How do you measure customer satisfaction in B2B markets?  What questions should you ask in a customer satisfaction survey?

Fair questions, but first ask yourself this: should you measure customer satisfaction?  It’s counter-intuitive, but in B2B markets sometimes customer satisfaction doesn’t actually matter.  For example, even disgruntled customers may remain loyal because:

  • A supplier offers a significant product or price advantage
  • The cost, effort or risk of moving supplier is just too high
  • They’re inert and don’t really care that much

However, more often than not customer satisfaction is linked with loyalty so let’s return to that question – how do you measure it?

Well, first you need to identify what you should be measuring – the aspects of the customer experience which impact satisfaction and the criteria you’re judged against in each area.  To do so:

  • Consult customer facing colleagues. This will arm you with some valuable hypotheses and the process of involving internal stakeholders will help you to drive action at the back end of the research
  • Mine the data in any customer service or complaint logs to reveal recurrent themes which seem to be linked to dissatisfaction
  • Hold exploratory discussions with customers to receive guidance straight from the horse’s mouth and build on the two steps above

Next you need some hard data to definitively measure your performance in these areas.  That means a survey and typically the default method of deploying this will be online as this is a cost-effective and often the customer’s preference.

At the core of this survey should be what we call the ‘satisfaction ladder’.  It works like this:

  • First, ask customers how satisfied they are with you overall. For example, you might ask a question like: ‘Overall and taking everything into account, how satisfied are you with [BRAND]? Please answer using a 1 – 10 scale where 10 means that you’re very satisfied and 1 means that you’re very dissatisfied’
  • Then ask customers to rate their overall satisfaction with different areas of the experience using the same scale. For example: ‘Thinking about the experience with your Account Manager at [BRAND], how satisfied would you say that you are overall?  Again, please answer using a 1 – 10 scale where 10 means that you’re very satisfied and 1 means that you’re very dissatisfied’
  • Then probe down to the next level by asking customers to rate their satisfaction within each individual area of the experience. For example, within the area of account management you might ask them to rate their satisfaction with the Account Manager’s understanding of their business, their level of expertise, their attitude, their availability and so on
  • Finally, establish how each area of the experience could be improved by asking an open ended question. For example: ‘What, if anything, would you like to change about the experience with your Account Manager to make it better?’

This approach will measure the overall health of customer relationships, identify any areas of under-performance and provide ideas on how to up your game.

The next step is to narrow your focus by establishing which areas of performance have the greatest impact on overall satisfaction.  Doing so will allow you to prioritise the investment of time and resources on areas which will bear the greatest returns.

To do so, you could simply ask customers to rate the relative importance of different performance areas in driving their overall satisfaction with the relationship.  However, that can be misleading because people don’t always have an accurate insight into why they feel a certain way.  That’s exacerbated in B2B environments by a tendency for people to over-estimate the importance of rational factors.

So rather than asking customers directly, an alternative approach is to deduce what matters using a statistical technique called Regression Analysis.  In a nutshell, Regression Analysis works by observing what happens to your overall satisfaction score when satisfaction scores in one area of the experience move up or down (but scores in other areas remain static).  This reveals the relative power of each area of the experience in driving overall satisfaction.  To paint a full picture, Regression Analysis should follow the same laddering process as your questioning – establish which areas of the experience drive overall satisfaction and then establish what in turn drives satisfaction within each experiential area.

So there we have it – a quick guide to measuring customer satisfaction.  There’s of course a lot more to it.  For example, you need to:

  • Carefully design the approach so that it’s reliable and representative of the customer base
  • Correctly position and incentivise the survey so that a high proportion of customers respond (see here for tips on incentivising surveys)
  • Add a variety of other questions to the core set outlined above in order to gather further insights and action points
  • Most importantly, make sense of the findings, cascade them throughout your business and drive positive action on the back of them

That’s something which you could achieve in house, but if you want to ensure complete objectivity and benefit from past experience, well, you know where to find us.

Read more about our approach to business-to-business (B2B) customer satisfaction surveys.

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About Andrew

Andrew has specialised in B2B research for over a decade and co-founded Circle Research in 2006. He is a columnist for B2B Marketing Magazine, a regular contributor to Research Live and frequent speaker at leading events such as the B2B Leaders Forum, Customer Experience Live and the Social Media World Forum. Andrew is a Chartered Member of the MRS, teaches the MRS B2B research course and holds an MA in Psychology from Aberdeen University alongside an MSc in Marketing from Strathclyde University.

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