Agency SelectionCustomer InsightsCustomer Satisfaction & LoyaltyCustomer SurveysMarket ResearchMicro TopicsQualitative Research

Planning Your First Customer Satisfaction Research Project?

Are you planning your first Customer Satisfaction project? If so, please take a moment and check all that apply (well, mentally anyway):

– I feel confused by all of the different methodology recommendations I am getting
– I feel a bit stunned by some of the proposed budgets
– I am wondering how my organization will actually use the results when the project is done
– I am worried that I don’t know enough to anticipate likely roadblocks

If some or all of these statements apply to you, don’t worry. These are perfectly common concerns, and just show that you are thinking carefully about the realities of conducting a customer satisfaction project.

So to help you get started, I’ll address some of these items briefly.

What methodology will be best?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Lots of methods can be used (including various qualitative and quantitative ones).  Your best mix will be selected based on:

  • How you plan to use the research results. For example, a design meant to provide inputs to executive bonus calculations will be different than one designed primarily to inform organizational performance goals. In fact, any consultant or sales person who tells you their approach is the only legitimate one is only interested in sales—not insights.
  • Your customer base. Its size, profile and geographic distribution all come into play. A customer sat (and yes, that is the vernacular) project designed for a consumer goods manufacturer in a highly competitive market with millions of customers worldwide will not be the same as one for a B2B software company with a primarily US-based client base of 500.
  • Your budget. Yes, I said it. Any customer sat project can be designed (or, over-designed) to the tune of hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. But maybe your budget is limited. If your budget is $50,000, or even $20,000, options exist. Not all research firms will be interested (some are operationally optimized for larger studies), but plenty will be. Be honest about your budget limits and you will get appropriate proposals.

How will my organization use the final results?

The most common real-world uses of customer sat data are:

  • To set and track organizational performance goals. For example, a company may have as a stated goal, “80% of customers report they will buy from us again in the next 6 months.” (Of course, just because 80% say they will, doesn’t mean 80% will in reality. Still, the fact they think they will is important).
  • To generate inputs for executive bonus calculations.
  • To identify opportunities for innovation (sometimes based on areas of customer dissatisfaction)
  • To identify which customer touch points most directly predict loyalty behaviors (such as repeat purchasing and positive word of mouth); this creates a prioritized list of areas for improvement, optimized for the most impact.

What roadblocks will I likely encounter?

Short answer: a bunch. But the single most common issue is sample source. Do you really have a list of customers you can recruit to participate? Do you have other direct access to qualified customers? If you do, great. But a surprising number of companies do not.  I have worked with some really big clients, and some have had pitifully poor customer lists.  And since this is a customer sat project, you do need access to valid, qualified customers.

Here are 2 problems I have seen many times each:

  • B2B companies that realize their lists a) are out of date (more than 10% of the names/phone numbers/email addresses are incorrect) b) have bad contact info (the customer sat survey needs to be of people who use the product, but the list is comprised of purchasing agents who buy, but do not use). Result? Significant delays and budget overruns.
  • Consumer companies that overestimate the feasibility of using purchased lists to reach their customers. The result? Significant budget overruns.

Want More?

If you’d like a little more of an introduction to planning your first customer sat research project, please check out this 10 minute video on YouTube: Research Rockstar on YouTube.

Or, for a 53-minute, comprehensive introduction, check out this link to the Research Rockstar store: Store Link.

[Any questions or comments? Leave them here or call the blog requests line at 508.691.6004. Thanks!]


Kathryn Korostoff

Kathryn Korostoff is founder and lead instructor at Research Rockstar. Over the past 25 years, she has personally directed more than 600 primary market research projects and published over 100 bylined articles in magazines. She is also a professor at Boston University, where she teaches grad students how to analyze and report quantitative data.

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3 thoughts on “Planning Your First Customer Satisfaction Research Project?”

  1. Great points, especially about the importance of up-to-date customer lists. Despite the rise of CRM systems, too many B2B companies do a poor job of managing their list of actual customers.

    Back when we were primarily a consulting business, we did an annual face-to-face survey of major accounts for a telco. Every year they would get started a month or two late because of difficulty updating the list. The list would have names of past customers, purchasing agents instead of users, and so on. The annual study would end up in a mad rush to the finish in November as we let them know that once again we were not hitting our quota due to list quality.

    Jeffrey Henning

  2. I’ve been there, Jeff! I do feel bad for the market research manager who is dependent on list quality coming from other departments. And I just want folks to know what is reasonable or unreasonable: we can’t expect the research agency to get things done on time if 10% of the list is bad.

    Thanks for the comment, Jeff!

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