What Do Your Customers Really Want?

How can you discover the wants and needs of your customers?

Just ask them.

That’s right, the customer satisfaction survey is an extremely useful piece of market research that can support a wide variety of business decisions. This week’s article will arm you with some introductory details of the customer satisfaction research process so you can get in touch with your most valuable asset — your customers.

Why Conduct Customer Satisfaction Surveys?

You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: It is far more expensive to acquire new customers than it is to retain existing ones. That’s the mantra of all customer satisfaction research and the logical foundation for any customer retention program. Customer satisfaction research helps marketers get out of the risky game of trying to outguess the needs of their customers by providing a blueprint for site changes that will keep users coming back.

There are two main elements of every customer satisfaction survey: attribute evaluation and segmentation questions. The attribute evaluation measures user attitudes (favorable or unfavorable) toward different aspects of the site experience. Segmentation questions are used to slice up the attribute evaluation feedback into more meaningful subsegments, for example, customers versus noncustomers or first-time visitors versus repeat visitors.

Two key principles to think about when selecting site attributes for attitudinal evaluation are efficiency and specificity. Efficiency involves getting as much mileage as possible from each attribute item by avoiding overlap. While attributes such as “relevance of search results” and “usefulness of search results” do represent slightly different search results dimensions, they are close enough that you may decide it’s not worth spending valuable real estate in your questionnaire to evaluate them both.

Specificity refers to the level of detail reached with the site attributes that you’ve selected. Take care to choose items that are specific enough to be controlled. An attribute such as “the quality of your shopping experience” is too broad to be of real value. The quality of a customer’s shopping experience encompasses many different site elements and would not provide guidance on modifications that should to be made to the site.

Measuring Satisfaction

Satisfaction is almost always measured on a numerical scale. A handful of technical methodology decisions need to be made, including how many points should be on the scale and whether your scale should you have a midpoint.

But you don’t need to become paralyzed by all these details. Just make sure you pick a scale that allows a reasonable amount of discrimination (the most common scales range from 5 to 9 points), and let a professional market researcher evaluate your scale labels to avoid subjective biasing.

Customer Satisfaction Analysis

To modify your site experience in a manner that will have the greatest impact on customer satisfaction, you must know which site attributes are actually important to your customers. The most direct way is to ask users how important each attribute is to their visit, using the same numerical scale that you use for the satisfaction measurement.

The dual measurements you have for each critical attribute — importance and satisfaction — can be combined in several useful ways. The Gap Statistic is an attribute’s average satisfaction score minus its average importance score. Negative gaps, in which satisfaction is less than importance, suggest underdelivery and may need attention if the importance score is high. Positive gaps point to overdelivery and opportunities for a reduction in the resources devoted to that attribute.

The Importance/Satisfaction Quadrant Chart is another valuable way to analyze your satisfaction feedback. Each attribute is placed in a cell of the matrix below using its average importance and satisfaction scores for different customer segments:

Low Importance High Importance
High Satisfaction Overkill Business Strength
Low Satisfaction Area to Watch Business Risk

From Analysis to Action

Once the analysis is complete, you must use it to make business decisions. Two of the most common ways to use customer satisfaction surveys are:

  1. As a diagnostic tool. Site elements that show up as important but unsatisfying (“business risks”) to users should be flagged as high-priority candidates for modification.

  2. To link customer attitudes with behavior. Knowing which attribute’s satisfaction is most highly correlated with a desired behavior, such as purchasing, can be extremely helpful for understanding your customers’ motivations.

Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals of online customer satisfaction research, you will have developed a powerful competitive advantage for your business.

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