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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The "client satisfaction survey" is not the solution

"Marketers should run away from phrases like 'administering surveys'!," writes Pamela Rigling Caffrey of John Poe Architects Inc. in Dayton. "It's all about people and relationships!"

Pamela Rigling Caffrey, Director of Marketing at John Poe Architects, Inc. in Dayton, Ohio, responded yesterday, as I did, to this question posed by another Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) member on the SMPS listserve:

My firm is investigating the implementation of a Customer Satisfaction Survey that will be administered to clients after the completion of projects.

I have been tasked with developing a handful of questions that would be asked of each individual.

I'm curious if there are any other firms who also conduct this type of survey and if you would be willing to share the questions you are asking?

I responded citing some previous entries in this blog:

Everyone: There is a lot of literature about customer satisfaction surveys, with special interest in the "Net Promoter Score" (Fred Riechheld) -- the indication of whether a client is likely to recommend your business/service to others.
Trouble is, it can be a challenge to get people to respond to your survey, and the actual surveying process can both be intrusive and irritating (and efforts can be made to 'game' the results). This makes formal structured surveys, either in person or online, somewhat debatable for high value/low volume services that I believe most SMPS members provide.

I would love to develop a practical survey where we could obtain adequate response without client irritation/intrusion because the client "net promoter" numbers would be a truly useful and effective cross check against pure financial/cost/revenue/profit
measures -- certainly as an indication of future business health (and to justify employee bonuses, as well).

I've blogged on this topic a few times; this blog entry leads to information about Riechheld's thesis (and controversy about it):

and this entry reviews the practicality of using e-surveys(common for retailers and high volume marketers:

But, frankly, Pamela's response is much better:

It is critical to communicate with clients not only at the completion of a project, but throughout it's duration. As you well know, many clients have multiple projects in the works. Lagging in client services at the 30 or 40 per cent completion phase may cost you the next job.

I also think it's very important in our industry not to let e-mail and survey instruments and other non-personal tools overshadow the vital nature of direct human contact! Rather than create a survey, why not take the client to lunch regularly throughout the project or call them on the phone?

So much is lost in not observing the non-verbals. When you meet with the client or talk to them directly, I would always give them the opportunity to do all the talking. Make sure they have the chance to discuss their relationship with your staff assigned to their job with candor. I think it's also critical for design firms to monitor the service and responsiveness of sub consultants and contractors. This can be very helpful in determining who you team with the next time! And don't forget to ask them what projects they have coming up.

Marketers should run away from phrases like "administering surveys"! It's all about people and relationships!

Absolutely correct! Client satisfaction surveys may have a place for mass market products/services, but even these processes are often gamed by employees worrying more about the survey numbers than the meaningful relationships. If surveys are to be effective, they need to be natural and non-intrusive and totally voluntary (in other words, I think it is virtually impossible to achieve positive results by using telemarketing techniques to draw out responses -- the pure act of making the outbound telemarketing call is an often unwelcome intrusion on the client's life -- if it is a scripted survey call, rather than a meaningful check-in to assure that all went well.)


Anonymous said...

You are right on here. I have been involved numerous times in the development of client satisfaction surveys, and every time I have found that they actually hinder the relationships with our clients. The issue with paper and online surveys is that they have a tendency to remind clients of our failings and not our strengths.

I have found that the opposite is true when an informal survey (no written questions) is given over a cup of coffee or lunch. It is in this relational context that our clients understand that we are truly interested in them and in serving their needs the best we can.

Thanks for another great blog!

Tim Klabunde

Construction Marketing Ideas said...

Tim ... a great comment.
Surveys can work really well for chain retailers, restaraunts, and rental car companies, and others where there is a large volume of short-term transactional business at diverse locations -- the responses, especially any 'unhappy' ones can flag attention and result in remedial solutions. But does this type of approach make sense if you are working with clients commissioning architectural or engineering services, or hiring a GC for multi-million dollar project spanning several months or years....? Real relationships are everything, here.

Anonymous said...


One firm I know sends a return-postage-paid post card about client satisfaction folded in every bill. They have about for multiple choice questions and a small place to write a comment. They are addressed to the CEO and go directly to him. Very few are returned. Those few that do are scorchers--clients tend to be most unhappy at the moment they recieve the bill--and the CEO deals with them immediately.

Ford Harding

Construction Marketing Ideas said...

Ford, this is valid -- it isn't intrusive and of course provides immediate feedback if there are any problems. The surveys many people detest (myself included) are the phone calls where someone is reading a script. I now simply decline to participate, and the company initiating the 'satisfaction survey' earns a black mark in my mind.