According to research, 80 per cent of ‘very satisfied’ customers will renew business with existing suppliers usually without hesitation. The key word here is ‘very’, not just satisfied or almost satisfied. So the objective here is to keep your customers ‘very satisfied’.

Customer Satisfaction

may have different flavors and interpretations, but the only one that counts is when it’s measured in terms of the customer’s definition and expectations, not in the service or solution provider’s terms. When dealing with an objection or negative perception, it’s very difficult to make that desired change.

The cure is to make the expected change, and offer tangible clearly convincing proof with consistency of change over an acceptable period of time. Once the problem with the negative perception is clearly defined and understood, the change to occur must be agreed upon by both parties and must be implemented immediately, measured, reported, monitored and presented for acceptance, and most importantly must be sustained with consistency over an extended convincing and credible length of time without fail.

Customers will rarely – outside of exceptional circumstances – point out that 99 times out of 100 things were done right. These things don’t always cause great excitement, are taken for granted and are expected. Of course the one time that things go wrong and Murphy’s Law is at play, you will most definitely hear about it. With new customers of course, don’t discount the importance of the old cliché and fact that you only have one chance to make a first impression.

Ideally, what you want is a very satisfied customer who will not only renew the current type and volume of business with you, but will give you incremental new business. Additionally, the quality of your service and solution should be so differentiated from your competitor that there’s never anything to worry about. However you should ensure that that customer’s expectation of quality service and solution is affordable.

Once you’ve reached that level any additional effort is an unnecessary expense that goes above and beyond the required parameters of compliance. When you have achieved a very satisfied customer level, it doesn’t mean that now you can relax. Achieving that level and maintaining it while continuing to build and expanding the relationship, is a full time job.

So how do you know when your customer is very satisfied?

You simply ask with very precise, clear and specific questions by means of a survey. Preferably a survey should utilize closed questions requiring written replies that are usually very direct, requiring a simple yes or no answer unless there’s a need to qualify and/or justify the response. With feedback or comments during meetings etc., you should also observe body language, tone of voice, expressions, smiles and other clues that will support the statements or give reason to further probe for more details.

To whom do you direct the questions within your account?

When you’re selling organs, you speak to the organ grinder and not the monkey. The same is true with customer satisfaction. You need to ensure you are asking the right person. For example, if you just completed a service call, you don’t ask mid- or high-level management what they thought about the response time. Ask the person who placed the call or the person the technician communicated with during the call. If the issue is an isolated incident, mid and senior management will likely not hear of the problem, depending on the severity of course. Repeated occurrences or trends will make their way up the food chain at some point, and that’s when serious damage can be done to the relationship.

When should the questions be asked?

The timing of the questions is extremely important to the results of the survey. For example, if you’re interested in knowing how the customer feels about a specific recent activity like the response time on a specific call, then you should ask immediately following that call or at the latest within one or two days following closure. The reason is that you want to ensure you speak to that same person the technician spoke to during the call and when that interaction is still fresh on the mind.

People change, have different shifts or tend to minimize or forget the impact as time progresses. So you usually conduct a telephone survey in this case. And yes, the technician can influence the results big time by ensuring his closing comments before leaving the site refer to the customer being ‘ very satisfied’ and perhaps by even leaving behind a note that reminds the customer the aim is to make them ‘ very satisfied’. In other words, the thinking and mindset can be conditioned.

When you want to know about how your customer feels over a greater window of time, you can choose different levels within the customer’s organization, again depending on the nature of the questions and the subject matter. In this case a mailer/e-mail approach can be utilized.

How do you ask the questions in the survey?

The questions must have a wide range or degree of definition ranging from very poor to exceptional, with very satisfied being one or two levels below exceptional. If the method used is a range of numbers to select the level of satisfaction, it should range from 1 to 9, with 7 plus representing the very satisfied or best result.

What do you do with the results?

The results should be analyzed, documented in a report and discussed with your employees. In fact the results should be posted in high employee traffic areas. Very positive favorable results should be celebrated and shared with the customer at all levels. Ride this one for maximum impact, but within reason and without overdoing it because things can change: Murphy’s Law can play havoc anywhere, anytime so you don’t want to end up with egg on your face, especially if it’s an isolated occurrence.

If you go to the trouble of doing a satisfaction survey, do something with the results. Don’t just make it an exercise with no purpose. Be thankful and appreciate the results even if negative issues you may or may not agree with have surfaced. This is the opportunity you should take advantage of to make that desired change and that difference in the customer’s perception. Don’t ignore the concern and sweep it under the rug or hope that it will go away on its own in time. The wound will never heal, so take the bull by the horns and run with it.

When addressing the issue, you must focus on the cause and not the symptom. Depending on the severity of the concern, you may want your management to visit the customer to discuss the concern personally, propose ideas and get the customer to agree on the solution and timeline to resolve.

Follow-up will be necessary; broken commitments will quickly destroy all credibility. Ongoing monitoring of the results will need to be done in order to ensure consistency and confirm customer acceptance of proof and change of perception.

Let’s take the case where you’re in a meeting a customer makes a comment which may indicate a possible concern brewing up. Don’t ignore it, but instead probe to uncover exact details, which you can either address on the spot or take back for follow up later. If customer has doubts about anything, it’s very good that it surfaces. The customer should feel free and very comfortable opening up and you should thank them openly for doing so. Customers who are ignored tend to become irate and alienated to the point where you could eventually end up losing that business. It doesn’t mean the customer is always right. It means that you acknowledge and respect their point of view.

In the unfortunate event that a business is lost, it’s an opportunity to really crank up the quality of service so that the customer will never forget how good you really are. At the same time you raise the comparison bar a notch or two for the new service/solution provider. I’ve seen cases where business was lost due to pricing and within only three months of experiencing a new service provider the customer was back begging for help and willing to pay more.

There are additional side benefits with having very satisfied customers. There are exceptions to the rule that customers only remember and comment on negative experiences, and that is when the experience has a tremendous positive impact. The other day someone told me about running into a customer he hadn’t seen in three years who commented how he was impressed with a specific incident. So it is possible to make lasting impressions.

Very satisfied customers will also pay a premium for quality services or solutions. Going back a couple of decades, you may recall the owner of the Remington Shaver company doing his own commercials on TV. His approach and message was ‘sure we’re more expensive, but it’s your face’.

Dom Constantini is a customer service consultant with over 25 years experience in the customer service industry. He started his career as technician for Xerox and rose to become co-founder and national operations manager of the Xerox Service Centres. He worked for Honeywell Information Systems/Bull Information Systems as national marketing manager and express catalogue sales director, then worked for NCR as director customer service, central region operation. Most recently he was senior vice–resident sales, marketing and operations for RBA Computer Experts Inc.

He can be reached at domcostantini@eyesurf.net

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