In an age when the customer is king, customer satisfaction surveys are a key tool for ensuring that client needs are understood and met. Correctly used, customer surveys help companies to fulfil their clients’ evolving demands and improve service delivery. This raises customer satisfaction and retention, contributing to the corporate bottom line. Surveys can also provide excellent communication material.
Customer satisfaction surveys have become a regular feature of the corporate marketing programme. Whether in the B2C or B2B sector, it is clearly understood: if you want to discover how satisfied your customers really are with your services, and uncover their true attitude to your company, you need to ask them directly.

Personal discussions

Naturally, the best way to do this is in a full and frank personal discussion. Salespeople or client relationship managers are in an ideal position to find out what customers want, and if their level of satisfaction is below optimal in any areas. In the B2B arena in particular, key account managers are usually in constant touch with customer decision-makers, and will be forthright in highlighting issues needing correction as and when these arise.

However, there are obvious limitations to relying on this form of feedback alone: there may be issues based on the individuals involved; not all customers have regular meetings with company representatives (especially if things are going well); and anecdotal evidence is a poor basis on which to plan major adjustments or future initiatives.

Professional surveys demonstrate client focus
As a result, most companies today use the services of professional market research organisations, which not only draw up the questionnaire, but can also carry out the research, and collect, collate, and analyse the results.

The cost of running such surveys can be considerable, particularly if they need to be done on an international basis - but so is the payback. The very act of engaging the services of a reputable market research company and running a survey is a clear signal to customers that their service provider is serious about measuring and responding to their needs and wishes.

The only two questions that count?
In the opinion of some professionals, there are only two questions that really matter:

- Would you recommend our company?
- Would you do business with us again?

These questions cut to the core of the customer experience and attitude to the company, and provide the clearest possible signals of the level of true satisfaction – or dissatisfaction – experienced by survey respondents, and their degree of loyalty towards the company.

But while these are certainly key questions, most surveys take the correct approach of probing far more broadly and deeply, checking reactions to products, services, and the company overall, and asking open-ended questions to elicit suggestions for future developments and improvements.

Using the responses
Although the act of running a survey demonstrates a company’s client-focus, it is still vital to report back on the results and to show that the precious time taken by respondents to complete the survey has not been wasted. Indeed, this is the only way to ensure that client satisfaction surveys deliver win-win outcomes for all concerned.

For example, in the 1999 Swiss Life Network survey, it was clear that clients were demanding a broader palette of flexible international solutions. When we surveyed again in 2005, there was a definite improvement in satisfaction in this regard, as we had reacted in the meantime by introducing our new modular international solutions.

In another example, following survey feedback on the need for more regionally-based and shorter Network seminars, Swiss Life responded by introducing a programme of one-day events around the world, which are now well-attended and clearly meet popular demand.

Surveys as a communication tool
Used correctly, customer satisfaction surveys can have a significant impact on improving a company’s performance and offerings, leading to increased customer retention and a greater share-of-wallet. It is clear also, that the action of setting up and running a survey sends a very positive message about customer focus.

While it is totally counter-productive to use customer satisfaction surveys simply as marketing tools, the communication value of surveys in general should not be underestimated. For example, Swiss Life in Luxembourg’s online survey on gender differences regarding pensions has important messages to convey (see page xx for details). Similarly, Great-West Life’s CAP Benchmark Report provides valuable feedback to companies in Canada on employer-sponsored retirement plans. And Unum’s research has revealed a significant fall in long-term sickness absence due to stress. The outcomes of these studies provide important information for benefits professionals, and contribute to the further improvement of employee benefit strategies.

Swiss Life Network conducted a client satisfaction survey this June that achieved an exceptionally high participation rate of close to 50%. Swiss Life Network extends its thanks to those clients and intermediaries who participated, and looks forward to sharing the results in the December issue of this newsletter.