A Sure Way To Know Customers Were Satisfied

There's a better way to determine if your customers are satisfied other than traditional, ineffective surveys.
President & CEO, The Enterprise Group
December 22, 2011

I continue to be asked to participate in customer satisfaction surveys by phone, e-mail and even via “snail mail.” Each time I get such a request, I wonder who’s spending their money just to be misled.

Most surveys ask you to rate your level of satisfaction on multiple scales: numerically from 1-10; by how satisfied or dissatisfied you were—usually at least a 5-level rating, from very satisfied to very dissatisfied, and so on. Then the people (or consultancy who is administering the surveys) “slice and dice” the responses to provide bar charts, line graphs and pie charts. In the end, giving people a lot of answers to choose from yields lots of different answers—in all “shades of gray.”

But there is a better way to determine how many—what portion—of your customers were satisfied. Time and again studies have shown that customer loyalty is fleeting for all but the most satisfied of customers, because any customer who is not “completely satisfied,” is dissatisfied to some degree, and/or with “something.” That “something” is the “crack in the door” through which competitors can sneak and steal your business.

I propose one fundamental question to ask; with just two multiple-choice follow-up questions. The first question will tell you how many of your customers are really satisfied—and thus likely to be loyal. I’m giving this idea away—but if anyone wants to send me money for this cost-savings advice, please use the contact info at the end of this post.

Question 1: Would you recommend this (product, service, supplier, etc.) to a friend? Two boxes to check: 'yes' or 'no' (you can add 'maybe' or 'partially'). If the answer is yes, the customer is satisfied. If the answer is 'no,' the customer is not satisfied—in some regard.

Some respondents might have given an answer of 7 or 8 on a ten-point scale, or “mostly satisfied” on a five-level word scale, but let’s face the facts. If you wouldn’t recommend “it” to a friend, you aren’t really satisfied with “it.”

Question 2: Why? For both of them you can either provide a list of possible reasons for “Why YES?” and “Why NO?” But you’ll never get the list comprehensive enough. Somehow managers like to lump things into categories to report them. The problem is you can’t solve the “average” of problems. You must solve each one individually.

So I suggest you offer a very short list: (No more than 10 possible reasons, as few as 3-5, and let respondents check as many as apply), with a place after each one checked for “Explanation” where the consumer actually writes in the reason(s). When you process these kinds of responses, then you can group them IF a single solution will solve several of them.

Bottom line: You won’t have very many impressive graphs and charts. You’ll just have a percentage: customers that were truly satisfied. The rest (100 minus the satisfied percentage) were not—to varying degrees. The follow-up questions and answers will provide more detail about why and with what.

That’s the real world folks. If you want to delude yourselves, or practice victory by definition (which is actually defeat), go ahead. But if you want the truth: Ask one question, with a YES or NO answer. Then you’ll know the truth about customer satisfaction.

President & CEO, The Enterprise Group