OPINION8 June 2010

The frontline of customer satisfaction


Customer sat surveys are all well and good, writes Jamie Thorpe, but companies need to do something about the perception that feedback is not acted upon.

I thoroughly enjoyed Tom Simpson’s recent article on customer satisfaction and I share much of his sentiment. In days gone by, larger purchases or significant service touchpoints attracted a survey. Nowadays even the smallest of interactions will often trigger or encourage the customer’s opinion of the service or product. Respondent fatigue is certainly evident in some markets. Tom’s list of do’s and don’ts was both extensive and undeniable, but we are in danger of missing the point: that the public only likes surveys if they get something out of it.

This represents a horrible truth for the humble researcher whose mission is to extract from customers and give to clients. Maybe we need to make each survey a call to action for our clients to make each customer’s life better – not just a statistic for the boardroom but a chance for the frontline to give better service, immediately. I don’t mean incentives or prize draws, just a promise that someone, somewhere will read and act on what each customer says.

“The sad reality is that most people feel that their comments disappear into a data vortex”

How often have you been genuinely thanked for your participation or directly witnessed the effects of your feedback? In my experience, this happens very rarely (automated messages on the back of surveys don’t count). Therefore as consumers we are left to hope that when we hang up the phone or click ‘submit’, our opinions have been effectively harvested and will be acted upon promptly. But respondents who believe this are in the minority. The sad reality is that most people feel that their comments disappear into a data vortex.

There’s no reason why we can’t simply find out what the customer thinks and tell someone quickly what to do about it, every time. We run a programme for a mobile telecoms company where the customer is contacted immediately after speaking to the firm’s call centre. They receive a call back on the phone from which they rang with a short IVR survey to get their feedback, with a few questions and the option of recording a short message at the end. Response rates are around 30% and the time from the customer ending their call to their comments getting back to the advisor is about 12 minutes, leading to marked improvements in satisfaction and retention.

Researchers may wonder whether frontline staff can be trusted with sensitive information, but it’s another horrible truth that they in fact know more about the customer than the research staff. The answer to better satisfaction is to empower those that deliver to do it better, not to keep telling them where they are going wrong.

We also work with a car manufacturer which uses a simple phone survey to monitor satisfaction. The question they ask is: “Are you completely satisfied?” Anything less than a yes, and the case is red-flagged for a follow up.

It’s time for researchers to understand that customer satisfaction studies are merely a component of a better customer relationship. We are marketers not just researchers. A survey is not a passive extraction of data from the customer, it is a real chance to make the relationship better.

Feedback that is aggregated and acted upon at a global level is, of course, vital to business success, and long may it continue. But it is the results that are acted upon at a local level that create great customer relationships, loyalty and advocacy.

We need to communicate with customers openly, encourage feedback, educate the frontline on how to act when a customer wants a response, measure what happens and how it’s changing, and reward frontline staff for better work and customers for their loyalty.

Jamie Thorpe is head of commercial relations at Grass Roots

1 Comment

13 years ago

Well, I do agree with you that results of the research should be action-oriented and able to develop good reltaionship with the existing Customers and develop new customers in the process. But presently the big challenge is to minimize the response error that is increasing day-by-day. Today's customer is well informed and has plenty of choices to make among the brands that are swarming like bees in the market. Consumer behaviour is the key, i think we as researchers should focus on developing new theories in this aspect. Good luck

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