By Debra Semans, Senior Vice President, Polaris Marketing Research
As the economy tanked in 2008, we saw many companies decrease or discontinue their customer satisfaction tracking programs. Needless to say, when you are in a struggle for survival, customer satisfaction can look like an unnecessary luxury. However, when the economy improved, many of these companies may find themselves in the position of wondering what happened to their customer satisfaction and loyalty while they were busy surviving the recession.
It would be wrong to assume that 2008 levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty remained constant throughout the recession. Your product and service offerings, those of your competitors and various pricing options have driven changes into the marketplace. Because of this, companies may have to look at “starting over” in their customer satisfaction measurement rather than “restarting” their measurement programs.
Generally, we think of customer satisfaction measurement programs in two categories: relationship measurement and transaction measurement. As it indicates, relationship measurement looks at customers’ evaluation of their overall relationship with your company. Think of it as “taking the temperature of your customer base.” This type of measurement is done less frequently and usually yields fewer tactical responses for customer service improvement.
Transactional research, on the other hand, evaluates customer satisfaction with a recent transaction. Did they call customer service in the last 30 days? Did they buy a product or have a repair? All of these are transactions that could trigger a customer satisfaction survey. Transactional research is done on a more frequent basis, in order to ensure that customer memories of the transaction are fresh enough to be reliable. Unlike relationship research, transaction customer satisfaction research is very tactical and usually yields clear actions to improve customer satisfaction.
Neither type of measurement is sufficient alone to describe the big picture on customer satisfaction and loyalty. Transactional customer satisfaction measurement does not give the total picture because customers can be very satisfied with their recent transaction, and yet still be unhappy with your company overall or have low loyalty. Or customer may be unhappy with their transactions, but still remain loyal to your company. For that reason, many companies will measure transaction satisfaction, but also include some relationship metrics, or vice versa, in order to get the “big picture” on customer satisfaction.
As companies re-embark on their customer satisfaction measurement journeys, we recommend they start with a relationship survey. After all, if your relationship with your customers is damaged, you need to address it at a strategic level and not just at a transactional level. Additionally, a relationship survey can identify what specific areas of product/service or operations are causing the dissatisfaction. Then you can target your transactional measurement to track changes in those key areas as they improve.
We recently completed a relationship survey for a client who had suspended their customer satisfaction measurement program when the economy turned down. We found lower levels of satisfaction and loyalty than we expected, but in particular with customer service and product delivery times. This company is now working on addressing those areas with additional research, as well as with internal operations reviews and quality improvement programs.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that customer satisfaction and loyalty has been “on hold” like your customer satisfaction measurement program. Make sure that your company is ready for the economic recovery by re-starting your customer satisfaction and loyalty measurement program, and taking the necessary actions to improve both your transactions and your relationships.
Debra Semans is the Senior Vice President for Polaris Marketing Research, with responsibility for Account Management, Marketing and Business Development. With more than 25 years of marketing experience, Debra brings rich and varied experience to her clients.