Don’t Just Collect Customer Satisfaction Data; Do Something With It


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I bet you’ve never considered that your customer service staff should be part of your marketing budget.

Consider how easily you could spend $25,000, $50,000 or $100,000 or more on generating customer satisfaction data, only to give the results a cursory glance before relegating it to the “I’ll get to it later” pile. What you’re missing here is a great opportunity to leverage that research among your own customer service people, so you can increase sales.

Simply put, marketing people generally fail to recognize that customer satisfaction data, when properly used by their own operations people, is a great media tool.

A catalog company selling wallpaper conducted a customer satisfaction study every month. The company measured ratings on a variety of topics, including how quickly the sales representatives came to the phone, how knowledgeable they were, whether they had a “smile” in their voice and if they followed up promptly on questions they couldn’t immediately answer. The company also considered customers’ satisfaction with the web site, as well as the manner in which orders were shipped and received.

Every month, a report was issued, and each time the data remained at about the same levels: never decreasing but never increasing, either. Sales also continued to plateau at flat levels. The marketing director finally made the decision to discontinue collecting data because it never changed.

The uh-oh moment

It was only then that the research firm that was about to lose the contract finally got smart and introduced the wallpaper company to a process for taking action from the data. Strangely, the research firm had developed a process that several of its clients used effectively to better implement customer satisfaction data, but the company failed to introduce it to the wallpaper client until it was almost too late.

A leap of faith had to be made here. Company executives had to believe that the better customers felt about the way in which they were served, the more business the company would get as a result. If you don’t believe this principle, you are doing your company a disservice and should seek out a good research company to show you otherwise.

There are a number of approaches in motivating your own operations staff to use customer satisfaction data to its potential. Fear of being fired might be one option, but you may find it more efficient to use a collaborative process that benefits everyone involved.

It is critical to engage your operations staff in setting goals.

Money is usually the best staff motivator, especially when you have some people who may benefit financially from improving customer ratings and others who may not. Perhaps your telephone representatives are in one department, while Internet representatives operate out of another. Or maybe your packing and shipping employees are separate from your representative staff.

Starting a competition between these groups can go a long way in generating results. Do so by using a small portion of your marketing budget and setting up a bonus pool for each operations department. Additionally, create another pool of funds if everyone reaches their target.

Settling on an amount in bonus funds might require imagination. You might cut an ad or two or be less aggressive on a particular promotional effort to generate the dollars. The important thing, though, is to determine how much additional profit you would make if your operations staff increased sales by 1 percent, 5 percent, 10 percent or more over a 12-month period. Allot what you feel is a fair cut here. A good rule of thumb is to allocate 10 percent of the extra profit to bonuses, but, ultimately, the amount will have to reflect the best interests of your business.

Setting goals

For your customer satisfaction data to reach its potential, it is critical to engage your operations staff in setting goals. Recruit key operations teams who have the power to implement research results. Include all levels, from operations managers to particularly effective sales and service representatives—those who are closest to the customers are great source of ideas. Then, assuming you have current satisfaction data, circulate the latest ratings to your operations team.

If, though, you have to start from scratch, well, get started. Find a good research company, develop benchmark customer satisfaction data and plan your follow-up studies.

When the wallpaper company circulated its data, it attached a blank sheet to the research, titled “Proposed Action Ideas,” that asked the various operations teams to generate ideas for improving ratings in the critical areas. Marketing management then set targets for improving customer ratings in the key areas.

Although every company is different, a good rule of thumb is that an increase of at least 10 percent in various customer satisfaction ratings will translate to at least a 1 percent increase in sales. The wallpaper company based its bonus pool calculations on that.

The operations teams participated in brainstorming sessions, with members agreeing upon actions that they deemed pivotal to improving ratings. Finally, team champions were appointed to oversee operations staff compliance with the new actions.

When the wallpaper company conducted its first follow-up study, it saw ratings increase across virtually all measures, ranging from 3 percent to 20 percent. Most importantly, sales jumped 3 percent during the three-month period, and a quarter of the yearly bonus pool was paid out immediately. Bonuses continued to be paid for four consecutive quarters, and the program continues to this day.

Need more be said? Used effectively, your customer service people are a beneficial media vehicle for increasing sales. It’s time you started thinking about them in that way.

Bob Kaden
The Kaden Co.
Bob Kaden is the author of Guerrilla Marketing Research and president of The Kaden Company, a marketing research consultancy that works with clients in planning and applying research to make more money. He is a frequent lecturer and trainer in the areas of creativity and marketing research processes.


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