It’s a fairly simple question: Do you have happy customers? Hopefully your answer is yes. But that leads to a second question: How do you know that you have happy customers? The answer to that one takes us back to something that’s really quite simple – you ask them! You do not assume that they’re happy with the quality or service that they’re getting from you. It’s a little crude, perhaps, but it’s often true that to assume makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me”.
Ok, so how do you go about asking them? I spoke recently with a printer who sends a comment card out with every order. I asked him how many responses he gets. “I don’t really know,” he answered. “Five or six a month would be a good guess.”
“How many orders do you produce each month?” I asked next. “Again, I don’t really know. We average around $60,000 per month, and I would guess our average order is somewhere around $250. What would that be?” The answer – assuming that both the volume and average order figures are accurate – would be approximately 240 orders per month, which means that 5 to 6 responses would represent a 2% to 3% response rate. Do you really think it’s wise to base your perception of customer satisfaction on a 2% to 3% statistical sample?
Beyond that, I asked who the responses come from, and learned they typically come from new customers or occasional customers – in other words, not his best customers. To me, that’s a program which is not doing what it’s intended to do. I hope you’ll agree that you need more than a comment card to ensure that your critical customer relationships are in good enough shape.
If I were you, I would “take the temperature” of my customer relationships on a regular basis. It’s probably too much to ask about their satisfaction with every order (in fact, that’s one of the reasons for such a low response with comment cards), but it should be easy enough to ask your “A” customers to quantify their level of satisfaction with you every month, and your “B” customers once every quarter. Actually, I’d like to see you talking to your “C” customers on a quarterly basis too, but that might not provide enough of a return on investment in terms of the time it would take to accomplish. So how about this? Let’s add your “B+” customers to the every-month list, and your “C+” customers to the quarterly list, with the “+” indicating next-level growth potential, or any other reason a particular customer might be more important to you than his or her current sales volume indicates.
Now here comes the most important part of this strategy: Don’t send me any forms to fill out! Meet with me personally, or call me on the phone, or send me a direct e-mail. Ask me just one question: What’s the temperature of our relationship these days?
Establish the strategy
I hope you’re thinking that you can’t just hit them with that question out of the blue! You’re 100% right. You have to put it in context. So here’s what you might say to establish this strategy: “Your satisfaction is really important to me, so I would like to get in touch with you every month (or every quarter) and ask you to tell me the ‘temperature’ of our relationship. We’ll use 37 degrees as the baseline, so if everything’s fine, that’s what I hope you’ll tell me. And if things are better than fine – for example, if you want to recognize that we’ve been exceptional in terms of quality and/or service – you could tell me 39 degrees or maybe even 40. Most importantly, though, if everything’s less than fine, you can give me a number that indicates just how big a problem we have, and then I can get started at solving it and building your level of customer satisfaction back up to where we both want it to be.”
The bottom line here is one question and one answer, and that answer tells you where you may need to go next. If the temperature is high, say, “Thank you, I appreciate your business, and you can expect me to ask you again in a month (or three months). But if anything changes between now and then, please tell me right away!”
If the temperature is below 37 degrees, identify the problem and get started on the solution immediately.