There’s an old tale about three blind men who come across an elephant in the jungle.
The first man, while grasping the elephant’s trunk, says: “This animal is thin, like a snake.”
The second, taking hold of its ears, rebuts: “No. It’s large and wide, like a leaf.”
The third, who feels its legs, exclaims: “Fools! It’s stout like a tree.”
Transposed onto the world of business, this story reminds us to question the assumptions behind reported figures, since using different benchmarks can lead to widely diverging conclusions.
In no area of your company is this more relevant than in the assessment of customer satisfaction.
As ephemeral as it might be, customer satisfaction is one of the main factors in determining future success for a growing business. In its negative aspect, it can be the death knell that brings large, established organisations to their knees.
Customer satisfaction has always been a focal point in ISO 9001 implementation. In the older version of this international management standard, customer satisfaction was simply about meeting customer requirements.
The client wants a widget that calculates the percentage commission earned by the salespeople employed by the company. You build one that does exactly that.
End of transaction; satisfaction achieved.
In 2015, when the ISO 9001 standard was revised, this simplistic definition of customer satisfaction was amended. The new standard provides a more holistic and meaningful description, by making reference to customer perception of meeting the needs and expectations.
It also considers the subjective experience of the exchange between buyer and seller.
But what exactly does ISO mean by needs and expectations. Here’s a quick definition of both words; understanding the difference between them will help us unpack the wording in the standard’s documentation.
Let’s put it in real-life terms. Say you’re hungry and you feel like a burger. That’s your need.
Your expectations walking into a fast-food joint are: fast and impersonal service, cheap prices, and a somewhat limited choice.
If you reserve a table at a gourmet restaurant instead, your expectations will include: longer waiting time, more attentive service, a more expensive meal, and more flexibility when making your order.
Needs are all about what you deliver. Expectations focus on how you deliver it.
Two burgers; two contrasting sets of expectations.
This is what the ISO 9001:2015 standard says about customer satisfaction:
The organisation shall monitor customers’ perceptions of the degree to which their needs and expectations have been fulfilled. The organisation shall determine the methods for obtaining monitoring and reviewing this information.
NOTE: Examples of monitoring customer perceptions can include customer surveys, customer feedback on delivered products and services, meetings with customers, market-share analysis, complaints, warranty claims, and dealer reports.
The first paragraph lays out the rules of the game in terms of customer satisfaction. It’s all based on your ability to fulfil clients’ needs and expectation. The kicker is that they’re the ones holding the scorecard, and you’ll have to ask nicely to find out your score.
Luckily, ISO 9001 provides a helpful list of methods that can be used to monitor customer perceptions in the second paragraph. We’ll turn our attention to the easiest ones to implement in your company.
This is arguably the most straightforward method to measure customer satisfaction, and the one that requires the least commitment and effort on part of the respondent.
To use the star rating system, you’ll need to break down your service into the different aspects that make it up, e.g. quality, service, and speed. Each criterion is assigned a rating scale from 1 (least favourable) to 5 (most favourable), and the respondent rates it based on their experience.
Feedback surveys allow for longer, more open-ended responses. Compared to rating systems, the type of information captured by surveys is richer, giving you a deep insight into your customer’s perception of your company.
Customer feedback survey usually take longer to carry out, and rely on the customer’s willingness to dedicate enough time to answer questions honestly and in sufficient detail. You’ll also have to put in some work compiling and interpreting the results.
The design and wording of the survey plays an essential role in minimising friction, and improving the response rate and the quality of the answers received.
We recommend you use one-on-one interviews with your top clients, especially the ones you meet face to face with the most often.
Interviews should ideally be audio-recorded, at the customer's place if possible, then later transcribed in order to mine the transcript for notable or recurring themes.
Talking to a customer in person will also make available a whole range of subtle voice and body cues that can be used to enrich your understanding of their perception about you, as well as giving you the opportunity to experience directly the context in which they work.
In a recent internal audit conducted by Step in an ISO-certified software company based in Malta, we used the following three-pronged approach to assess customer satisfaction in different scenarios:
The data collected was then compiled in an annual report which compared year-on-year changes in the level of customer satisfaction. In this case, we found that the company had increased its client base by 30% between 2015 and 2016, and we were able to identify a number of common reasons behind the departure of some clients. During this audit, the emerging trends in customer satisfaction were further. This was done to pinpoint the small changes implemented that yielded big improvements.
The biggest advantage of the ISO 9001 standard is that it doesn’t force a company to adopt any single method; it’s completely up to management to decide which methods are to be used.
Naturally, Step can also advise you on the best customer satisfaction assessment to adopt under different circumstances, guide you in its implementation, and handle the subsequent data collection and analysis.
As Peter Drucker famously said: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
To improve customer satisfaction, you must first measure it, typically by using a process called gap analysis.
If your company never carried out any kind of assessment in this area before, it’s never too late to get a baseline score of product and service quality, which in turn helps you identify customers’ priorities for improvement (PFIs) that can be tracked in the future.
Knowing customer satisfaction levels and keeping a close eye on them is one of the secrets of successful Malta ISO businesses.
Customers vote with their feet and their pockets. By peering into their minds and finding out how satisfied they are with the current level of service you could predict their behaviour and adapt your business strategy accordingly, before making any false moves.
Customer satisfaction is a vital indicator of the health of your enterprise. It’s well known that there is a tight correlation between customer satisfaction and repeat business.
This means that satisfied customers are more likely to return to you when they need the service you offer.
Unlike new customers, you don’t have to spend anything on marketing and converting an existing customer, therefore every customer that returns to you represents an opportunity to increase profitability. Over time, the cumulative value of a loyal customer far outweighs that of a one-time buyer.
Ultimately, the effect of customer satisfaction on your company’s bottom line cannot be dismissed. Through ISO 9001 implementation, Step can guide you on the path towards understanding better your customer base, and improving satisfaction rates.
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