Determining whether your customers are happy or not shouldn’t be a complicated, mind-numbing exercise. Too many companies believe that they cannot afford to conduct customer satisfaction programs because it will be either too complex, too expensive, or feel that they don’t possess the skills to analyze the data when it comes in. I’d like to put this misconception to rest.

In my many conversations with small- to medium-sized business owners this seems especially true. SMBs often have smaller marketing departments or lack a reasonably well-developed research and analytics function. It shouldn’t be that complicated, but the huge global management and research consultancies make it that way. They offer various customer satisfaction benchmarking or scoring systems that are complex or based on simulation and modeling. But customer satisfaction research should be a basic function.
I have conducted many customer satisfaction studies for some of the nation’s biggest companies. I’ve concluded that most companies (or, for that matter, business units or divisions) only need a core set of key measures to help them understand what customers think and feel about their business.
The nice thing about this “core set” is that each question is clear, obvious, and generally self-leveling. This means that you needn’t rely on external benchmarks, nor hire a marquee-name company to feel good about the data you are collecting. It’s unfortunate that many customer satisfaction consultancies try to make prospective clients feel that they have inside knowledge (i.e., without their brilliant insight, experience, or benchmarks, other customer satisfaction data is invalid). It’s just not true.

Below are five simple questions that will help you understand what your customers think and feel about your business. They provide solid diagnostics to help you focus in on areas that need improvement. Optionally, you can start with this core set and modify it to suit your particular business needs – but the incremental value is likely to be marginal. You might add ratings on brand features, or separate product performance from service and support, but with common sense and good judgment, these five questions will likely answer 90%+ of what you need to know about how your business is performing. These questions are:

  1. How satisfied were you with the product or service we provided you today? Satisfaction has been proven to be the best overall measure to assess whether customers are pleased with your product or service. Keep in mind that satisfaction does not predict loyalty: it is a temporal assessment – i.e., a general barometer of product or service performance. Loyalty is best measured by purchase behavior. Alternatively, you can replace the word “satisfied” with “happy” and get the same result. Note that satisfaction is also an excellent dependent measure when correlating with other metrics used by your organization.

  2. If we could change one thing about how we specifically did business with you today, what would it be? We have used this question in multiple studies and have found that it is especially effective at identifying pain points and in informing the customer journey (and informing the analysis of “moments of truth”). The benefit of this question is that it produces a hierarchy, similar to a ranking, by focusing the respondent on one thing. Note that this question is also focused on the most recent transaction. Answers about specific issues typically require a solution closer to the front line, such as a manager, director, business unit head, or head of operations.

  3. If we could change one thing about how we generally do business with you, or our products or services, what would it be? In contrast to #2 above, this question focuses on broader business processes, service issues, and interactions. Use this question in contrast to what customers experience transactionally. General business issues that are out of alignment require senior management involvement.

  4. What one positive thing stood out to you that that we should do more of, or tell other customers about? Once you have cleared out the constructive criticism (above), look for areas where your business is performing well. Use this feedback to improve overall product or service performance, and communicate it back up through the organization as motivational feedback. Leverage and communicate these strengths so that prospects are aware of what you offer and the great value you add.

  5. Aside from the product or service we provided, what was the personal benefit to you? This an optional question that we often include, because it is helpful at identifying “end benefits” – i.e., the key human benefit derived from your product or service. Note that we are not seeking product or service features, but rather downstream benefits that the customer receives from you. For example, your product or service may let a mom regain control over her day, such as freeing up her morning or spending time with her spouse or kids. The answers to this question are especially helpful in messaging, communication, and brand tonality (i.e., the character or feeling of what your business or brand is all about).
Again, the five questions above form a “core set”: there is nothing preventing you from asking other questions, such as brand awareness, usage, behavior, or attribute ratings on the product or service you provide. But companies often fall into a trap of asking exhaustive questions that produce flat results with little variability over time. Our advice here is simple: less is more. If the questions that you want to add are not actionable, trust your instincts and exclude them.
Asking fewer, simpler questions engages the customer in a conversation with you, rather than subjecting them to a relentless barrage of questions.
This core set of questions is especially useful because it forces business owners and managers to review and listen to the comments that customers provide and offers huge opportunities to gain real insight and make continuous mid-flight improvements. And there are many software platforms that can let you ask your questions for little, if any, cost.
The challenge for you is to read their responses: it is in the nuance of their answers that real improvements in customer satisfaction often hide.
Surveys & Forecasts, LLC