McKinsey & Company describe the purpose of customer satisfaction in the words of Bruce Springsteen – “Sustaining an audience is hard, it demands a consistency of thought, of purpose and of action over a long period of time.” The parallels between stardom and business are clear. Both must continue to make people happy if they are to continue to enjoy success.
But simply making customers happy is not enough. Brands, products and services form a huge part of everyday life and recent research from Fast Company has shown that customers build genuine relationships with these on the same level as human connection. There is no physiological difference between the response to a loved brand and a close friend.
Therefore it is vital the product or service organisations offer are at least satisfactory, or else they will risk falling out of favour. So what are the ways in which a company can not only predict customer satisfaction, but monitor and align it to be reflective of key corporate targets?
1. Determine Influences
The first step to achieving an accurate picture of customer satisfaction is to identify which factors affect customer perception the most. Are customers particularly sensitive to price? Is service quality a core factor? How much does product quality affect customer satisfaction?
These are questions that businesses should always be asking. One way to do this is to develop a list of customer touch points – everywhere that the organisation and customer interact in the same space. A customer journey map should incorporate the whole range of business services which a customer might experience: from advertising and marketing to the purchase itself and even post-purchase care.
Once a customer journey has been developed and established throughout corporate practice, the next step is to give each step a relative weight. Conduct research to discover which aspects of the journey customers are most invested in and which it is most crucial to get right. Perhaps service quality is more important to satisfaction than price, or vice versa. These insights can help show where budget allocations should be focussed for maximum customer satisfaction.
2. Develop Effective Scales
Key to understanding and acting on customer satisfaction is the development of effective scales. It should go without saying that asking customers to rate performance on a scale of ‘good’ to ‘great’ will achieve little. Yet businesses still do it. Sure, it may make a marketing department stand out if customers seem satisfied, but this neglects the root of the problem.
An effective rating scale should be balanced and fair. If a scale starts at ‘Extremely Satisfied’ it should end at ‘Extremely Dissatisfied’. In addition, scales should provide a neutral option for customers that do not have strong opinions either way. Forcing participants to choose between a positive and negative response may result in more emotively charged data, but at the cost of accuracy and the actionable recommendations that this will provide.
3. Track Satisfaction Over Time
Ensure Customer Satisfaction is Tracked Over Time, Not at a Single Moment
Customer satisfaction surveys can often feel like a snapshot. This is because quite often they are. Conducting a single survey once a year or even once a month is not sufficient. Customer opinion is fickle and can change in an instant. Negative press, a bad experience and corporate policy are just a few of the factors that have the power to sway opinion.
So a snapshot is representative of only a single moment in time. Satisfaction may be on the rise or decline, it is impossible to tell. In order to avoid this bias, businesses and researchers should conduct continuous research that tracks changes to customer perception over time. This way overall trends can be developed and plotted against targets, with actionable recommendations to achieve them.
4. Understand Perception Delays
Our experts have conducted numerous customer satisfaction research surveys and the one overall theme that has emerged is a delay between actions and results. Customers will not instantly react to changes in company policy, improved service or marketing campaigns.
Tesco is one of the most high-profile examples of this phenomenon. In late 2014, Tesco experienced a significant shift in consumer opinion influenced in largely by a fall in share price, combined with a problematic accounting scandal.
By mid-2015 the supermarket giant was looking for ways to improve both customer satisfaction and public opinion. In an effort to achieve this, the retailer announced they would be expanding its efforts to donate unsold food to those in need. The results of this PR announcement… still yet to be seen.
There will come a point where this action has an impact on customers but it must filter through news and media organisations before even reaching customers. Once it has reached this stage there will still be some form of delay as customers re-evaluate their opinion of the brand. Understanding the length of this delay is crucial to increasing customer satisfaction over time.
5. Forecast Trends
Combining longitudinal surveys with an understanding of the delay between action and reaction provides the ability to forecast customer satisfaction trends and negate crises before they even arise. Of course, there will also be industry related trends that may affect customer satisfaction that are beyond the span of control but by identifying these early and integrating them into forecasts they can be managed.
Examples of factors outside of an organisation’s control include:
- Customer resistance / anti-brand activism
- New regulations and legal requirements
- Economic circumstances
- Competitor positioning and offerings
- Certain negative press
6. Integrate Qualitative Research
Finally, a great complement to customer satisfaction surveys is in-depth qualitative research. One-to-one interviews and feedback are fantastic ways of understanding the exact reasons customers are satisfied or dissatisfied with your brand. A survey will provide the statistical data that allows changes in customer satisfaction to be tracked over time. Qualitative research, however, provides much greater insight into the reasons why customer satisfaction has changed. Therefore brands are able to pinpoint the initiatives and strategies that have been successful and those that have not. In turn, this underpins future strategies with important foundational knowledge of what customers are responsive to.
Read more about our online research bundles. Or, to book a free trial of the FlexMR research platform and make use of our wide range of quant and qual tools, contact our experts.