Client satisfaction can be measured

In last week’s column we started the conversation about how important it is to understand how our current customers are feeling about our work, our people and our value. And yet customer satisfaction surveys are rarely done well.

We’ve all been on the receiving end of bad customer surveys. They ask us too often. They ask us the same questions every time. And we never hear back or see any real reaction to what we shared.

No wonder the completion rate is so low, and the input is so tepid.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Customer satisfaction surveys, when done well, will give you a competitive advantage in terms of both client retention and new customer acquisition.

So how do we conduct our research in a way that ultimately serves both our organization and our clients?

Last week we covered:

  • Invite your customers to participate and tell them what you’re going do with what you learn.
  • Strongly consider getting both qualitative and quantitative input.

This week we’ll cover:

  • Determine the timing.
  • Be thoughtful about the questions.


Determine the timing: This is one of the aspects most organizations miscalculate. Most ask too often and risk fatiguing their customers. This is especially true if you keep asking the same questions repeatedly or the survey is too long.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the frequency question. If you want to stay on the surface and ask simpler, shorter questions, you can risk asking more often. But if you want to dig deeper and ask your customers for more information, you’ll need to ratchet back your frequency.

If you’re going to honor your commitment to report back on what you learned and how you’re going to make changes based on their feedback, you need to build in time for that as well.

There’s a happy medium between too often and too infrequent. This should not be a one-and-done effort. You do want to get regular feedback, but just what regular means in your specific case will be dependent on the depth of the questions, the length of time you expect your clients to invest in responding, and the products or services you sell. The more considered a purchase, the less often you should hit your clients with a request to give you feedback because odds are they don’t buy that often.

Be thoughtful about the questions: Engineering your questions may be one of the most difficult elements of creating an effective customer satisfaction survey. Rather than creating a list of the usual items, begin with understanding what you are hoping to discover.

Are you trying to identify problem areas that are eroding your market share? Are you looking for innovative new ways to delight your clients? Are you wondering why you aren’t getting more repeat business? Start with some specific information you’re looking to garner and construct the questions accordingly.

Beyond that, consider asking yourself questions that might lead to a more customized and unexpected line of questioning. Start with out-of-the box questions like these:

  • What problems are we aware of that we haven’t been able to solve on our own?
  • What product or service is unprofitable for us?
  • If we could stop doing or selling something, what would we want to stop doing or selling?
  • What do our top 20% of customers always buy?
  • What do our top 20% of customers never buy?
  • If I was selling against us, what would I say?

These are just samples to get you thinking a little differently about what you might ask – and more important, why.

In next week’s post we’ll talk about how to encourage participation and how to use your survey results to market your company.


This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.