Basic Business Cents

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The Only Question You Need to Ask to Grow Your Business

by Lou Schultz, SCORE counselor

Original publish date 06/30/2009 (#12)

Most customer satisfaction surveys aren't very useful. They tend to be long and complicated, yielding low response rates and ambiguous answers. In short, it is difficult to take definite action to improve the performance of your operation using the typical approach to this tool.

In our recent columns, we talked about satisfying customers is not enough; satisfied customers will switch when something better comes along. We need to move beyond satisfaction to delighting customers and creating loyalty. We also talked about how to identify those "delighter" features that move us into leadership positions. Now the question is, how do we test to know that we have succeeded?

Harvard Business Review published an article about this subject by Frederick Reichheld in 2003 titled, The One Number You Need to Grow and Business Week published a follow-up article by Jena McGregor in 2006 titled Would You Recommend Us? They said to keep the survey simple so people do not mind responding and focus on what is really important.

We said what is important is to develop loyal customers who brag about us and recommend us to their friends. So the only question that really matters is, "On a scale of 0-10, how likely is it that you would recommend this product/service to your friends or colleagues?" The scale range is from 0 (not at all likely) to 5 (neutral) to 10 (extremely likely). That cuts to the core of what is important in a hurry.

Then ask a couple of open-ended questions to get guidance for improvement--"Would you please expand on the reasons that prompted you to provide this score?" and "Please list suggestions to make this a better experience." I have found that since you are only asking one survey question that does not take up much of the customer's time, he is more willing to offer constructive comments to help you.

Scoring yourself with this system gets interesting. The 9 and 10 responders are considered loyal or delighted customers. The 7 and 8 responders are considered neutral or satisfied. The 6 and below are considered dissatisfied customers and are really giving you negative feedback. The percent of the total giving you a 6 or below is subtracted from the percent giving you a 9 or 10, which provides a score that can be used to compare and track progress. It is possible to get a negative score and very difficult to get a high positive score, but this simple survey really puts focus on what is important. Most of us would agree, the best way to attract new customers is referrals from existing customers. If we absorb the comments from the open-ended questions and act on them, our scores should continue to improve and our business will improve right along with it.

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