Most technology buyers understand that system capabilities represent only one part of the buying decision. Service after the sale, ease of doing business, and a commitment to meeting customer needs are also critical in selecting the right technology partner. Most vendors talk a good game when it comes to customer service, but these factors may seem difficult to assess in advance. Referrals and case studies, for example, may or may not serve as representative samples. Fortunately, one time-honored adage holds true: You are what you measure.
How a vendor or technology provider measures customer satisfaction says a lot about how they will deliver. By learning more about a firm’s approach to capturing and managing customer feedback, buyers can gain insight into the level of service they may expect after becoming a client. The right questions help determine whether prospective providers are really committed to meeting business needs. In simple terms, taking a moment to ask who, what, when, how and why can help separate the players from the posers.
Who: When it comes to customer satisfaction, whose opinion matters?
Companies that are serious about integrating customer satisfaction feedback into their organization will gain feedback from multiple levels:
- Users who work with the technology on a daily basis. Their feedback is important for vendors when it comes to monitoring ease of use, system performance and overall employee productivity.
- Project managers that are responsible for installation, vendor management and end results. Their input can help shape how relationships are managed and are critical to overall satisfaction.
- Business heads and executives look more at the big picture. Their observations help uncover ways to improve the long-term return on investment.
A best-in-class measurement program will solicit feedback from more than one individual in a company. For prospective buyers, the “who” question offers a quick way to assess whether a vendor understands the nuances of a business relationship.
What: When it comes to customer satisfaction, what does the vendor actually measure?
When a company says “90 percent of our customers are satisfied,” what exactly does that mean? Actually, leading technology vendors do not measure whether or not a customer is satisfied. They only care about whether a customer is very satisfied.
In many countries, including the UK, “satisfaction” is akin to cultural politeness. When customers claim they are “Satisfied” or “Somewhat Satisfied,” that often means there are underlying issues with the vendor that have yet to be addressed.
“Very Satisfied” is the gold standard. While few companies will be able to cite numbers in the 90 percent-plus range when using this scale, it says a lot when vendors set this as the goal. Another variation of the “Very Satisfied” measurement is a “Net Sat” score. Here, companies take the number of customers who are “Very Satisfied” and subtract anyone “Dissatisfied” or “Very Dissatisfied.”
Successful companies look for ways to align their operations to customer needs. In general, four aspects of customer satisfaction are consistent across all technology vendors.
- Sales and sales relationship
- Service and service support
- Technology performance
- Ease of doing business
It is a good idea to ask a prospective vendor how they measure satisfaction across each of these four aspects.
When: How often does a vendor measure customer satisfaction?
To be successful, a customer satisfaction measurement program needs to be ongoing, a best practice that is often misperceived. Requesting feedback from customers once a year is not enough to improve business processes.
Given the critical nature of technology, software and systems need to demonstrate success in the eyes of a customer every day. Business needs and market conditions may change quickly, which is why many vendors conduct satisfaction surveys on a monthly basis.
That is not really true; vendors should conduct transactional satisfaction surveys immediately after an event — e.g., the sale, the install, a service call — a relationship survey will be done less frequently, often six-monthly or quarterly.
How: How exactly do you measure and manage customer satisfaction?
There are several valid approaches to surveying customers, so buyers will have to use judgment to assess whether the survey mechanisms make sense given the technology in question.
For mass-marketed business technologies that perform a limited number of functions, it is possible that customers do not have a specific sales or account representative. Organizations may interact with the vendor remotely, via customer care centers, correspondence and the Web. In such cases, Web and email surveys are effective. Questions should measure satisfaction across different touchpoints and should always include a section to capture verbatim responses.
When it comes to specialized, high-tech, big-budget systems, however, it makes sense to go deeper than a simple check-box survey. Here, vendors are more likely to employ methods that provide opportunities for in-depth dialogue, such as telephone or face-to-face surveys.
While each client must be measured according to a custom built program specifically designed to its needs, some core rules and measures specific to high-end organizations can be identified. Some example measures that have been tried and tested are:
- Monthly email surveys focusing on critical customer-facing processes;
- If a customer reports dissatisfaction, the appropriate business units are alerted and required to report results;
- As part of the survey process, customers are asked to contribute ideas and suggestions;
Measures for large, high-end customers:
- In-depth telephone surveys with multiple contacts at each customer company to explore sales support, performance, response time, satisfaction with service reps, ease of doing business, and overall satisfaction;
- If customers report that they are merely “satisfied,” service managers are set a maximum number of days within which to resolve problems and develop an action plan to boost satisfaction;
- Managers to review satisfaction results each week, and analytic teams look for trends by region, sales rep, models, etc., to drive strategies and new programs.
Why: Why exactly do you measure customer satisfaction?
There is one main reason vendors should measure customer satisfaction: to identify gaps and improve overall service delivery.
Firms that are serious about customer satisfaction don’t bother asking questions unless they have infrastructure in place to take action. Surveys and systems are designed so that the information gathered is actionable, and senior management will be involved in review and planning sessions.
Understanding how a technology provider measures and manages customer satisfaction can provide insight into how it delivers service on a day-to-day basis. Best-in-class vendors solicit feedback from customers on a regular basis and act upon the information they receive to rapidly resolve customer issues.
Taking the time to learn more about the who, what, when, how and why of a prospective vendor’s approach to customer satisfaction helps buyers make smarter, more informed decisions.
Valerie Howe is European customer experience and retention manager at Pitney Bowes.