Tagged: Voice of the customer

An Annual Satisfaction Survey is Good, but not Sufficient

In a recent post, I built the case for why customer satisfaction is more than an annual survey. In this post I discuss why an annual customer satisfaction survey is a good start for collecting customer feedback, but not enough.

There are two interrelated issues to consider: time and place.


Customers want to give you feedback when they want to and that does not necessarily coincide with when you ask them. Think about your own experience. When do you want to spout venom or accolades? Probably when it is freshest in your mind, or more precisely when the emotion, either positive or negative, hits its zenith.

Choose the Best Approach for Your Business

There are two ways to conduct the surveys and the approach should be determined by what makes the most sense given your business model. In some cases, companies incorporate both types of data collection:

  • Project- or transactional-based. Collect information at the end of an engagement or at the point of service. This would be a good approach for a help desk service or a project-based professional services firm.
  • Relationship-based. Collect information annually or semi-annually to assess the overall relationship. Companies that have ongoing relationships and/or long-term contracts would opt for this approach.

Other things for the survey team to keep in mind when developing a relationship-based survey:

  • Representative sample vs. census. Depending upon the size of your customer base, it may not be feasible to reach every customer and therefore you may opt to survey a representative sample.
  • One-to-one. Key customers should be treated differently. Use personal visits or telephone surveys to collect the feedback from your key accounts.
  • Rolling collection. While you should never approach an individual customer more than once or twice per year for feedback, it’s best to stagger the surveys over the course of the year to maintain a continuous voice of the customer and avoid that one-time project pigeon hole. For example, you could break up the target customer base into four groups and survey one group each quarter and then aggregate the results at the end of each year. The continuous feedback helps gauge customer reaction to events as they occur—a change in support hours, for example—rather than waiting until months later.


Customers also want to give you feedback where they want to and this won’t always coincide with your annual survey or project/transaction surveys. Customers provide you with feedback at just about every touch point. The trick is to remember to listen and observe and then collect the data in a central repository where it can be accessed and analyzed.

Listen Across Multiple Channels

Companies need to listen to customers across multiple channels. In addition to surveys, other important sources of client feedback include:

  • Customer service hotline. Provides information as well as an empowerment to the front line.
  • Customer visits. Thoughtful study of customers in the setting in which they actually use your service or offering provides the most intimacy. When employees see the service in use they get ideas for improvement that customers themselves may never propose.
  • Online communities. Communities are online Petri dishes for observing buyers’ behavior, researching their needs, offering help and thought leadership content, and building trust and relationships by facilitating buyers’ conversations with one another.
  • Social media. Find out what people are saying about you. Listen to and track the relevant conversations. It’s important to know who is saying good things about your company, but it’s even more important to know who is saying bad things and responding when appropriate.
  • Customer councils/advisory boards. Regular meetings provide a higher level of intimacy than focus groups. Customers who think about your problems over the long-term may come up with especially valuable ideas and solutions.
  • Face-to-face individual customer interviews. In groups, customers influence one another’s responses. Individual interviews may enable customers to articulate more personal thoughts.
  • Reviews. Provides a window into what your customers are telling others.
  • Debriefing frontline sales and service people. Taps the vast pool of information and insight your organization already possesses.
  • Competitive win/loss debriefings. Special interviews with the customer at the time you win or lose a piece of business catch the customer when the experience is still fresh. These conversations may uncover invaluable insight on where your strengths and weaknesses lie and a better understanding of the competitive landscape.
  • In person tradeshows, conferences, and seminars. You can meet more customers per dollar expended than with other methods.

Create Both Standard Methods and Informal Processes to Gather Input from Customers

It is important to establish standardized processes for gathering customer satisfaction and loyalty data reliably and accurately across the company.  However, companies don’t need to wait to do a formal customer satisfaction survey before collecting feedback from customers. Social media, pop-up surveys on the website, customer advisory boards, sales meetings, and other listening posts for gauging what customers think should also be used. The old-fashioned suggestion box is as valuable as ever, but perhaps you want to automate it!

