Customer service requires companies to know their clients well enough to both easily communicate with them and to foster long-term relationships. According to the U.S. Consumer Affairs Department, it costs five times more to gain a new customer than to retain an existing one. So when customers are unhappy with a service, excellent customer care just may hold onto their business and loyalty.

Customer Satisfaction – in Full Measure

Most business owners know the power of the spoken word. For good or ill, public chat over company performance can impact revenues. The problem is, though, business owners often find it tough to pinpoint exactly how clients perceive their companies. While they may hear rumblings of dissatisfaction, studies suggest that only a small percentage of unhappy customers ever send a formal complaint.

For this reason, it can be critical for an owner to open and maintain a line of communication to clients. Honest exchanges can provide vital clues about clients’ buying decisions, service preferences and their opinions of the competition.

Gather information

There are several ways to begin the process of data collection. Chief among these are customer questionnaires and surveys, while focus groups of select clients can include both written assessments and discussion.

Regardless of the chosen methodology, clear goals established early in the process are essential. Also, checking your company’s performance against similar businesses is a good way to ascertain your competitive standing.

Beyond the basics, here are other methods of obtaining customer satisfaction information:

  • Administer your own survey. If you know your customers and can identify what you’d like to learn from them, this option will allow you to easily make decisions to improve your business.
  • Use survey software. These programs offer an inexpensive alternative to contracting with an outside source.
  • Consult with a survey house. If you are unsure of your goals in collecting information or do not have the time to complete the process in-house, this may be a good option.

Create an Effective Survey

Books on survey science abound in today’s market. But despite the wealth of expert opinion out there, a few common rules apply across the board:

  • Determine the objective. Be specific about what you’d like to learn and achieve. Limit your goals, so the survey can be completed in a short amount of time. Include a few non-invasive questions so you can establish appropriate demographics.
  • Decide who takes the survey. Is there a particular segment of your clients you’d like to know more about? Do you have a few key accounts? Decide the scope of customers the survey should include.
  • Develop the survey. Start with several potential topics. The questionnaire could address product features, desired products or services, effectiveness of employees, customer appreciation, service hours, or after-sale service.

Edit the list to include only those areas most applicable to current corporate needs and resources. Then, consider using a scale or ranking method to help determine customer priorities. An example: questions could be answered with “very dissatisfied, dissatisfied, indifferent, satisfied, very satisfied” or “very poor, poor, average, good, very good.”
Avoid open-ended questions that are difficult to quantify; and remember to include a brief introduction to explain the purpose. Finally, always edit and test the survey before sending it out.

  • Administer the survey. Decide how you’d like to implement the survey. At your place of business as clients are leaving? At a booth set up for this purpose? When the doors first open?

Other options include mailings, email or telephone interviews. If the survey requires that customers send the information back to you, be sure to establish a deadline.

  • Analyze the results. Depending on the size of the survey, this process might require spreadsheets or special software. Analyzing the information in terms of demographics or by company department might also be helpful. Determine if graphs such as pie charts or line graphs will be most beneficial to your staff. After all, you will want to discuss the results with them.
  • Implement changes if needed. Determine the best changes to make. Are there certain adjustments that could have significant impact on customer satisfaction, but will take a lot of work? Do others require little in terms of time or resources? Be sure to share projected revisions with your customers.

Avoid Potential Pitfalls

Although systematic tracking of customer satisfaction can yield many positive results, miracles don’t happen overnight. Realizing the benefits requires patience. Remember:

  • Obtaining feedback is an ongoing process, not a one-time event. The most successful companies change according to their customers’ desires and demands.
  • Be wary of over-analyzing the data. It’s easy to lose sight of your long-term goals when you’re foundering in numbers. Survey information is only a guideline for potential change.
  • Show your clients you appreciate their input and thank them for their efforts. Customers like helping out if they see changes being made because of their suggestions.
  • Use customer feedback to highlight areas for improvement, not to punish employees.
  • Use customer satisfaction training and policies to motivate and encourage employees, not to discourage them.


The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice.