Satisfaction surveys are rife. From hotel stays to meals in restaurants, booking train tickets to searching comparison sites — as a consumer, you can barely get through a day anymore without someone asking about your customer experience and likelihood to recommend them to a friend.
The merits or pitfalls of this constant quest for consumer satisfaction data could be debated all day, but I’m not going to because (thankfully) B2B is different. Here, customer satisfaction measures are normally less frequent and more bespoke, with programmes typically conducted anywhere from quarterly to biennially.
What is lost in the ability to monitor performance in real-time is compensated by the ability to absorb and act on feedback in a meaningful way to drive organisational change. But to do so, it’s critical that significant attention goes into the programme design. Here are four key tips.
1. Start internally within the business
There’s three reasons to do this. Firstly, B2B relationships can be highly complex — it’s not unusual for customers to interact with multiple different products, services, and teams across the business. Understanding the dynamics of these various different relationships is a crucial step in designing a great customer satisfaction research programme, and the best way to do this is to engage your various internal stakeholders.
Secondly, there’s a good chance you’ll need to win over account managers. Whilst centralised CRM systems are slowly becoming more common, account managers still hold the keys to customer data in many B2B businesses. If you want to use it, you need to win their trust. This isn’t unreasonable — we’re talking about client relationships that have often been carefully nurtured over a number of years. Demonstrating that you can be relied upon to enhance (not jeopardise) the relationships isn’t just understandable, it’s to be expected.
Thirdly, it helps to get buy-in to the results. If key stakeholders who need to act on results have been excluded at the design stage, there’ll always be a reason to doubt the outcomes — after all, of course ‘you didn’t ask the right questions.’ Engaging these people from the beginning ensures ownership of the research programme and therefore a much higher likelihood to act on the findings.
2. Commit to customers
Yes, prize draws, charity donations, and incentive payments can work with B2B respondents. But what they value more is knowledge and commitment. ‘Partnership’ is an overused word in B2B relationships, but nevertheless I’m going to use it here because in essence this is what customers are looking for from customer satisfaction research — not a load of commoditised questions that lead nowhere, but a sense that the business is committed to taking their feedback seriously, acting upon it to improve the relationship, and sharing the outcomes with them.
A pledge from a senior business leader that if you take part (i) we will share key findings with you and (ii) we will commit to updating you on our actions and progress as we endeavour to make things better, goes a long way to buying goodwill and participation in the programme.
But of course, if you promise it… you need to make sure you deliver!
3. Deep-dive strategically important relationships
Unlike consumer markets, the 80-20 rule in B2B (a rule of thumb stating that around 80% of revenues typically come from your top 20% of customers) means that ultimately some customers’ views do matter more than others (at least according to the CFO!).
There’s a couple of ways you can take this into account. The first is weighting survey results, but I’m not a personal fan of this. Whilst giving a customer a 20x weighting to signify their commercial importance might work in practice, it typically just adds complexity and confusion for internal stakeholders trying to understand the results.
Instead, I much prefer deep-dives: picking a handful of key customer relationships, gathering feedback from a variety of personnel at that customer organisation (either quantitatively or qualitatively), and producing standalone deliverables on the health of that specific account.
This does of course require respondents to be willing to waive anonymity, but, approached correctly, most B2B customers normally are. And, most importantly, it’s a much better way to support how the findings will ultimately be used by the business:
- Aggregated results driving overall strategy
- Key account teams focusing on the most strategically important relationships
4. Align to revenues
Demonstrating the link between research and commercial performance is a critical — but too often overlooked or failed — ambition. Yet B2B customer satisfaction surveys should do just that. By linking actual spend data on customers to their survey results, definitive links can be drawn between satisfaction levels and spend, providing clear evidence on the most important areas for prioritisation in the business.
For example, have you ever reviewed customer satisfaction results and tried in vain to persuade the business that, e.g., we really need to invest in a mobile app? The data may suggest this is what customers want… but is it really worth it?
Now imagine you have the commercial facts to support the decision. Customers who are very satisfied with the online experience spend on average five times as much with us as those who are dissatisfied. And those who are dissatisfied are clear — they want a mobile app. No longer is it a theoretical opportunity, now it’s one that you can tie to an exact revenue growth figure — four times the combined spend of those currently dissatisfied to be exact.
Who could argue with investing now?
In these four fairly simple steps, you can turn dry B2B customer satisfaction programmes, disregarded with contempt by internal stakeholders and customers alike, into targeted, engaging programmes that empower internal teams and in themselves strengthen customer relationships.
About Graeme Cade
Holding Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Engineering from the University of Cambridge, Graeme began his working career at engineering consultancy, Arup, working on the design of landmarks including the London 2012 Aquatic Centre and One New Change. Graeme then moved to a boutique strategy consultancy, specialising in running Strategic Planning (STRAP) workshops before joining B2B market research consultancy, Circle Research, in 2013. Now a Client Director at Circle Research, Graeme determines overall company strategy as part of the Senior Management Team, oversees key client relationships, and leads a team of consultants. Graeme is a regular speaker at industry events including the MRS/BIG B2B Research Conference, the Insight Show, the Print and Digital Research Forum, and ESOMAR events. He was named ‘Newcomer of the Year’ at the MRS Awards 2016 for his contributions to the market research industry.
About Circle Research
Circle Research is a specialist business-to-business market research consultancy providing full service solutions to global clients from their London headquarters. Circle Research was named ‘Agency of the Year’ at the MRS Awards 2016.