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Boosting Sagging Customer Satisfaction

At a customer relationship management conference last year, a room full of CRM managers bemoaned the fact their companies track customer satisfaction data, yet were having trouble getting anyone to pay attention to the information.

These companies were committing several sins noted in the bible of customer interaction. Take, for instance, the first commandment of customer loyalty initiatives: "Thou shall not ask the customer for feedback and then ignore that feedback." It's a good guess these companies are not as successful financially or gaining market share at the rate of their more customer-engaged competitors.

Surprisingly, many companies fall into this trap. Why would an organization invest to collect data and then not use it? Customer satisfaction is an exciting initiative when the company is setting up its customer feedback tracking system, getting a first look at the data, making customer experience changes, and seeing positive results.

But the real challenge comes in the day-to-day, year-after-year slog to gain actionable feedback, use that to impact customer loyalty, and differentiate the company from the competition. What follows are some critical actions every CRM officer can take to maintain their company's best in customer support performance and loyalty:

Tell a compelling story. Every organization needs to know why they should pay attention to customer feedback. Information that clearly demonstrates how understanding the customers' needs and then meeting those needs can impact the business is of immeasurable value.

A compelling story can be easier to tell when there is an immediate need for action. If a company has been performing well but customer performance ratings are starting to decline, it should be pretty simple to get the organization's attention.

Gain support from senior staff. Only when a company's senior executive team is on board can that company truly embrace customer loyalty and reaffirm a commitment to making CRM a central part of the way they do business. Data specific to functional areas within the company helps ensure this engagement.

The leader of any functional organization will be on guard should feedback point to his/her organization as the performance ratings laggard. The support of a senior VP for a functional area that is having problems is critical when engaging that function's employees to change.

Communication is key. Sometimes CRM officers forget that what they know isn't familiar to everyone else in the organization. While a CRM officer is the best one to share critical customer feedback with senior staff, and generally has the passion to ensure it's compelling, the best people to communicate that information to the rest of the organization are the senior staff.

When the company's general manager delivers a message on customer support the organization will be much more engaged and willing to act. There are many valuable methods for delivering this information—company meetings, newsletters, online communications and industry articles are only a few.

Actionable data is the only kind that counts. Collecting data is one thing; having it be actionable is something else entirely. Many organizations collect feedback from customers, but it's the nuggets of information that point to clear action steps that are truly of value.

Actionable data is even more important when a company's performance starts to lag. Sometimes a change in the market alters customer perceptions and needs. CRM managers need to remain vigilant watching for market changes and their potential impact.

Partner with industry analysts. The most effective data collection and analysis techniques include internal data paired with data from external resources (such as third-party analysts). Sometimes trends can be noted in one data set over the other. That correlated with more specific research can help point to options that allow a company to turnaround sagging ratings.

Review processes. Performance often sags when there's a breakdown in processes, or the process no longer fits the market need. Frequently, independent audits are a quicker way for a company to put its finger on today's problem and quickly steer the entire organization to address new market realities.

Stay true to the vision. An organization's changes in response to market data must be vetted first against what the company is and what it says it does. New initiatives will only be successful if they fit within the bigger framework of what the company stands for.

It's highly likely meeting customer needs is part of any company's vision. But how exactly that's accomplished may require some additional thought. Actions should result in a strengthening of the company's perception in the market—not cause confusion.

These pointers are all validated through recent experience. Toshiba America Medical Systems, a provider of diagnostic imaging systems (and the author's company), maintained the number one rating in customer satisfaction for its flagship product line for over six years, as measured by independent analyst MD Buyline.

Two years ago, however, the ratings started to decline, with Toshiba eventually sharing the number one rating with a competitor. A cross-functional team took a deeper look at the company's processes and performance, conducted an independent audit, and employed the techniques listed above.

Today Toshiba is again several points ahead of the closest competitor and is rated significantly above the average in every performance category. Most important, the company's market share has continued to grow despite an economic downturn.

The question now is, will your own company follow suit?

Catherine Wolfe is director of marketing services for Toshiba America Medical Systems. She has spoken at industry conferences and is the author of several published articles on customer relationship management topics.