Maximizing the Use of Customer Satisfaction Data

(Originally published as a Customer Service column in the
April 2000 issue of AFSMI's The Professional Journal.)

By William K. Pollock

In recent years, the combined impact of a highly volatile economy, the proliferation of new technology, a growing regulatory environment and an intensely competitive marketplace have led to increased pressures for many services organizations with respect to:

  • Establishing and maintaining acceptable levels of customer service;
  • Expanding, or refining, their overall portfolios of product and service capabilities;
  • Growing their existing customer bases, and keeping them satisfied;
  • Identifying and cultivating new business market opportunities;
  • Remaining at the vanguard of technology;
  • Maintaining acceptable profit margins; and
  • Approaching customer service and support more strategically.
However, while most organizations recognize the need to measure customer satisfaction on a regular basis, all too often, they have no real structure or methodology in place to carry out a truly effective and meaningful program. Even worse, some may think they have already implemented a meaningful program, but are, in reality, carrying out nothing more than a glorified customer "courtesy call" program whose principal purpose is simply to "remind" customers that they are still out there, and have at least a passing interest in what they have to say. These are typically referred to in the industry as "How are we doing?" surveys that are generally more useful in terms of public relations than for strategic data collection and analysis.

Still, some organizations continue to base their overall customer service and satisfaction efforts on conducting internally developed customer "courtesy call" programs using in-house staff to survey the company's customers. While the thought behind these programs is admirable, the benefits of conducting them are typically limited only to the inherent promotional value of the calls, and not in terms of deriving strategic information that can be used to improve overall customer service.

Perhaps a better way to collect strategic customer satisfaction data would be to shift the overall focus to the development of a program that is:

  • More scientific, and statistically valid, in its methodology, execution and analysis;
  • More credible, in terms of being conducted and analyzed, on a discreet basis, by an objective, outside consulting organization; and
  • More actionable, in that the survey results can be used as direct input for improving customer service; developing new products and services, or refining existing ones; implementing an employee incentive program; etc.
The objectives of a more strategically designed customer satisfaction measurement and tracking program would essentially include the following:
  • To identify the specific customer satisfaction attributes that are proven to be important to customers;
  • To provide benchmark, or baseline, measurements of both importance and satisfaction for future trend comparisons;
  • To determine the relative strengths and weaknesses of the organization with respect to its products, services and customer support;
  • To 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; and
  • To provide company management with an objective, scientific and statistically valid means for measuring, monitoring, assessing and evaluating customer satisfaction data on a strategic, ongoing basis.
The applications and uses of the findings from a customer satisfaction measurement and tracking program of this type would be multifold:
  1. The organization could acquire new and useful input and feedback directly from its customers regarding their perceptions of the value, need and levels of satisfaction associated with the acquisition and use of the company's products and services.
  2. The survey results could then be used to monitor trends in both company performance and customer satisfaction over time. This information could contribute directly to the ongoing improvement of the company's products and services as part of an overall marketing plan, and could ultimately lead to the development of new, or modified, products, services and support features designed to meet the total needs of the customer base.
  3. The results of the survey could also be used as a marketing tool for promoting the company's various product and service lines through a number of means including:
    • The creation of an executive summary, or "white paper" report, based on the general survey results, for distribution to targeted customers and prospects via mail, insertion in corporate literature folders, or at industry trade shows;
    • Development of a series of promotional and public relations-oriented news releases targeted to key business publications and trade papers; and
    • Publication of a "genericized" summary of the survey results in an appropriate industry trade journal or magazine that serves the organization's general customer/market base.

  4. The results of the survey analysis, as well as a sampling of selected verbatim quotes and comments, could also be incorporated directly into the company's advertising and promotional programs, corporate brochures, testimonials, newsletters, etc.
A customer satisfaction measurement and tracking program designed to provide all of the uses and applications as described above would consist essentially of two phases:
  1. A Discovery Phase in which the principal performance evaluation criteria of customers would be identified, and
  2. A Quantitative Survey Phase in which actual measures of product and service quality importance, matched against corresponding levels of satisfaction with the company's performance, would be made.
In more general terms, the study would provide company management with a comprehensive analysis of the benchmark, or baseline, customer satisfaction survey results, as well as the analysis of trend data that could be used to identify key patterns of change, or movement, in customers' perceptions of company performance over time.

These would include, but not be limited to:

  • Detailed analyses of the overall survey findings that establish baseline satisfaction levels, and track trends and shifts in customer satisfaction from period to period;
  • The identification of specific areas requiring improvement;
  • Generation of executive-level summary reports, detailed survey data and regular (e.g., quarterly) tracking reports;
  • Assessments of the strategic implications for the company based on the analyses of the overall survey findings; and
  • Development of specific recommendations for improving levels of satisfaction.
The establishment of a strategic customer satisfaction measurement and tracking program should be an important component of every services organization's business plan. However, taking advantage of the multiple uses and applications of the survey results will make it an even more cost-effective strategic tool.
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.


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