional and public relations-oriented news releases targeted to key industry publications and trade papers; and
    • Publication of a "genericized" summary of the survey results (i.e., no proprietary data/information revealed) in an appropriate industry trade journal or magazine that serves the organization's general customer/market base (such as AFSMI's Sbusiness).

    The results of the survey analysis, as well as a sampling of selected verbatim customer quotes and comments, could also be incorporated directly into the company's advertising and promotional programs, web site, corporate brochures, testimonials, newsletters, etc.

  17. Plan for Your Next Tracking "Wave" Before Rolling Out the Current Survey.

  18. Virtually everything a business manager does takes time, costs money, and requires ongoing management oversight to ensure maximum effectiveness. That is why it is so important to plan follow-up survey tracking "waves" at the same time you are planning the current "wave". By doing so, you will not only realize improvements in the short term, but will also be creating a continuous program of process improvement, based on customer input.

    We have found that the most obvious benefits of building an overall survey design that allows for meaningful tracking "waves" are the ability to:

    • Track a constant set of responses to "apples-to-apples" questions over an extended period of time (e.g., month-to-month, quarter-to-quarter, year-to-year, etc.),
    • Reserve space for the inclusion of ad hoc questions that address special circumstances (e.g., special sales, marketing, or promotional events, new product/service launches, acquisitions, etc.),
    • Accommodate other company departments in getting some of their unique questions addressed as part of a company-wide formal survey program, and
    • Create a mentality of continuous quality improvement in the organization that is acknowledged basically as being customer-driven.

    Don't find yourself in a position where you are unable to track key performance areas over time simply because you didn't plan accordingly when you designed the original survey questionnaire; plan ahead - modularly - with each "wave" of the survey program, and the benefits of tracking data and performance over time will always be there for you.

  19. Don't Try to Do It All By Yourself - You May Need Some Outside Assistance to Keep It Objective and to Bring in Different Perspectives.

  20. While more than 94% of the services organizations that survey their customers acknowledge the need to track customer satisfaction on at least an annual basis (Figure 4), all too often, they have no real structure or methodology in place to carry out a truly effective and meaningful program on their own. In fact, more than half (54%) utilize the services of independent, objective, third-party market research/ consulting organizations to ensure that the customer data they collect will be totally:

    • Accurate,
    • Objective, and
    • Independently analyzed.

    Beside focusing on these aspects, it also requires a great deal of expertise and experience to develop a truly balanced customer survey program that properly addresses each of the operational, tactical, and strategic levels. Although the focus, methodology, and frequency for each of these levels may be very different, you will only get the optimal results if they are linked with, and complement, each other. Therefore, by effectively linking and inter-relating the results from each of these approaches, you will avoid generating overly "fragmented" or "too general" survey findings.

    Figure 4

    While survey data objectivity is important under any circumstance, it becomes an even more important consideration in situations where there may be any internal politicking, "turfing", or other intramural axes to grind. After all, you wouldn't want the survey house to run your services operations; running a services business is your job - helping you do it is theirs!

    Growing the organization is every manager's goal, but one where you really need to know where you're coming from before you can build an effective plan for tomorrow! We believe that the best place to start is to first take a good, long, hard (and objective) look at exactly where the organization stands today with respect to understanding and meeting its customers' needs, requirements, and expectations from an operational, tactical, and strategic point of view - as well as its own internal services delivery operations, processes, and procedures.

    Only then can you confidently move forward with a well thought out, carefully constructed, and systematic plan for improvement - supported by the proper combination of classic customer and market research, and internal operations assessment. While you may think you already have a good idea of what has to be done to improve your business, you will still need to rely on the input from your customers through the use of these basic market research tools to ensure that you are always heading in the right direction! And with the speed of change nowadays, up-to-date information is more critical then ever!

William K. Pollock is president of Strategies For GrowthSM (SFGSM), the Westtown, Pennsylvania-based services consulting firm specializing in strategic business planning, services marketing, CRM consulting, market/survey research, and customer satisfaction measurement and tracking programs. Bill may be reached at 610-399-9717 or via e-mail at wkp@s4growth.com.

Leo A.P. Moerkens is president of Hands-on Management Consultants, Inc. (HoMC), an international management consultancy firm that assists clients in developing and implementing operational business improvement programs. Leo can be reached at 203-888-1671, or via e-mail at LMoerkens@Hands-onMC.com. HoMC's website is accessible at www.Hands-onMC.com.

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