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Customer Satisfaction

by Jennifer L. Nelson

When measuring customer happiness, developing a loyal customer base has innumerable benefits.

For most businesses, success revolves not only around clinching that one-time sale, but also in developing customer loyalty and earning repeat business.

That’s why South Jersey businesses are wisely investing their resources into both time-tested methods of measuring customer satisfaction—like surveys, interviews and mystery shops—along with efforts to nurture long-term relationships with customers and clients via social media outlets.

Thanks to today’s competitive business climate, South Jersey-based marketing firms say it’s even more crucial for businesses of all sizes to ensure customers are satisfied with their product or service—otherwise, they’ll simply take their business elsewhere.

“The impact on your business is absolutely critical; if you don’t know your customers, then you’re not going to be able to develop a product or service that meets their needs and will be successful in the marketplace,” says Gene Principato, president of The Marketing Difference in Mount Laurel.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways for businesses to put their finger on the pulse of their customers’ needs and wants, and, in turn, develop customer loyalty.

When it comes to measuring customer satisfaction, businesses of all sizes continue to rely on requesting feedback through resources like the customer survey. The Internet has transformed the ease and speed by which companies can communicate with their potential and current clients. Online surveys don’t require mailing supplies or postage fees, and the turnaround time for responses is significantly faster.

“Measuring customer satisfaction is pretty basic: If you want to know if your customers are happy—or how your company can improve its brand, product or service—you just have to ask,” asserts Lynn Pechinski, president of 1st Straw Marketing and Promotions in Medford.

When working with her clients, Pechinski credits the tried-and-true customer satisfaction survey as one of the ideal methods to collect data.

“Whether the goal is lead conversion or customer retention, there always has to be metrics in place,” Pechinski says. “A survey can help businesses focus on certain areas, like customer service, product quality or on-time delivery, and give them a clear idea of exactly which areas need improvement.”

When crafting surveys, businesses must also consider whether the goal of their research is ultimately to measure their customers’ level of satisfaction with the company’s product or service, or to acquire a deeper understanding of their customers’ needs, which is often done when looking to grow the business or develop new products. “The research techniques are similar, but the questions you ask are going to be different when you’re trying to understand and meet your customers’ needs as opposed to asking them if they’re satisfied with your service,” Principato explains.

Headquartered in Mount Laurel, Fulton Bank of New Jersey relies on data collected from an annual overall retail satisfaction survey, in addition to surveys that focus on other areas, such as commercial, mortgage and financial advising. According to JoBeth Mauriello, senior vice president and director of client services, the organization also conducts phone interviews and mystery shops throughout its branch network. “We want customers to be happy and satisfied with the service we provide, but we also want to know how that translates into their willingness to refer us to their friends and family members,” she explains.

Firms like Imprinsic Marketing Group in Haddonfield also conduct phone interviews with their clients’ customers, often targeting those that have ceased purchasing the company’s product or service. “Phone interviews gauge very specific data very quickly, so our clients learn what went wrong and how they can fix it while rebuilding that relationship,” explains Matthew Steffen, company president.

“Another primary benefit as you move from a mailed survey to an interview is that whether you’re talking in person or on the phone, you can ask follow-up questions,” Principato adds.

For businesses wanting to dig even deeper, they can connect with marketing firms that specialize in mystery shops to experience their product or service through the eyes of an actual customer. “Whether you’re a retail store, a hotel or a restaurant, you’re concerned with the same issues: Are employees friendly and helpful, knowledgeable, and effectively selling the product?” says Judith Ann Hess, president of Customer Perspectives, which performs mystery shop services for several banks headquartered in South Jersey in addition to retailers with locations throughout the region.

In some cases, companies may be well-served to combine feedback gleaned from social media websites like Facebook or review-based sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor to create an even more strategic mystery shop experience. Coyle Hospitality Group, which focuses on mystery shopping and quality assurance for several South Jersey hotels and restaurants, often works with clients to design custom mystery shops that can address any issues that may have turned up in a Google search. “Customers now have access to publicly review businesses online, and mystery shopping offers a business owner the opportunity to investigate exactly where their comments may be coming from,” says Jeff Gurtman, COO and managing director of Coyle Hospitality Group.

In many cases, Coyle says, businesses will use the data to more effectively coach and train members of their staff. “They’re looking to reward good behavior as well as identify areas for improvement.”

As more businesses aim to connect with customers through a computer screen, it’s easy to put too much emphasis on the positive and negative feedback posted on the company’s Facebook wall. However, while experts advise addressing any issues customers may be tweeting about as soon as possible, they warn against relying on social media as a sole measure of customer satisfaction. Instead, it should be used as a tool to build relationships. “It’s no different than approaching a customer in your store and striking up a conversation—it’s all about engagement. If you have a Facebook page but then don’t talk to your customers, your efforts will not matter,” says David Rich, CEO of ICC/Decision Services, which performs mystery shopping at various retailers in the South Jersey region.

“The savvy business owner won’t just log on and advertise their product or service; they’ll use social media to engage, nurture and develop relationships with customers and clients,” Pechinski agrees.

Businesses can use social media not only to pinpoint areas for improvement, but also to inspire ideas for innovative products or new services. “When given a voice, your customers can unlock ideas that may have never even occurred to you,” Mauriello says.

Whether it’s through surveys, phone interviews or mystery shops, experts agree that when it comes to measuring customer satisfaction, ignorance is never bliss. Rich says he has encountered many businesses that are hesitant to engage customers directly in fear of what the results might reveal. “It’s tempting to bury your head in the sand, but you can’t improve what you don’t measure,” he concludes.

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 3, Issue 8 (August, 2013).
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