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CUSTOMER SERVICE: Customer & Client Surveying – Lessons Learned

deb stairs 2v2In 2006, the new vice president of a quality department was concerned about internal customer feedback which was indicating that other departments did not think as highly of quality operations as they did themselves.  The VP tried to surface the feedback with her staff members and found them dismissing the information, stating, “Oh, nobody gets along with quality and they never will.”

SURVEY_cropNot satisfied with the response, she decided to proceed with an internal customer survey of both management and shop floor personnel.  Some of the questions asked the customers:

1. Do we provide sufficient help to your area?
2. Prioritize the work (listed for the customer) we do for you and then  rate the quality of the work completed
3. Rate each of the critical tasks we perform and whether it exceeds or meets expectations or needs improvement
4. Rate the level of interaction (e.g. communication, handling requests, resolving problems) provided by quality
5. Provide an overall quality of service rating

When the results came in, no one could deny the problems:  25% rated the service as poor; 50% said quality was not meeting their needs; 29% said quality did not provide sufficient help and 50% said that communication was not timely, and the list went on.  It was the wake-up call she had been looking for.

Customer and client surveying is the best way to measure whether an organization and/or departments are meeting or exceeding expectations.  And, as we say, there is no arguing with the customer’s perception – it is their reality.

Several years ago, we helped a community bank develop their external customer survey.  While they received high scores overall, the cross-tabbing helped them to see pockets of concern.  From the external customer data, they decided to conduct internal departmental surveying as part of their quality initiative.  The first page of the survey contained a number of questions that were generic to all departments to allow for a composite summary of all the departments.  The back side of the survey questionnaire, however, was created by each department.  This generated a lot of discussion and enthusiasm for the survey:  what do we need to know from our customers?  What assumptions do we need to test against real data?  What future needs do we need to become aware of that might not be important today but will be down the road?

After reviewing the results, each department generated a list of how they intended to address their customer feedback and shared the list with the other departments in the bank.  The customer survey feedback became a regular component of staff meetings and departmental “Journey To Excellence” initiatives.

survey_2_webIn both of these cases there were some important “lessons learned” about customer/client surveying that are worth discussing:

1. The development of the survey – keeping it simple – was critical.  People need to be trained in how to develop survey questions that get at the information they are looking for without prejudicing the responses.  Too often, people ask multiple questions within a question and then don’t know how to interpret the rating.

2. By using an outside firm to compile the data, survey participants were assured that their feedback would stay confidential.  As a result, the credibility of the feedback was far greater than if the survey had been compiled internally.

3. People need help processing the feedback in constructive ways. We spend time reminding people that feedback is a gift and that it’s important to separate getting it from deciding how to respond.  If the feedback is particularly negative, people need help pulling out what is valuable and fixable.

4. It’s important to develop some concrete ways to improve survey results and to incorporate those results into annual goals and objectives.  When the tie in to annual deliverables occurs, the possibility of the survey gathering dust on a shelf diminishes greatly.

5. Follow up surveying (one to two years out) is critical so people can see how things are improving.

Such was the case with our quality department.  In 2008, they resurveyed their customers and the 50% of customers who said quality did not meet in their needs in 2006 had dropped to 21% in 2008 – a 36% improvement!  In 2006, 52% of shop floor had responded that the quality department needed to improve their overall support.  In 2008, that figure dropped to 14% – a 72% improvement!  These represented huge gains that have helped to sustain the culture shift to customer service including the development of their quality service standards and service level agreements.

Long ago quality guru, W. Edward Deming, would say to organizations “how do you know that?” when they suggested that their customers were satisfied.  Without data, everything was speculative and therefore, to him, worthless.  Surveying your customers and clients gives the hard facts and figures – sometimes albeit hard to take – that put an organization or department on the real road to developing a quality service culture.

As the strategic planning season is approaching (usually the time between the fall and winter seasons) it is imperative that organizations get a justifiable temperature reading of their clients and customers.  Are they satisfied?  Are they not?  What areas do we already do well and don’t need to spend a lot of energy fixing and  where are some areas we can focus on to improve?  At New Directions, we suggest to our clients that if they are looking to do strategic planning in the fall, to get a leg up on the process and start the customer surveying process now.

To learn more of the customer surveying partnerships we provide, click here.

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An innovative training and employee development firm located in southern Vermont since 1984, we specialize in helping organizations get the most out of their people by raising the bar, inspiring potential and partnering with organizations to build a people-centered, high-engagement culture.

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