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How Do You Know Your Customers Are Satisfied?

Try a telephone survey.

A Customer Satisfaction Survey can help you to insure that current customers remain customers and, even more important, consider your company their sole supplier. It is important to remember that customer loyalty is not necessarily an indicator of good customer relations. Customer loyalty is based upon relationships, trust, respect, mutual commitment and knowledge.

Benefits of Customer Surveys
  • Indicate procedures which require change,
  • Provide comparisons with competitors,
  • Measure a product’s quality, reliability, ease of operation, features, reputation,
  • Measure a sales and/or service department’s responsiveness, competency, courtesy, credibility or communication skills,
  • Understand customer needs,
  • Measure internal employee satisfaction,
  • Ascertain whether customers have visited your facilities, Web sites or seen your advertising.

Hyster New England was formed almost seven years ago by the merger of two New England Hyster dealers, Yankee Industrial Truck and Lewis/Boyle Inc. Both dealers had performed customer satisfaction surveys prior to the merger. All told, our experience spans 15 years. We have done as many as 150 surveys a month and now average 85 each month.

To emphasize our commitment to surveys, we adopted a Code of Conduct, taken from the book Improving Your Measurement of Customer Satisfaction by Terry G. Vavra. It reads, in part:

“We promise to respect the attitudes, suggestions and requests of our customers. We understand that our surveys impose on their valuable time. In consideration of this, we promise to attend to the information they provide. If possible, we will strive to report what we have learned from their singular and joint responses, and how we will change processes and procedures and execution of same, where necessary, to better serve them.”

Who Performs the Survey
An important decision was whether to outsource the telephone surveys or to do them in-house. We’ve done both. One of the pitfalls of doing an employee-performed survey is the risk of fellow employees wanting to “shoot the messenger.” Most important, we found customers responded more freely to an outside source; consequently, our choice has been to use an outside source for the past seven years.

Keep it Short
It has been our experience that too many questions (more than seven) can produce less than satisfactory results. Our contractor, Hartford Direct of Berlin, Connecticut, assures our customers that the survey will only take two or three minutes of their time. They adhere to that promise. When surveys do require more time, it is because the respondent chooses to be more vocal in his or her response.

Who and When We Survey
Hyster New England surveys a cross section of our customers. We survey anyone who has purchased a new or used lift truck, a pre-determined number of rental, service, parts (including aftermarket customers) and allied/engineering customers from four locations. We contact both large and small customers.

Surveys are conducted consistently every month, year after year. No single customer is contacted more than two or three times annually. Should a customer decide not to participate in a survey, we research their current and past history to make certain their non-participation is not related to dissatisfaction with our company.

Maintaining Internal Customer Satisfaction
Critical to our ability to maintain customer satisfaction is our ability to maintain the internal customer’s satisfaction. Employees are considered internal customers. All employees are required to participate in a training program conducted by the Moran Group located in Chicago, Illinois. Results have been gratifying. Today, each employee understands the dynamics of a customer satisfaction program. Even more important, each employee realizes it is his or her responsibility to maintain our external customers’ satisfaction.

Questions and Scoring
The customer service survey includes both scored and open-ended questions. Customers are asked to rate their overall experience with a particular product, selecting a number between one and five. Questions typically score the performance of the company’s sales, service, parts and rental departments.

Other questions such as, “What one thing could we do to improve your experience?” provide company management with information regarding trends, which will eventually dictate whether specific procedures require modification. Other questions may include, “Have you ever visited our facilities?” “Have you visited our Web site?” or “How did you hear about us?”

From time to time, we include specific questions which assist our sales department in determining a smaller customer’s product needs. In under-served regions, we discuss maintenance programs which are specifically tailored to the smaller customer who may not have frequent contact with the aftermarket sales department.

Advantages of Telephone Surveys
  • They are easier for our customers.
  • They provide a greater response rate.
  • They provide immediate results.

High scores do not necessarily measure a customer’s level of satisfaction. The scores, together with the trend information, help us to not only “fix what’s broken” but to plan for future improvements, keeping pace with changes in the marketplace.

Survey scores are maintained on an internal network and can be reviewed by each department. They are also presented by department and division, and displayed in all locations. Individual customer’s overall survey results are presented to the customer as part of our marketing efforts, indicating our interest in continually upgrading our ability to exceed the customer’s expectations.

Rapid Response is Key
Hyster New England contacts customers whose responses include either negative or very positive comments. In the event that a negative response is received, it is immediately transmitted to Hyster New England. Within minutes, the survey is sent to our company president and the appropriate department manager. Action is taken immediately. Management personnel contact the respondent within 24 hours. Our objective is simple: to determine the facts and act on them.

When a very positive survey response is received, management personnel contact the customer within five business days and ask if their comments can be used in a testimonial.

Customer Satisfaction Surveys Are the First Step
Without conducting customer satisfaction surveys, we would be dependent on a customer contacting us with a compliment or worse, a complaint. We would be in the position of being the last to know if a current customer is close to becoming a former customer. We would also miss out on valuable trend information which helps us to plan for future company and product marketing efforts.

Customer satisfaction surveys are the first step in customer retention. The second step is an immediate response to what we learn.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association
Sheila Drao Meet the Author
Sheila Drao is the marketing manager at Hyster New England Inc. in North Billerica, Massachusetts.

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