In a fiercely competitive business world, a laser-like focus on customer service will pay you real dividends because it has the power to differentiate your company from the also-rans.

Respected management thinker Peter Drucker once said: “Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the customer gets out of it.” Implicit in this no-nonsense statement is that the customer always comes first.

I’m guessing that, as a progressive and enlightened business, you will agree that stellar customer service is important and that you are already doing your utmost to supply it. The question is, how do you know whether or not you are succeeding?

On the basis that you can’t manage what you don’t measure, tools have emerged to test customer satisfaction. However, they have changed dramatically over the years with paper survey forms and vox pop feedback giving way to online surveys and focus groups.

Online surveys: Before you even begin a survey, it’s important to have a clear idea of what you want out of the research. Asking the right questions is a real skill and is where many surveys fail. Although there isn’t room here to go into any great depth, here are some rough guidelines to help you conduct a useful survey:

  • Explain at the outset why you are asking for feedback.
  • If possible, put your logo on the online feedback form.
  • Keep the number of questions to 10 or fewer, and try not to ask more than, say, three open-ended questions (those that don’t have yes-no answers).
  • Wherever possible, use a rating scale because it will allow you to track changes from one survey to the next, and thereby identfy trends.
  • Ask for personal details (name/phone), but make this optional to maximise the response.
  • Thank respondents for their feedback.
  • Contact customers who have given you scores that are below average and, in a spirit of constructive inquiry, ask them why.
Focus group: This is a group of people – I would say around 10 to 12 is the optimum number – assembled to discuss a product or service before its launch, or to provide feedback on an existing product or service. If you organise the group, you control the setting and, because they are generally conducted informally, you can learn what your customers really think.

You can stage a focus group wherever you decide, but it might be best to hold it at your own premises. To encourage customers to attend, you might offer a free lunch and free training on your products/services.

The value of the online review

Online reviews can have a massive (positive or negative) impact on your company’s reputation so it pays to monitor them carefully and, if necessary, intervene by responding constructively to complaints.

Reviews have their good side – they enable the active participation of customers, thereby creating a relationship with those businesses. Better customer engagement promotes loyalty and a sense of belonging, allowing the customer to form an attachment to your business.

Indeed, by leaving an online review and thus establishing communication with the business, your consumers to feel like they have a voice and are able to provide feedback in a positive and meaningful way.

Remember, your customers are a mine of information and can help you develop a better product, provide a better service and generally offer more value.

But the benefits don’t stop there. By listening to their feedback, you can also build stronger relationships with your customers, identify disengaged or unhappy customers, find possible champions of your product service, stop recurring problems that damage your reputation, and reduce customer turnover.

By John Grenville, MD of ECEX