Customer Satisfaction Management
Article Index
Customer Satisfaction Management
Expert Opinion
Survey and Research
Example Cases
Measure and Evaluate
Self-Assessments
Summary of Best Practices
Words of Wisdom
Conclusion
References

Expert Opinion

Ozgur Ekmekci, assistant professor at the Department of Clinical Management and Leadership at The George Washington University in the United States, writes that the quality of services experienced by customers is subjective, and based largely upon perception. In essence, this means that customer satisfaction is the memory of a customer’s experience when he/she has dealt with frontline employees. [1]

Figure 1, see below, illustrates the relationship between perceived service levels provided and quality of products offered:

  • Idolise: customers may fall into this category if they experience good service and find that the quality of products offered is superior to what they expected. In effect, they may idolise a company or organisation.
  • Trivialise: if good service is experienced but the product is not considered to be superior, customers may trivialise their relationship with a company or organisation.
  • Rationalise: if a service is bad but product quality is strong, customers may rationalise the situation for the sake of a good product.
  • Criticise: bad service with a weak product will be criticised.

It should be noted that as the level of customer satisfaction falls, either because of poor service or inferior product quality, there are increased risks of losing both sales volume and customers.

Fig1

Ekmekci notes that customer service is a holistic experience and seldom the result of a single exchange with a single individual. It is more of a “composite sketch” comprising all exchanges that have taken place over time. For this reason, it is vital to maintain historical records of customer interactions; these have to be made available to customer service personnel so that service issues may be addressed and a higher level of personalised service delivered. Customers expect organisations to serve them consistently by:

  • asking them what they need
  • telling them what the organisation will do for them—and when it will be done
  • doing what needs to be done on time, and
  • telling them what has actually been done, and when it was done.
Fig2

Mark Jones and Jeff Kober, founders of World Class Benchmarking, write that the pathways to customer satisfaction and customer loyalty are governed by the following elements (see Figure Good Bad 3, next page):

Fig3

Quality consultant Stuart Weisbrod, a certified Six Sigma Black Belt, writes that when corporate cultures are degraded by repetitive cost-cutting cycles, the quality of products is affected and customer satisfaction inevitably deteriorates. Over recent years, there have been significant lapses in quality that have cost lives, had a role in environmental disasters, or led to massive product recalls. The following warning signs are indicators of potential changes in corporate attitudes towards quality. 

  1. Repeated cost-cutting cycles. When corporate cultures are degraded through one cost-cutting cycle after another, quality will eventually be affected, particularly if cutting costs short-circuits quality improvement activities. Organisations with well-trained staff can usually manage a certain amount of cost cutting without having a negative impact on quality. This is not true, however, when cost-cutting cycles become a primary strategy for meeting corporate goals or for achieving ever-increasing profit margins.
  2. Operational signals being ignored or delayed. When employees develop a mind-set that allows them to ignore significant operational signals (or delay their responses to these signals), there may be severe ramifications for customers and employees alike. Organisations need to develop effective quality operating systems in order to know when equipment—or a mine, or an oil well—should be shut down.
  3. Aging equipment or degradation of maintenance services. In order to remain competitive, organisations must be able to understand how they can extract the most from their plant and equipment. In this regard, the availability of internal or external service resources is important to minimize down time, particularly for highly capitalised equipment. In costcutting environments, there is a temptation to not upgrade older equipment and to neglect requirements for optimal equipment performance. Maintenance personnel and service contracts may even be eliminated. However, this is counterproductive; as equipment gets older, more resources are often required to achieve optimum performance levels.
  4. Direct cuts to quality or to operational excellence personnel. The number of quality or operational excellence personnel employed is a direct measure of a company’s commitment to its quality programmes. Such personnel establish and monitor projects that drive the continuous improvements or breakthrough improvements that are needed for organisational success.
  5. Elimination or outsourcing of customer assistance resources. Satisfied customers are the key to successful organisations. Every organisation has to deal with situations where products are defective or fail to meet customer expectations. If organisations only focus on improving profit margins, they may be tempted to reduce the number of personnel working in customer complaint-related positions. If such cuts are contemplated, they should be part of ongoing customer service improvements and use appropriate processes such as Six Sigma’s DMAIC (Define-Measure-Analyse-Improve-Control) cycle. An efficient customer service process does not necessarily need more people.

In summary, Weisbrod recommends that organisations should highlight significant projects having the potential to drive customer satisfaction while at the same time lowering costs. Sufficient resources should be provided to ensure the success of these projects. Employees should be trained in the principles of Lean, Six Sigma and Total Quality Management, while working with suppliers to provide the highest quality materials for use in the organisation’s manufacturing or service environment. These steps will lead to improved profitability, a safer work environment, and the highest quality products and services. In turn, these will inevitably lead to improved customer satisfaction. [3]

Customer Satisfaction Surveys

Tim Sullivan, a director at Touchstone Energy Cooperatives, and Henry Cano, senior principal of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s National Consulting Group (both in the United States), write that customer satisfaction measures in themselves do not make an organisation good or bad. Customer satisfaction measures simply provide an indication of consumer satisfaction at a given moment in time. The key value of customer satisfaction surveys lies in the changes and improvements that are made as a result of the information gathered. By asking the same customer satisfaction questions year on year, it is possible to benchmark an organisation’s performance against its history and objectives. The results of customer satisfaction surveys should be used to identify areas for improvement, and then to:

  • develop an action plan to address any identified performance gaps
  • request, evaluate, and act on employee recommendations for improvement
  • communicate and execute the plan, and hold people accountable for results
  • set specific measures for each performance objective
  • insist on regular implementation updates
  • most importantly, publicise the fact that results will be measured and reported on, and that everyone—employees, management, and directors—will be held accountable for these results. [4]
Writing in Customer Inter@ction Solutions magazine, Brendan Read argues that to succeed, organisations have to deliver the products and services that customers want, and have the right mix of features, price, quality, and availability. To achieve this, surveys are commonly used to gather vital customer feedback. Sophisticated Enterprise Feedback Management (EFM) software enables organisations to centrally manage the creation, deployment, and analysis of surveys. According to Jim Davies, research director of Gartner, a leading information technology research and advisory company in the United States, EFM is a costeffective tool that allows correlation between different surveys; this facilitates better coordination and avoids bombarding customers with an excessive number of surveys. EFM is also able to tap into unstructured data such as that found on social media sites. Predictive analytics can applied to this survey data to gain an understanding of what customers are likely to purchase in the future. [5]

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