Customer satisfaction surveys: Building a business case

In a recent study by Ventana Research, 79% of companies rated improving customer satisfaction as the No. 1 priority for their contact center. The challenge is to measure true customer satisfaction in repeatable and consistent surveys without subjective assessment. In this business case, contributor Richard Snow outlines the business drivers behind post-call customer surveys.

Q: "I'm the customer service and CRM director for a midsized business. I have to give a presentation for the front...

office next month, and I'd like to convince them that customer satisfaction surveys are important for our organization. Can you help me design a business case for post-call customer surveys?"


Richard Snow, VP & Research Director – Contact Center Performance Management, Ventana Research
Richard leads Ventana Research's Contact Center Performance Management research practice, which is dedicated to helping organizations improve the efficiency and effectiveness of multichannel contact centers. He conducts research exploring the people and process issues behind customer operations management, the new customer interaction technologies now available to support customer interaction management, ways in which companies are reviewing their strategies for customer relationship management (CRM) and the emergence of its second generation. He also works with senior business operations and IT managers to ensure that companies get the best performance from today's highly complex application products. Richard has more than 25 years experience working in the IT services industry, including service with eLoyalty, Price Waterhouse, Sema Group and Valoris.



A: The need to better understand customer satisfaction is self-evident. Satisfied customers stay with a company longer, spend more money, give better referrals and cost less in ongoing support. Of all the methods of measuring customer satisfaction, post-call customer satisfaction surveys provide the most reliable and accurate results. The fundamental reason surveys of this type are so valuable is this because they are completed by the customer rather than a customer service representative making an assessment of customer satisfaction. Post- call customer satisfaction surveys are also repeatable so they will reveal true trends and their causes over time. This analysis can then be used to improve the customer interaction handling processes, develop more targeted contact center agent training, and even identify root causes that are impacting customer satisfaction.

The importance of customer satisfaction

The pressure to improve customer satisfaction is as high as ever, if not higher. In a recent study by Ventana Research, 79% of companies rated improving customer satisfaction as the No. 1 priority for their contact center. As competition gets fiercer, customers are becoming harder to win, and keeping them happy -- so they stay with a company and spend more money -- is crucial to ongoing business performance. The challenge is to find a way to measure true customer satisfaction, which is less dependent on subjective assessment and is more repeatable and consistent.

Assessing customer satisfaction

Customer surveying presents some common challenges. Selecting the best media for a customer survey is not easy. Costs are hard to assess as the required number of responses and the level of automation will affect survey costs. The response rate is another perennial challenge, as different market verticals achieve different response levels from customers. To solve some of these problems, outsourcing to a third-party survey specialist is a good option, even if this is done on a trial basis.

Call quality monitoring is the most common method of assessing customer satisfaction. The same study by Ventana Research showed that 60% of global companies use this method, but it does have two major shortcomings. First, most companies only record a very small percentage of calls and listen to an even smaller percentage. So, however rigorous the monitoring processes, this method can only deliver a very limited view of customer satisfaction. Second, the process itself is very subjective. It involves a contact center supervisor or equivalent listening to the recording and entering a judgment on whether the caller seemed satisfied.

A less objective method of customer surveying is to ask contact center agents to rate customer satisfaction as part of post-call processes. This method, used by 36% of global companies, usually requires that the contact center agent click on one of five "smiley faces" depicting whether they think the customer was satisfied. This method is not very rigorous and it is prone to producing inflated scores because human nature will always drive agents to rate their scores optimistically.

Customer survey technology options and cost analysis

Post-call customer satisfaction surveys are a popular alternative to the quality monitoring or agent-based methods. The Ventana Research study shows that 42% of global companies are using outbound telephone call-based surveys, 32% are using Web-based questionnaires, 25% are using mail-in surveys, and 15% are using an interactive voice response (IVR)-based questionnaire. Each of these methods has pros and cons, but they have several benefits in common:


  • Since these customer surveys are completed by the customer, they are less subjective and produce a more accurate assessment of the true levels of customer satisfaction.
  • They are repeatable.
  • They involve the customer completing a standard questionnaire, so the analysis will be based on a consistent set of data and rules.

