Asking the right questions in a customer satisfaction survey

6th Jul 2010

Asking the right questions

Many people don’t ask the right questions even though they may have devoted considerable time and effort to deciding what their questions should be. They approach the task from the inside out, looking at it through the lens of the organisation rather than from the outside in, seeing it through the lens of the customer. Too many questionnaires cover issues of importance to the organisation’s managers rather than the things that matter to customers.

Exploratory research is conducted to access the lens of the customer, enabling customers themselves to explain which requirements are most important to them for the product or service. The use of exploratory research for this purpose is widely supported in various literature, whether qualitative or quantitative. Using statistical techniques such as correlation, multiple regression and factor analysis to derive what is important to customers is also widely advocated.

Taking the concept of ‘the lens of the customer’ to its logical conclusion, we can’t assume that the factors determining customer satisfaction tomorrow will be the same as those responsible for it today. For example, environmental or ethical criteria may play a much bigger part in customers’ judgements of organisations in the future than they do today – or they might not. The point is, we just don’t know.

For an accurate measure of customer satisfaction, the survey must always be based on the same criteria that customers use to make their satisfaction judgement. To this end, exploratory research, normally through focus groups or in-depth interviews, would be repeated at least every three years or so.

The first step is to quantify customer priorities generally and to break these down across a number of key elements before designing a questionnaire for the quantitative phase of the exploratory research. This can be done by a mixture of desk research and focus groups.

The next stage is a quantitative customer priorities survey to establish the exact relative importance of these priorities. So this research has three objectives:

  1. a list of customers’ main priorities from a generic customer experience perspective
  2. a measure of the relative importance of those factors
  3. quantification of the extent to which the list and the relative importance of customer priorities differs across geographical areas

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