If you're an industrial business that has to comply with ISO 9001 or any other derivative of an international manufacturing standard such as TS 16949 for those supplying the automotive industry or maybe Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) for those supplying pharmaceuticals and healthcare, then running an annual customer satisfaction survey is a condition of doing business in your industry.

Any international manufacturing certification (such as ISO 9001, TS 16949 or GMP) requires regular customer satisfaction surveys and they also require that those survey results drive the improvements in the business. And it's not just ISO that require it, companies who are applying for quality awards such as the Malcolm Baldridge Award also require a robust customer satisfaction survey process that yields results that actually improve the business system.

Criteria for a Valid Customer Satisfaction Survey

ISO 9001 won't tell you HOW to do your customer satisfaction survey, but they will tell you what you should be able to do with the results:

Determine how well you've performed with your customers

Figure out what unmet needs your customers have that you can deliver

Generate ideas for new products or services

Identify new opportunities

It's important to use this opportunity to create a customer satisfaction survey that will stand the test of time an actually help your business. Use the freedom that the ISO standard allows to create a customer satisfaction survey that achieves all these points and then some.

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Setting Objectives for Your Survey

The good news is that the ISO standard has actually set some general objectives that you can use as a baseline or guideline to get you started. Your job would be to put some specifics behind those objectives.

WARNING: Make your objectives as specific as possible. You can't put an improvement team on the task to improve something general such as "overall satisfaction" if you don't know what specific elements are behind that.

Creating Customer Satisfaction Survey Questions

The first objective is to determine how well you're meeting customers expectations. Simply asking the question as "Rate how well has (COMPANY X) met your expectations on a scale of 1-10" will give you nothing but garbage. The results could come back as your company having an average rating of 5.8 out of 10 in meeting your customer's expectations. What changes would you put in place to increase that score? You don't know because you didn't ask that question. You asked a general question about their expectations instead of a specific one, you therefore got a general answer instead of one that gave you specific information.

The way to solve this problem is by using an Importance/Satisfaction style question. Create a list of attributes that are important to your customer, such as having a real person answer the phone, and then have your customers rate how important that is to them and then have them rate their level of satisfaction with YOUR company.

And here's a nice little twist you can do. You can then use the Loop function in SurveyAnalytics and ask them what other alternatives they use, and have them rate YOUR competitors' performance as well as yours, this gives you some important feedback about how you can improve relative to your customers.

Next you need to Figure out what unmet needs your customers have that you can deliver. First thing is to make sure you do something if your customers have unmet needs, and this information can be used to alert your sales staff to opportunities they may have missed.

Remember you can always set "alerts" in SurveyAnalytics so you can get an immediate message when one of your customers has very negative or even very positive feedback. It's a problem if you don't know what the unmet needs are, fortunately using "open ended" questions you can ask the customer to describe in their own words what they need, you can then use that to craft a response. Open ended questions are a way of getting the real voice of the customer. It's often useful to find out what the problem a customer has they are trying to solve with your products, because there may be a way of doing it they don't know about. Learn what the problems your customer has and suggest your solutions to them.

Now you get to generate ideas for new products or services. Of course the information on unmet needs is a large part of this, as is the information about the problems your customers have. It's important to make sure that you hear about the problems outside of the context of your products. That is, you don't want to know that product XYZ doesn't do a certain thing, rather than the customer needs to do something or make something and YOU then get to supply the solution to this problem. Very often there is a solution that the customer has not heard of, learn to seek out problems, because they can grow your business!

All of this brings you to being able Identify new opportunities. We talked about alerts previously, that is where the SurveyAnalytics system sends a message if someone answers with a very low (or high) rating on a question. In fact it can be used to monitor any sort of answer to a survey question. While no one likes unhappy customers, hearing that they are unhappy means you have a chance to repair the relationship and even expand your business with them. It's also important to remember that your customers often have ideas about new products that you may never hear about unless you ask them. So the customer satisfaction survey can also be a business development survey!

These results are hugely important and will yield a chart that will show you exactly what's important to your customer and to what degree you and the competition are meeting those expectations. Not only THAT, but it will also attack that other objectives of identifying new opportunities, finding unmet needs as well as generating new product and service ideas! All of that accomplished with just one series of questions.

Net Promoter Score - is it really the only question you need ?

Industrial consumers are people too. They are not robots, they speak, they send email, they hang on Facebook, LinkedIn Groups, Twitter and use the same products and services that regular consumers do. Just because they work for an organization that sells heavy duty machinery or some kind of widget doesn't mean that they leave their human-ness at the door.

In our research I've discovered that many loyal supplier relationships are formed via referral. And if you've ever seen industrial web sites, you'd notice that search engine optimization and marketing savvy aren't exactly what attracts customers - it's word of mouth (WOM). The Net Promoter Score is the premier question in customer satisfaction surveys for discerning WOM about products or services.

In every customer satisfaction survey that you do include the Net Promoter Score question. The standard form of the question is - "How likely are you to refer (COMPANY X) to a friend or a colleague?" Notice that we've adjusted the question to read "colleague" instead of family member. We did this because so many industrial clients don't like to use "family member" for industrial products, but this is a matter of opinion. We think that using the term "family member" actually connotes a certain level of goodwill. You would NEVER refer something to a friend or family member that you didn't think was in their best interest. To us, it connotes a higher level of trust. But use your own opinion and the phrase that works best for your industry. Within the context of the four aims we talked about earlier of customer satisfaction surveys NPS covers just one of them, but it is a very powerful question for working out the core opinion of your product or service from your customers.

A word of warning about NPS. Just because it's called the "Ultimate Question" and is said to be the only question you'd ever need. This obviously isn't true, don't use it alone. Like other general questions, it doesn't give anyone in your organizations any specifics to work on. It's just an index for gaging improvement. It is a question that gives you a metric you can check over time. This is another critical issues with customer satisfaction surveys, you have to keep repeating them! If you don't you won't know how your are evolving in the eyes of your customers and you won't know about any new product trends. The corollary of this is not to make your surveys too long, if you do the data will not be reliable. Short and frequent surveys produce the best responses, and keep you in touch with your customers!

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