The most successful businesses are those that understand their customers – from what makes them “tick”, to what “ticks them off” – and everything inbetween. At the most basic levels, some of this understanding may come simply through tracking ongoing sales interactions, service call activity and administrative actions relating to the various phases of customer care.
However, building an actionable knowledge base from these often disparate, decentralized, informal or otherwise unstructured sources may be difficult, if not impossible. That is why many organizations also conduct periodic customer surveys to measure, monitor and track the needs, requirements, preferences, expectations and corresponding levels of satisfaction among their customers. Many also go one step further by surveying the general marketplace (i.e., their non-customers), from time-to-time, to better gauge the markets they are not presently capturing.
Services organizations that routinely conduct customer satisfaction measurement and tracking surveys typically find that they are better equipped to:
- Determine the defining characteristics of service and support that best meet the needs of their respective customer base;
- Identify, measure, and track changes in their corresponding levels of customer satisfaction (or lack thereof);
- Determine the relative strengths and weaknesses of their customer care and technical support organizations;
- Identify all of the critical service delivery areas requiring improvement;
- Collect data that can be used to set and/or refine desired targets or goals for improvement; and
- Identify changes that will have to be made to their existing service delivery processes and organization.
All of these objectives are admirable, important, easy to identify, and will ultimately lead toward the ability of the organization to “fix the system” (i.e., the internal business processes, operations, and infrastructure) that will empower it to deliver the desired levels of customer service and support to their customers.
However, as hard as they may be working to “fix the system”, there is always the risk of losing some of their most “vulnerable” customers in the interim, since systemwide improvements typically take a long time to design, implement, manage, and maintain. For this reason, many have turned to customer survey programs that are designed more specifically to provide the data, information and guidance needed to both “fix the system” – and “fix the customer” – at the same time!
Some of the more progressive organizations have begun using a combined customer surveying approach that not only provides guidance for identifying systemwide problems that need to be “fixed”, but also generates individual Customer Relationship Profiles, or case studies, that identify customer-specific problems that need to be addressed in the immediate-term.
In this way, while the organization is spending the large amounts of time and dollars that will be required to correct its systemwide problems over the long haul, it can concurrently (and fairly quickly) address some of the more unique problems that may be negatively impacting individual customers in the present-term – hopefully, well before they become possible “kick-out factors” that may cause some customers to consider switching to another provider.
In addition to using a traditional, time-tested approach consisting of capturing information from ongoing customer relationship activities (i.e., sales calls, service calls, site visits, courtesy calls, etc.), combined with the periodic conducting of larger-scale customer satisfaction surveys, a Customer Discovery Survey program can be tailored to an organization’s specific needs and situation to achieve the maximum return in both customer satisfaction improvement and a strengthened bottom line.
For example, the results of a periodic (i.e., quarterly, annual, bi-annual, etc.) large-scale customer survey program can be used to identify, analyze, assess and prioritize the specific actions required to “fix” deep-routed systematic problems in the organization’s customer support operations, while the individual Customer Relationship Profiles can be used to “fix” individual customers that may not otherwise be inclined to “wait” for its vendor’s systemwide “fixes” to be implemented months (or even years) later.
For each individual customer surveyed, a detailed analysis and management report can be generated that identifies:
- The customer-specific areas that need to be fixed – i.e., which ones, and to what degree;
- How vulnerable the organization is to losing the customer in the absence of taking the necessary corrective action(s); and
- What timeframes for resolution will most likely be required to prevent the customer from switching to another services provider.
Basically, each completed Customer Relationship Profile summarizes and presents the key findings from a single customer interview (supplemented, of course, by the aggregation of other information collected via multiple customer interactions over time). Each profile would provide responses to a series of one-to-one comparisons focusing on such key issues as (1) service delivery expectations vs. vendor performance for a select group of performance-related attributes; (2) evolving customer needs, and future plans, for services needs and requirements over the next 12 months, or beyond; (3) principal areas identified as requiring improvement on the vendor’s part; and others as desired.
As such, these profiles can be enormously helpful toward helping the organization gain a better understanding of exactly how its services offerings (or its authorized dealers’ offerings) are being received – and perceived – by individual customers, and where particular points of vulnerability, disconnect, or other potential problem areas may be occurring.
Through these Customer Relationship Profiles, the organization can also identify – and “flag” – areas of moderate, significant or severe customer “vulnerability”, as well as the root causes for why these problems may exist in the first place. Potential “kick-out” factors can also be easily identified. Ultimately, these individual case study profiles afford a unique opportunity to build and utilize a powerful customer-centric database that allows organizations to focus on the specific concerns of individual customers, while it concurrently deals with its longer-term, systemwide issues. As such, the Customer Relationship Profiles can serve as a tactical counterpart to the results of a larger-scale, aggregate, or otherwise representative, customer survey program.
In general, Customer Discovery Surveys seem to work best for organizations with either a relatively finite customer base (i.e., in the hundreds, rather than in the thousands, or tens of thousands), or where a small number of customers represent an important component of the total customer base. Some organizations – regardless of their size – prefer to survey their most valuable and/or “vulnerable” customers individually as a way of stopping major problems “dead in their tracks”, or preventing minor problems from becoming bigger ones.
Many organizations like the way the individual Customer Relationship Profiles present detailed, case-specific data and information that may be used to “fix” customers on a one-by-one basis as they move forward with the systematic “fixes” that are otherwise identified by their large-scale customer survey findings. In fact, many organizations use this information on a prioritized, case-by-case basis – concurrently – in conjunction with their systemwide improvement initiatives.
Customer Discovery Surveys can also be a cost-effective means for determining the current levels of satisfaction – and vulnerability – of the organization’s most important (and/or “vulnerable”) customers without having to engage in a large-scale customer survey effort. Alternatively, this type of program allows the organization to put its major customer concerns to bed quickly, while also providing it with a better understanding of where it needs to focus – immediately – to get its systemwide support organization running more effectively.
The only true way to understand your customers’ sensitivities is to ask them directly. By doing so over time, you can also better understand the evolutions that have taken them to where they are today – as well as what you will need to do to keep them happy, and “in the fold”, tomorrow and into the future.