Customer Satisfaction Is Just the Beginning

Customer satisfaction has always been seen as critical: After all, what company doesn't want consumers to be happy with its products or services? In the past, though, most organizations aimed no higher than merely making sure people were content -- and that's where the story ended. No additional action, no further strategy -- unless of course, customer satisfaction surveys started coming back with ratings lower than those of soon-to-be-former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer. This reactive approach to customer service, however, seems to be falling out of favor, at least according to statistics from a new study released by the Gantry Group, a Massachusetts-based strategic consulting firm. According to the study, 79 percent of respondents are searching for customer satisfaction solutions that can detect and pinpoint exactly where to focus efforts for greatest impact. While many companies say they find the concept appealing, they also believe it to be difficult to undertake -- 46 percent of respondents listed "distilling customer satisfaction data into high impact actions" as a key challenge. "[The study] really highlights the best practices in a way that emphasizes the need for detail and the need for understanding, being able to prioritize based on the impact of customer loyalty," explains Dawna Paton, managing partner at Gentry Group. "We have not seen that emphasized in the past." Another problem with implementing customer satisfaction surveys is "lack of bandwidth," according to 67 percent of survey respondents. Available funds don't seem to be as much of an issue, as only 34 percent identified that as the instrumental roadblock to conducting these surveys. "You would think, 'Well, what could be more important than this?' " Paton says. "Having a customer experience or customer care department isn't the only way [to proceed with customer satisfaction surveys], because it could be part of a larger responsibility. It's not surprising that it would fall to the wayside as other things are going on." What Paton says does does surprise her, though, is what she deems "a large relative difference" between the top reason for and the top capability of a customer satisfaction program. Sixty percent of respondents identified "focusing efforts where there is greatest impact on customer retention" as the top reason, while only 47 percent stated "accurately forecasting customer loyalty and retention" as being the most important capability. "What's interesting here is the relative difference -- the fact that being able to focus your effort and knowing where
to focus effort to get biggest bang for buck is more important than even accurately forecasting customer loyalty," she says. Paton attributes these statistics to a growing shift: Organizations are recognizing that more can be done with these surveys than simply finding out whether or not customers are happy. "[Companies are] realizing now that this data could actually be actionable, if only they knew where to focus first," she says. "Typically, in most customer satisfaction studies, there aren't that many questions -- often a handful of questions -- and of course with a handful you won't get [the] granularity and detail you need to figure out where [the] problems are. Customer satisfaction can be much more strategic and useful than [companies] thought in the past." This move toward a more strategic application of customer satisfaction data is also coming straight from the top of companies' food chains, according to the survey. Twenty-two percent reported that the CEO was the "primary driver of customer satisfaction initiatives" in their organizations. Paton explains that the Gantry Group was very particular in the wording of this question -- the survey was intended to identify the executive truly responsible for the actual implementation of customer satisfaction initiatives, not just the individual who paid lip service to the concept. "Everyone says, 'We want to be customer centric' -- but there's a difference between saying that's what we'd like and actually putting together strategy and making it happen," she says. "This should come from the CEO down; we're just surprised that it did." This renewed focus on customer satisfaction programs indicates an industrywide trend toward viewing customer satisfaction surveys as extremely important -- and not just important insofar as companies can celebrate if consumers are merely happy. "People are now looking at customer satisfaction as something they want to act on," Paton says.

Related articles: Direct Marketing Meets the Web DMA B-to-B Marketing Conference '08: The Internet will forever change the marketing landscape -- in fact, the change may have already happened. 9 Essential Strategies to Improve Customer Experience SAP CRM 2008: As advertising budgets shift to online efforts, customer care is where the money is. E for Excellence Other industries could stand to learn a few things as e-commerce continues to deliver outstanding customer satisfaction. Compensation Beyond the Contact Center One study finds many technology companies link employees' salaries with customer satisfaction. Re-shoring Contact Centers A rise in customer dissatisfaction with offshore contact centers has many companies looking to relocate closer to home.
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