Customer Satisfaction Is More than an Annual Survey

When people think of customer satisfaction, they think of it as being an annual event. Once a year, we survey our customers to find out if they’re feeling satisfied and loyal. If we see some major problems, we address them. Otherwise, we relax and wait until next year and do it again.

The issue is not just that we don’t measure these things frequently enough—especially now that social media allow customers to vent early and often. There’s a much bigger problem here. Treating customer satisfaction and loyalty like an annual research project does not encourage a customer-centric, learning culture. Rather, such an approach fosters a “tick the box” mentality; we did the survey, now on to our real work.Action Plan

Further, by taking the hammer and nail approach and focusing only on customers who are unhappy, we do a disservice to those who are happy or are neutral; they are ignored and therefore could be swayed to leave us when a better opportunity comes along.

So how do we begin to change the situation inside our companies? The first step is to recognize that we can’t go on managing customer satisfaction and loyalty separately. They must come together into a single, global program that manages the entire customer experience.

The Rise of the Chief Customer Officer

Companies will never be able to manage every touch point of the customer experience in a holistic way unless there a senior-level executive—preferably SVP or above—who is put in charge of the end-to-end customer experience. In ITSMA’s research, we’ve found that the best practice companies have a global approach to managing customer satisfaction and loyalty in which all business units participate. Especially as companies begin to capture much more data from and about customers in the coming years, we predict the rise of the Chief Customer Officer (CCO), who will oversee the entire program.

The Customer Experience Center of Expertise

But even a senior executive cannot do this alone. To help bring all the different programs together, companies must also create a center of expertise for the customer experience. This center will consist of a leader who manages the overall program at the operational level—a senior director or vice president—as well as 2-5 staffers for a large, global company.

The center of expertise is important not only to integrating the different programs together, but also to ensure that the programs are effective at the local level. It may sound paradoxical that you need a central group to do a better job locally, but as companies become more global, the cultural differences among different geographies become more pronounced, not less.

If companies want to achieve the same customer satisfaction and loyalty goals across the globe, they can’t rely on the local regions to build and sustain that consistency on their own. Delivery must be highly localized, but the quest for satisfaction and loyalty must be global and coordinated. All regions must have the same opportunity to reach a high level of customer satisfaction and loyalty. A customer experience center of expertise can help them do that.

Central Oversight Prevents Gaming of the System

Another important role of the center of expertise is to act as referee over the programs, making sure that all areas of the company play by the same rules when it comes to the high-stakes issues of loyalty and satisfaction. When measuring customer satisfaction and loyalty, it’s easy to game the system. For example, sales managers in one division may encourage their salespeople to ask customers for high satisfaction ratings in return for favors later. Or divisions may choose to do their own satisfaction surveys. Or they may simply choose to opt out altogether. (This is precisely the situation I found when I was called in to help one ITSMA member implement a more effective satisfaction and loyalty program.)

When you end up with little fiefdoms doing things autonomously, employees are not being held to the same standard across the company. And that means it’s impossible to establish a meaningful benchmark for improvement. If measurement—and interpretation of the results—is not consistent, companies lose the value of the measurement.

Avoid the Ivory Tower Syndrome

However, the customer experience center of expertise can’t become an ivory tower dictating to the rest of the organization. It needs feedback, cooperation, and support from all levels of the organization to do its job well. In our research we’ve found that a cross-company council with representatives from all key business units is most effective for ensuring standardization and corporate-wide support.

Breaking Down the Silos

How a company responds to customer feedback says a lot about the importance it places oncustomer relationships. Companies that promptly take action in response to both positive and negative feedback have made a commitment to improve the customer experience.

Additionally, by creating a tight linkage between customer satisfaction and loyalty programs, and other relationship growth programs, it’s possible to create a seamless customer experience.