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Get to Know Your Customers
By Paul Fileman

Too often in business, I find people who have no idea about why their customers stay or why they lose customers. If you are going to be effective in building customer loyalty, you need to understand what people think.

1) Ask Them

  • Ask what they really think.
  • After a delivery (or installation, or service visit), ask for honest feedback – anonymity promotes honesty.
  • Pick up the telephone and check that they are happy.
  • If you have a team so that there are customers you never deal with or speak to – telephone them once in a while – and find out what they really think (open questions help). One of the best customer care initiatives that I have seen was in a large manufacturer of porcelain plumbing items where each director was tasked with a set number of customer interviews per month. Is the customer really known in your board-room?

2) Introduce a Customer Survey

If you search the web, you will find lots of information sources that you can use to design a customer satisfaction survey that will work for your business - or you can ask us to help you. The important factors to remember are:


  • Make it quick - if your customer satisfaction survey takes an hour to complete, people will abandon the survey - reducing the sample size and you may reduce satisfaction.


  • Make it easy - depending on who your customers are, make sure the media you select and the return mechanism are appropriate. If you already communicate with customers by email on a regular basis, an online survey will be easy for people to complete. If your business is conducted face to face then a telephone or postal survey might get higher response rates. Make sure you think these things through.


  • Be consistent - There will always be improvements you can make to your surveys. However, if you keep the core questions consistent then you can make comparisons between surveys and start to pick up trends. You are then in a much better position to measure the impact of business changes you make - or to pick up a decline in satisfaction that might need you to take action.


  • Get the timing right - too often and response rates will decrease, too infrequent and the improvements will not get started. Quarterly or annually work for most businesses. If you only interact with customers on an infrequent basis, then at the point of delivery or billing could be right for you.


  • Capture numeric information - you need numbers to be able to look for trends and changes. You also need to be able to compare results from different customer groups at times.
  • Even numbers best - avoid numeric scales with odd numbers - on a 5 point scale, you will get a data skew to point 3 of 5. Go for 4 or 6 points - if you really want to understand the logic, you can easily find information on the theory for this point.


  • Capture verbatim information - ask one or two open questions - that way you get the emotion behind the responses. And you get a chance of quick wins on correcting things or rewarding employees who went the extra mile.

Case Studies and Testimonials

  • Go back to the best results and ask for testimonials - if your survey is not anonymous, ask the best respondents to approve a testimonial or a case study - the majority will not mind if they are genuinely pleased with your services or products.
  • Use the verbatim responses to help your drafting process – if your survey is not anonymous.

No Cheating

  • Do not cheat - make sure that everybody resists the temptation to telephone customers and "clarify" the scoring system. Many car dealers do this - and it has the opposite effect to that which was intended.


Added: 10th December 2010

Paul Fileman is a business results improvement professional, marketer & mentor. He works with businesses to improve their profitability and performance. Find out more about Paul's company Results Zone.


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