Each year the Marriott sends out guest satisfaction surveys, meets regularly with corporate meeting planners, conducts focus groups and does other forms of research, all in an effort to track and constantly refocus the changing profile of its customers. Many businesses, like the Marriott, realize they must spend time, energy and money not only to get customers to buy but also on evaluating and improving their products or services. This requires putting in place systems for communicating with customers, managing customer service programs and measuring customer satisfaction.
If your product or service is pretty much equal to your competitors’, pleasing and keeping customers becomes even more challenging. “Guessing isn’t good enough, and one big study every so often won’t get it done,” says Dick Schaaf, author of Keeping The Edge: Giving Customers The Service They Demand (Dutton Plume, $13.95). Meaning, you need to maintain up-to-date customer profiles and keep track of customers’ buying habits and preferences–what they buy, how much and how often.
In order to keep your customers satisfied, you must train your employees to be both product- and customer service-driven. Customer satisfaction is not the same as customer service, although the two go hand in hand. The difference is that customer service deals with the internal systems you put in place to address customer needs and problems, from how employees answer the phones to how efficiently you deliver your product or service. On the other hand, customer satisfaction tells you whether customers believe your products are meeting their needs.
During the next several months, our latest Entrepreneurial Workbook series will outline the tools you need to build a solid foundation for customer satisfaction. Beginning with this piece, each installment will introduce you to a different means of soliciting customer feedback. You can’t rely on just one method to gather customer responses; you have to use several, including:
- Customer surveys. Have people fill out questionnaires about your products or services.
- Telephone polls. Rate and group customer responses over the phone.
- Focus groups. Bring together groups of people to share their ideas about your products or services.
- Product sampling. Give samples of your products to potential customers or introduce existing customers to new or improved products.
Among the things you want to find out using such tactics: What do customers like about your product or service? What don’t they like? Are they regular customers? Why or why not? Do they sometimes buy from your competitors? If so, which ones and why? How do they feel about your prices? How do they feel about the marketing and delivery of your product? How helpful are your employees, and do they resolve customer complaints?
Keep in mind that many customers rate customer service above product quality. In other words, even if they’re satisfied with your product, they won’t buy from rude and noncomplying staff. But you may never know how customers feel about your business. Studies show that most customers with problems never complain; they simply stop doing business with you, says Dolores St. Julien, an associate with Rasheed Associates, a