Misgivings about ‘mostly satisfied’ clients

Client satisfaction and loyalty are two parts of the same whole. While client loyalty is seen as a key driver of long-term profitability, not all companies recognise the importance of client perception surveying — and the improvements that can be made with client feedback — as a necessary investment.

Whether or not you’re paying attention to it, client satisfaction and loyalty drive your company’s bottom line. When you’re reviewing a profit-and-loss statement, client satisfaction won’t be a line item. Satisfaction is one of those intangibles that companies say they care about, and indeed they do, but they fail to truly track, manage and work to improve it quantitatively.

Think of your own company. Do you know your client satisfaction rates or how many people are willing to offer a referral? When is the last time you sat down with a client to do a deep dive on their perceptions of your operations?

Every year, our team surveys top decision makers on marketing trends in the drug development services industry. Last year, we asked respondents if they regularly request feedback from their clients on ways to improve. Twenty-four percent said no1. As a marketer, I can tell you that is 24 per cent too many.

In our industry, many companies put crafting an image — let alone maintaining one — on the back burner. As such, marketing budgets are usually one of the first to be cut and supplementary activities, such as client surveying, aren’t even considered to be in the budget. While this is one problem, I posit that there is also a lack of awareness of just how critical client satisfaction is to a company’s longevity.

In a traditional satisfaction survey, you’re likely to encounter a slew of Likert scales. In your own company’s survey, you may present a question such as:

How satisfied are you with Company X’s performance regarding Service Y?

1. Very dissatisfied

2. A little dissatisfied

3. Mostly satisfied

4. Completely satisfied

If the majority of respondents tally numbers three and four, you’ll probably be happy with your results. But the ‘mostly satisfied’ client isn’t as loyal as you may think. It’s a common misconception that above-neutral results are good enough to retain clients.

In a classic study conducted by Xerox, the company found that, within an 18-month time span, its completely satisfied clients were six times more likely to repurchase than its satisfied clients2. In truth, the only loyal clients are completely satisfied clients, while merely satisfied clients are more prone to defect.

“When current, past and potential clients have an outlet to provide objective feedback, the insights gained can be of remarkable value”

For companies that have never conducted client perception studies, the outcomes are never quite what is expected. When current, past and potential clients have an outlet to provide objective feedback, the insights gained can be of remarkable value. Evaluating client perception is only the first step towards improving satisfaction — the most ground is gained in the implementation of feedback. Here are two ways in which using client perception can make a difference for your company:

1) Conduct performance benchmarking, monitoring and reporting. You should keep tabs on your clients’ perceptions and satisfaction levels and, moreover, keep the door open for them to provide input. Knowing the motives behind your clients’ choice of vendor and their propensity to recommend your company, your competitors, your new products or services and your performance, is key to shaping marketing activities. Assessing these levels over time is the only sure-fire way of knowing what actions worked and what is worthy of further consideration. Be reactive to the immediate needs you uncover; be proactive to fulfil the greater, long-term needs inferred from your surveys.

2) Align operations with the voice of clients. The goal is to develop real and permanent changes based on feedback to move your clients to unquestionable satisfaction. You can do this by taking a concerted approach to making improvements that align business units, services, operational teams, locations and functions. Focus on making adjustments to better manage client relationships with your internal operations, not just your business development outreach. Also, don’t hesitate to reach out to clients to inform them of changes you made based on their input. Knowing that you’re acting on their words instils a sense of confidence that you are in it for the long run and will be receptive to their voluntary input.

“Just as important as the feedback you choose to act on is how you prioritise it”

Just as important as the feedback you choose to act on is how you prioritise it. While you assess whether you need to fine-tune or completely uproot deep-seated operations, consider these tips to effectively leverage client feedback:

 
• Separate your clients’ expectations from their current perceptions to better understand and prioritise actions.

• Concentrate your efforts on the right clients – those who you can consistently and completely satisfy without sacrificing service to others or putting your own objectives behind. Remember that disproportionate efforts lead to inconsistent levels of service to clients.

• Clearly articulate the feedback you get and the rationale behind consequent adjustments and expectations with the affected functions of your business.

Client perception and satisfaction surveys do not have to be limited to current clients. In fact, holistic feedback is important for honing better business development activities before the sale. Consider the following stages of client relationships and whether you’re taking advantage of the feedback that can be mined from them:

From the onset of a new relationship with a client, what was the client’s initial experience with your sales and support team? What makes your outreach strong enough to capture new business and make sure your clients don’t reassess their buying decisions when approached by competitors?

In current relationships, are you actively reaching out and asking for input, reassuring clients that your company is focused on maintaining a shared vision and driving mutual success? Do you take every step necessary to ensure the communication is straightforward and timely, especially for your clients who need to communicate with multiple functions within your business?

In past relationships, what caused your clients to consider alternatives? Did you foresee them defecting and, if so, what efforts did you make to prevent it from happening then and in the future?

When you have lost opportunities, what factors did your competitors offer that influenced the company’s decision? Was the company aware of your offerings and their benefits, including auxiliary and value-added services?

By collecting information from the parties above, your company can better triangulate its current position in the market. You may also find deficiencies in what your competitors are offering; voids that may be the key to winning new business or causing clients to defect. Far from a venture of chasing higher intangible perception scores, improving client satisfaction is a serious, and often challenging, commitment, but the rewards can lead you to an incomparable competitive advantage.

References

1. SCORR Marketing (2013). Marketing Trends in Drug Development Services Survey.

2. J L Heskett, Schlesinger, L A. (1994). The Harvard Business Review. Putting the service-profit chain to work.

About the author:

Cinda Orr founded SCORR Marketing in 2003 after a career spanning more than 30 years that included building in-house marketing departments for major corporations such as CNS Insurance, US Gypsum and Enterprise and as the director of SECOM, G D Searle’s in-house agency. Cinda spent 18 years at Harris Laboratories, where she later became the senior vice president of global marketing for MDS Pharma Services. During her time there, MDS grew to be one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical research organisations.

Based on that expertise, SCORR debuted as a marketing strategist for BBCI and MDS Sciex and was soon given the opportunity to rebrand and re-launch a major site management organisation, Radiant Research. Today SCORR Marketing is one of the leading marketing and communications firms for the drug development services industry.

Have your say: How much emphasis does your company place on client satisfaction?