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Quality service surveys that you can use.

Do you remember Ross Perot saying in one of his presidential campaign "infomercials" that one of his management methods is to "listen, listen, listen to the people who do the work."

Perot put his finger on a very effective survey method. (In case you've forgotten, he is chairman of Perot Systems Inc.).

His suggestion is based upon the observation that the people who deal directly with customers -- often face to face -- know more about customer needs and complaints than anyone else.

So, Perot suggests, conduct open -- meeting key -- account reviews with employees.

Ask standard, quantifiable questions such as "How many complaints did you get in the first 90 days after the product went on sale?"

Devise ways to quantify answers to qualitative questions such as: "What's the reaction to the product that you hear most often?"

Listen to what employees say about customer mood.

Consider running employee focus groups on the topic: "What's it like doing business with us?" (Employees can give you an ear full on that topic.)

You might even want to videotape meetings and show the videotapes in the lunch room or employee lounge.

Finally, conduct exit interviews for employees. Wouldn't you be surprised to find an employee driven out of the company by a customer hostile to the company because of continuously bad service that management never heard about?

Any business interested in doing all that can be done to remain competitive and profitable in today's difficult and changing business environment would be very smart to conduct periodic customer satisfaction surveys every 60 or 90 days.

You can't depend upon customers to tell you what they dislike about your service. Sometimes they will. But, most of the time they won't.

This is a deduction based upon the often-cited finding in an A.C. Nielsen Co. study that only one in 50 dissatisfied consumers takes the time to complain.

In my 1991 book, Achieving Excellence Through Customer Service, these methods of obtaining information about customer needs and wants are suggested:

* Formal and informal surveys * Focus groups * Automated response systems * Mail and phone questionnaires * Consumer advisory panels * Customer comments * Creative approaches such as lost sale follow-up program, complaint correspondence review, and key account review.

In obtaining opinions directly from customers, try "debriefing" key accounts by the "open-end" discussion method. Just asking customers what they are satisfied with and what they are dissatisfied with usually yields valuable information.

Annual or semi-annual debriefings should include formal survey questions and open-ended discussions with all levels and functions.

Some companies call several customers each week. Senior managers each call a few customers and share their findings.

Other progressive companies actually visit their best customers occasionally. No better way exists to obtain insight into customer needs and need satisfaction than observing customers doing their business.

Federal Express Corporation conducts continuous customer surveys. Then, the company uses information derived from the surveys to continuously improve operations.

Federal Express' customer service strategy is to meet all their customers' expectations including not only pickup and delivery criteria but also documentation and shipment standards.

It seems that the strategy is effective: Federal Express was the first service corporation to win the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award, in 1990.

Customer satisfaction is the backbone of FedEx's success. But, the company realizes that in order to satisfy customers they must know what customers want.

Here's where surveys come in.

Assuming that you already know what service your customers want can be a reckless miscalculation.

Have you considered that your customer knowledge might be outdated?

Do you know about the special needs of customers that are dictated by their unusual businesses?

Have your customers' businesses changed in response to widespread changes in their markets?

The reason that a company must know its customers' level of expectations is that going LESS than customers expect in the way of service is a fine way to lose customers.

The smart way to practice service is to provide customers more than they expect. Then customers perceive your service as superior and they tell their business friends about it.

But, doing MORE than customers expect presupposes your knowledge of what it is that they expect.

John Tschohl is author of Achieving Excellence Through Customer Service published by Prentice Hall in 1991. The successful book is in its fifth printing. The company he founded, Service Quality Institute in Minneapolis, is an international service consulting and training organization. Phone number: 1-800-548-0538. As a professional speaker, Tschohl frequently addresses senior management groups throughout the country. He is a leading authority on quality service and was called a "customer service guru" in a Time magazine cover story.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Canadian Institute of Management
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Tschohl, John
Publication:Canadian Manager
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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