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The Doyle Report: How Do You Like Me Now?

New thinking is changing how we value and measure customer satisfaction.

Let’s talk customer satisfaction. But first, would you be willing to answer a few questions to let me know how I’m doing? Before you say yes, note some of my queries are crafted to make me feel better about me no matter what you feel. The rest have been so poorly devised that it will be impossible for you to convey any real value.

Ready to go?

If you’re not satisfied, then let us know by – you guessed it – answering a few short questions that, with luck, you will complete sometime before the next total eclipse of the sun. (When’s that? Click here to find out. Be forewarned: You’ll be asked it to take a brief survey before you get started.)

Am guessing you’re getting the point.

You can’t buy a plane ticket, pizza or a cloud service today without being bombarded to provide some feedback on your experience. Nor can you visit a commercial website, peruse a professional study or make a legitimate inquiry without out being hounded. For better or worse, measuring customer satisfaction has gone mainstream. Today, it’s a multibillion-dollar business. 

But are we any better off for it? Before you answer, consider this: Despite the billions of dollars spent on customer satisfaction, a great many companies still provide abysmal levels of service. Take business-to-consumer companies.

Earlier this year, USA Today took a look at the companies that score the worst when it comes to customer satisfaction. This list of poor performers includes some names you’ve come to expect by now. United Airlines. Comcast. Wells Fargo. The list also includes some tech companies including Facebook, which ranks dead last among consumer social-media sites, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Its recent troubles on Capitol Hill and with Cambridge Analytica aside, Facebook has long frustrated consumers who find the company’s privacy controls and policies baffling.

Funny thing about recent studies? All of these companies pride themselves in measuring customer satisfaction. You’d think that, armed with all that data, they could avoid punching customers in the face or opening unauthorized bank accounts behind their backs for financial gain.

Eric Gregg

What about our world, IT services? The story is a mixed bag at best. Among IT services companies, client satisfaction and service quality are “average at best” compared to other industries, says Eric Gregg, founder and CEO at Inavero, a Portland-based company that B2B companies use to improve customer satisfaction. In an analysis of Net Promoter Scores (NPS) for IT services companies including VARs, MSPs and more, Inavero found some sober realities. The NPS of channel companies, for example, is 17 percent. That’s well below the score for companies considered excellent (50 percent) or those considered world-class (75 percent). It’s also below that of car dealers, airlines and health plans, in case you’re wondering.

That said, there may be a silver lining for MSPs, VARs, IT consultants and others, at least as far as Inavero is concerned.

MSPs and VARs have a unique opportunity to stand apart from the industry by investing in client satisfaction and service quality,”Gregg concludes. 

Recognizing their poor showing in this regard, many channel companies have made big changes in recent years to improve customer satisfaction. This includes measuring it, which is often considered a big first step. Consider a study of MSPs that Autotask sponsors year after year. In its annual IT Service Providers Benchmarking Study, Autotask found in 2013 that “nearly 50 percent of IT service providers rank customer satisfaction as a high-priority metric related to the health of their business, yet only 10 percent measure it.” The same study done two years later found very different results.

In 2016, the number of IT service providers that used customer surveys and other means to measure customer satisfaction jumped to 46 percent. Last year, the number rose to 49 percent, according to Autotask.

“Although having an assortment of client service channels, including webinars and events, is important, automation is essential in the customer satisfaction realm, too,” the study found. “Finding ways to automate and streamline customer service response and modes of collecting feedback helps ensure consistency and will also help improve internal efficiencies.”

While it’s long been shown that taking customer satisfaction seriously can lead to improved customer retention, increased up-sell opportunities and lower costs among other things, going about it can be confounding. But new research and innovation are changing that. Take the revolutionary thinking put to use at HappyOrNot, a Finnish company that was launched in 2009. The company has more than 4,000 clients in 117 countries. Think Microsoft, McDonald’s, London Heathrow Airport, LinkedIn and IKEA, just to name a few.

Unlike others, HappyOrNot keeps things simple. For consumer customers, it has devised what The New Yorker calls is a Fisher-Price-like level of simplicity for measuring satisfaction. At places like Dallas-Ft Worth Airport (DSW), HappyOrNot has installed customer-friendly terminals with a few simple buttons. Rating your experience with service provided therein is so simple, a child could do it. All he or she has to do is tap one of the buttons that have been affixed with faces that range from enthusiastically pleased to grumpy.  

It’s the simplicity that is the breakthrough. At the DSW HappyOrNot terminals, airport authorities are able to collect real-time feedback from as many as 45,000 travelers per month. Can you imagine trying to get that on the fly via an online survey?

(For more on HappyOrNot, read David Owen’s story from The New Yorker.)

Which brings me to you. Kudos to you if you’re among the nearly half in the channel that measures customer satisfaction. But question: Are you making it easy? It’s key to getting the most feedback possible.

When thinking about ways to measuring customer satisfaction, there are plenty of rules to consider. Don’t ask too much. Keep things simple. Don’t look for absolutes. Surveytown has a good list of survey basics. So does, of all places, the Naval Postgraduate School. Really.

In addition to these sources, consider this wonderful blog that boils down the difference between asking satisfaction levels and effectiveness; then frame your questions accordingly. (The former tends to work better with a seven-point scale while the latter works best with a five-point scale. Here’s the science why.)

Then there’s this: If you had to rate your satisfaction with a business service or consumer product and you have to choose between “1 and 10,” wouldn’t you most likely give a “midland”response of “7”? Now imagine being asked the same question with 7 no longer an option? Why no 7? Because ditching it forces people to make a real decision; no fence sitting, in other words.

To wrap here, let me get to “The Heavy” question that’s really on my mind: How do you like me now?

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