Voice of Customer – do you speak “customerese”? (4)

16 September 2015

Part 4: Survey methods – Do you hear “customerese”?

The measurement of customer expectations and customer satisfaction is an essential prerequisite for targeted quality management. In our periodi-cally published series “Voice of Customer” we provide an overview of the most important methodological aspects. In the upcoming issues, we will take a closer look at planning a customer satisfaction survey. The present article deals with the advantages and disadvantages of various survey methods for collecting customer feedback.

Imagine you are director of marketing in a large B2B company and top management entrusts you with the task of setting up a systematic customer satisfaction analysis for the next strategy period. Now you are about to decide which method to use for data collection. First of all, two aspects should be clarified in advance: Which objectives do you intend to pursue with the analysis? And: which survey method will provide the reliability, validity and depth of content required to answer all subsequent core questions in a satisfactory manner?

The following survey methods are the main ones to be considered:
• Face-to-face interview: customer survey on site in a personal interview, optionally also carried out as a computer-assisted interview (CAPI).
• Telephone interview: customer survey conducted in a personal interview via telephone, often carried out as a computer-assisted interview (CATI).
• Online survey (CAWI): the customer receives login access information for an online form (e.g. a link via email) that he fills in himself.
• Paper and pencil questionnaire (PAPI): the customer receives a paper questionnaire (e.g. by mail) that he fills in himself and returns.
• Focus group: A moderator interviews a group of several customers jointly, using a discussion guideline. The communication within the group and the negotiations involved in formulating of the answers are recorded.

The table on the next page provides an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of the different survey methods, using selected criteria which have proved relevant for deciding upon the appropriate method in practice.

Which is the optimal method depends upon the selection criteria assigned the greatest importance weighting for the planned survey at hand (e.g. costs, depth of information, objectivity, response rate), and as well upon the framework and conditions of the project (e.g. urgency, cost restrictions, required contents). Keep in mind that in B2B there are usually very small total populations. Also, a deep, long-term relationship often exists between company and customers in B2B. This needs to be taken into account when choosing the survey method.
In terms of practicality, validity and depth of content, personal interviews and in particular telephone interviews have proved highly useful: Their applicability covers all the requirements that usually occur in B2B customer surveys. Most importantly, the achieved level of detail enables a highly target-oriented derivation of recommendations for action. The most intensive, deep-dive discussions are achieved in face-to-face interviews. In addition, their use reflects the personal esteem in which the interviewee is held and should therefore be considered at least for key customers.

Online surveys are a budget alternative, enabling us to address a broad mass of customers or even to conduct a full sample survey. Although the range of questions suitable for use in online questionnaires is limited, these surveys may be entirely sufficient to deliver the answers sought to certain core questions. In the end, it is the balance of advantages and disadvantages that matters: low response rates (sometimes below 10%), low control of the sampling structure (e.g. participant shares per country), participants’ acceptance of only short time frames to complete the survey (about 10 minutes), restriction to use of mainly closed-ended questions and no scope for clarification. The use of paper questionnaires is rather uncommon. The method may be quite suitable for internal or employee surveys. However, in customer surveys it is used almost exclusively in those cases where the target group is difficult to reach via email or phone.

As an alternative to collecting direct customer feedback, there exists the possibility of indirect evaluation based on a systematic analysis of secondary sources such as company-internal customer statistics. These often contain critical customer feedback collected via complaint management, and thus enable the identification of current shortcomings. Used as sole source, these data provide a very limited perspective on the company based on the perception of a (hopefully) small group of dissatisfied customers. Used as a source to prepare a direct survey, however, they can raise awareness of key pain points of the customers. Similarly, because of its small sample sizes, the use of moderated focus groups is not suitable for gaining a representative picture of the current perception of the company in the market. However, due to the depth of the discussion, the method may be suitable for a pre-study in order to identify relevant aspects of customer loyalty and to derive hypotheses about critical factors.

Have you missed any of the previous articles in our Voice of Customer series? Please visit our website: here you will find all related articles published so far in the News section.

© Schlegel und Partner 2015
Your contact person
Dr. Helmut Weldle
Director Methods and Communication

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