By Ian Grace

In this electronic age, everyone talks about how important it is to give genuine, excellent customer service to generate and maintain a healthy, profitable business. Sadly, the majority only pay lip service to what is really required. To give great customer service, you need to know what your customers need, want, expect, deserve and demand. How do you find that out? Customer surveys.

I am always dismayed in my sessions when virtually everyone admits they don’t survey their customers, or occasionally they may have done it just as a one-off. I’ve had the good fortune to work with and research some of the best in the world and invariably they have an ongoing survey program in place.

Carl Sewell, author of Customers for Life and the No. 1 Cadillac dealer in the U.S., has a rule that a 90 per cent plus customer service rating is the only acceptable result for his salespeople. A long-term friend took an entire franchise group in North America to a 98 per cent customer service rating and maintained it for 10 years. We can learn a lot from just those two businesses.

Surveying customers doesn’t just mean those who spend money with you. First, survey your most important customers – your support staff and work colleagues. Once you have discovered their wants, needs and problems, then satisfied and solved them, they will be 100 per cent happy, committed and supportive.

Then survey your customers. The results can be quite amazing and sometimes immediate. As an example, a group I was working with in Victoria, Australia achieved 50 new property management contracts purely by sending out a survey.

Their customers thought, “No one else has done this – so these people obviously care (and that is the key word to all genuine customer service), so we’ll give them our other properties to manage as well.” How powerful!

Don’t just rush out and do a one-off, without anyone knowing the results from the survey – the result will be nothing!

These are the steps to follow:
  1. Send the survey – “We would like to give you the best customer service possible and to do that, we need your advice/help.” Ask them how your service has been and how you can improve it.
  2. You can increase the number of replies by offering incentives and/or phoning everyone and offering to take the details over the phone, for those customers who say they don’t have time to complete it in writing or online. Then, thank your entire database for their feedback and suggestions – not just the respondents.
  3. Promise to advise them on the outcome and give the exact date. This is so important! If people have been surveyed and they never find out what happened, they will lose interest, never bother again and you will have gone down in their estimation, even though you felt you were doing something positive.
  4. Reply with the outcome/results before the date given. Tell them what you are doing to respond to their suggestions.
  5. Advise them of the next survey (in three months or six months) – with an exact date, so they will be able to advise you if your service has improved as a result of their suggestions, making them an integral part of the whole process.
  6. Send the next survey before that date – “As promised…”

The added benefit along the way is that you are building a perception that you can be trusted and always keep your promises. Those two little words, “As promised” are very powerful.

Another powerful initiative is to survey your suppliers and treat them as if they were your customers and not the other way around. Again, the results can be quite amazing. Whether it be Carl Sewell in the U.S. or Pick’n’Pay supermarkets in South Africa, once you start suppliers as “suppliers for life”, their intense loyalty gives you a whole new database of potential customers – and of course the people they speak to as well.


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