    These factors will depend on the nature of the questionnaire, but a carefully constructed survey will be more likely to produce data-driven results rather than emotionally-driven views.

    However, customer surveys all have a common drawback. Post-call surveys depend on the customer completing the survey. Practical experience shows that the levels of response will vary by market vertical and on the method used, but invariably the response levels will be quite low.

    Telephone customer surveys

    Outbound telephone customer surveys achieve the highest level of response, since once reached on the phone most customers will answer a short questionnaire. However, they are costly and time-consuming because they require someone to make outbound calls, many of which will go unanswered, and then the agent has to spend time running through the questionnaire and completing the relevant electronic form.

    Telephone survey costs are influenced by volume and level of automation. At the lower end, they can involve agents manually dialing outbound calls to a select few customers, all the way up to sophisticated software that identifies a free agent, automatically dials the customer and pops a survey for the agent when the caller answers. This makes more efficient use of agent time but involves more expensive software.

    Web-based customer surveys

    A Web-based survey has the advantage that once set up; there are far fewer manual resources involved. The customer is directed to the relevant Web page, where they complete the questionnaire online and the results are collected and analyzed electronically. You need to consider that response numbers with online surveys will be lower than with phone surveys, since not all customers will have access to the Web, or aren't inclined to use it, or they will simply ignore the request to visit the Web site.

    Web-based surveys are the least costly and least impacted by volume of all survey methods. After the initial set-up costs, which should be low, the schemes are fully automated and these surveys cost little to maintain.

    Mail-in customer surveys

    Mail-in customer surveys involve companies creating a paper-based questionnaire and mailing it to target customers. As such, they are probably the easiest to set up but they are costly due to the cost of production and mailing costs. They are also likely to get the lowest response rates because recipients can easily treat them as junk mail and throw them away.

    These surveys are significantly impacted by volume and level of automation. Costs rise in line with the number of surveys sent out and returned. The cost for analysis will then involve either significant manual effort to enter the data into the system or the cost of scanning equipment and text recognition software.

    IVR customer surveys

    IVR-based surveys are also easy to set up and very cheap to operate. However, it is commonly accepted that customers dislike using IVR, especially if there are complex and highly nested menus of options. The advent of voice-based IVR should make customers more likely to complete surveys of this type, as long as the questionnaire and responses are made customer-friendly.

    IVR-based surveys aren't costly to set up either -- assuming the basic IVR equipment is in place -- and aren't affected by volume. Given customer dislike of this media, companies should pay attention to scripting the questionnaire to heighten customer interest. Collecting the data for analysis is again straightforward and can be fully automated.

    To survey or not to survey?

    With so much competition for customers today, the answer has to be, "yes." Satisfied customers are more loyal, spend more, and cost less to maintain. Post-call surveys represent the most reliable way of assessing real satisfaction, and these survey results will be vital when it comes to making changes to the way companies interact with customers.

    One of the first questions most companies ask when considering customer surveying is usually, "How much will it cost?" or "How will the company benefit?" As we have seen above, costs of surveying vary tremendously depending on the type of survey and potential volumes and levels of automation. However, if they are done right, customer surveys will pay off significantly.

    While it is generally accepted that surveys will improve levels of customer satisfaction, there are also cost savings to be gained by surveying. If you can create more satisfied customers, there will be less calls to the contact center, more calls resolved the first time and less service engineer appointments. Just as importantly, satisfied customers will bring in more money for the company through repeat sales and referrals that will lead to new sales.

    Don't miss the other installments in this ROI series
    * Remote call center agents: Building a business case by Donna Fluss
    * Outsourcing the call center: Building a business case by Richard Snow
    * SaaS and on-demand CRM: Building a business case by Dan Merriman
    * Web self service: Building a business case by Allen Bonde



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