Support operational quality: How does your customer satisfaction program score?

Support operational quality: How does your customer satisfaction program score?

Baldino, George

It’s not easy to become a world-class support organization. The days of complacent companies remaining competitive in the marketplace are long gone. Today, to become and remain an industry leader, the delivery of quality service must rate high on the customer satisfaction charts. Customers demand quality, value, continuous improvement and the ability to respond quickly to their needs. Since today’s competition is tough, if you are not meeting the needs of your customers, they will be met by your competitor tomorrow.

Customer satisfaction measurements are one of the most important forms of market research a company can perform. They are an efficient and cost-effective means to determine the needs of your customer and provide you with the necessary information on how to keep them satisfied. The information obtained from these measurements will often far outweigh the cost of implementation and will assist in turning customer satisfaction into customer retention. Research has consistently found that it costs three to five times, if not ten times, more to attract a new customer than it does to keep one you already have. The ability to execute that function successfully is the cement necessary to bind customer relations and create the brickwork referred to as retention.

The following will help ensure that your customer satisfaction measurement program is meaningful and effective.

Commitment From Upper Management – Upper management plays a vital role in the success or failure of a customer satisfaction measurement program. Since customer satisfaction issues often span several departments or divisions, management’s commitment to stand behind the program will pave the way to ensuring customer satisfaction. The commitment to provide the necessary resources for construction, execution and follow-through of the program is essential to correct the deficiencies that may arise in quality along the way. This type of “top down” approach will not only alleviate the squabbles and finger pointing that often occur within departments, but will also provide staff with the managerial muscle to achieve successful results.

Design Your Own Program– Each firm should take the initiative to develop its own measurement program based on the needs of both its company and customers. Take designing a questionnaire, for example. Adopting an existing questionnaire from another company is an easy but fruitless method to design a program. Just because a questionnaire worked for another company in the past, does not indicate that it will work for your company today. Nor does it indicate if your customer base is the same as in other firms.If every customer were exactly alike, a uniform and identical measurement program could be created, but, unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Even if your customer base did prove to be identical, companies go through many changes over time; therefore the program should be reevaluated and updated to fit your specific company and customer needs.

Many companies that have copied programs and initiated them without performing the required customer research have probably watched results slip away without a cause. Even companies that increase internal training as well as implement new quality programs may watch as satisfaction results drop. Customers and their expectations change rapidly. Although it may appear that your company’s quality has increased, it is possible your customers’ expectations have increased at a faster pace. Designing your own program based on company and customer needs, in the long run, will achieve successful program results.

Get To Know Your Customers– Every customer satisfaction equation has the same common denominator: needs, expectations and desires. While identifying your customers may appear to be a simple task, the virtues of understanding your customers are often neglected. One size does not always fit all. The most effective way to get to know your customers is to let them tell you what is most important. Unfortunately, in many cases, it is the company that identifies many or all of the attributes in a satisfaction measurement. A company that assumes what attributes are most important to its customers may eventually lose customers along the way. For example, a mission-critical customer’s most important attribute is most likely responsiveness. Upon the company’s review of the satisfaction measurement completed by this customer, a low rating in friendliness or courteousness will prompt the company to rush to fix that problem when the actual issue may have been responsiveness. In effect, considerable time and money become dedicated to fixing a problem that did not exist. Telling your customers what attributes are most important to them will ultimately result in little utility for the company and its success in the marketplace.

Two other ways to determine the attributes that are important to your customers include interviews and focus groups. In addition to addressing your current customers, potential and lost customers will add value in the survey process. A lost customer is a very good source of information since he or she has firsthand information pertaining to a company’s weaknesses. A company may identify issues with a past customer that were never raised or registered previously. Potential customers will assist in the identification of industry perceptions and trends as well as how you stack up against the competition.

Benchmarking – Benchmarking is the process of comparing performance to a type of standard. There are three types of benchmarking standards: internal industry and competitor. Internal benchmarking is based on internal performance. A company’s first benchmark endeavor will typically begin with its own performance. This creates an accurate baseline for comparisons in the future. Internal benchmarking measures how you did last year, last quarter or last month. Industry benchmarking looks to the industry to make a widespread comparison. For example, J.D. Power and Associates measures customer satisfaction on a variety of attributes for the auto industry. Finally, competitor benchmarking gathers information on a company’s key competitors as a standard for comparison. This not only aids in identifying competitive strengths and weaknesses, but also assists in developing an action plan to correct shortcomings. Industry and competitor benchmarking are both examples of external tools. These external benchmarking tools help a company determine how it is performing in comparison to its competitors and the industry in general. Although internal benchmarking tools often show consistent improvements in quality, external benchmarking usually reveals that the competition is getting better at a faster rate.

Formulate An Action Plan– Once all vour data has been accumulated, an action plan must be in place to decipher the results. Formulation and implementation of an appropriate plan will provide you and your firm with the results you were destined to achieve. When the results of a customer satisfaction program leads to meaningful change, then the program was a true success. When the results don’t lead to change, it was an exercise in futility.

Continuous Improvement– Since all efforts to implement a customer satisfaction program must be continuous and ongoing, companies should embrace the concept of Kaizen. Kaizen is a Japanese term meaning “continuous improvement” and is an important concept in Japanese management. Since it is unlikely your company will achieve 100 percent customer satisfaction, 100 percent of the time, there is always room for improvement. Markets, competitors and customers are always changing. Customer needs and expectations are always in flux and therefore, measurements should be ongoing to provide continued snapshots of a point in time. A well– executed satisfaction plan will keep your company’s competition in perspective.

Satisfaction Vs. Retention– While a customer satisfaction measurement may indicate that a customer is satisfied, as a result of other factors, a customer may still go elsewhere. Strong customer satisfaction does not necessarily equate to customer retention. It is important to understand that there is a difference between satisfaction and retention. If we look to the dictionary for the definition of satisfy, we see that it is defined as “to make content or fulfill requirements,” whereas retention is defined as “to keep or to hold in possession.” In many cases there is a strong correlation between the two, but not in all instances. Your customer, not your company, should define the attributes in a customer satisfaction measurement program.

Implementing a customer satisfaction measurement program is an enormous yet worthwhile endeavor. The ability to address all of the steps outlined above in a meaningful and effective manner will ensure customer satis faction and ultimately render customer retention. The true goal with any cusomer satisfaction program is to retain customers, not just temporarily satisfy them.

Copyright Technology Marketing Corporation Jun 1998

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