After a week of globetrotting, Nick Hague reflects on his experiences to explain how a good questionnaire can be the first step in achieving satisfied – or, even better, delighted – customers.
As I sat at Heathrow Airport on Monday evening waiting for a connecting flight to Athens, I was confronted by a lady wanting to ask me a few quick questions about my experience of T5. My flight had been delayed but the gate was about to been called. However, since it was a ‘short survey’ I said I would help. She asked me the usual questions about shops, eateries, toilets and spaces to sit and relax, but since I wasn’t looking to shop, I had already eaten a sandwich on the previous flight and was on a quick turnaround on my connection, none of the questions were relevant to me. It would have been good if I had chance to freely say that I am always deeply frustrated with the lack of plug sockets near seating areas in airports to allow business travelers to charge their ever-depleting laptop batteries for the forthcoming flights, but this highly structured questionnaire didn’t allow such feedback. I was now being called to the gate and so it won’t surprise you that I rattled my answers off without much thought.
I then boarded the plane for the usual humdrum flight experience in cramped surroundings with little space to stretch out, never mind get some work done! However, on this occasion I was wrong to think this way as one of the air stewards must have seen my discomfort and, once airborne, I was offered the chance to move to one of the exit seats where I would have more room. That was very perceptive I thought! It was now a few hours since I had eaten and I was getting hungry. I predicted that the usual dried out meal would be as exciting as ever and would be washed down by the accustomed cheap wine – nonetheless, it would at least curb the onset of my hunger. Then the second thing that I wasn’t expecting happened – I was given a palatable meal but with the usual cheap plonk. I didn’t complain (it isn’t in the English nature) but my face must have spoken a thousand words. The air steward fittingly came back with a very nice Argentinean red – wow I thought! Now I know in-flight entertainment isn’t anything new but I had flown to Athens before and never had a movie, but as I tucked into my meal it came across the speakers that tonight’s movie would be ‘The Blind Side’. I had just read some good reviews on this movie and so sat back and relaxed to watch it. After 3½ hours I arrived in Athens at 1am and realized that even though I was a little bleary eyed, I had in fact enjoyed my flight!
The next morning when I vacated my hotel and was waiting for my taxi, I was given a feedback form that asked me about my satisfaction with the courteousness of the staff, the speed of check-in, my bed, the temperature of the room, the amenities (pool, bar etc) and breakfast. I noticed that there wasn’t a question about being kept up all night by the traffic outside my window or for the fact that I didn’t have an iron in my room to iron my creased shirt and trousers for my impending meeting. Like at Heathrow, I had to dash off a response as my taxi was waiting – however, I did point out to the receptionist that there was no scope for me to add comment to the form outside of the tick box questions.
That same evening I then boarded my plane home. With vivid memories of my inbound flight I quietly looked forward to my flight back to the UK. However, I should have known better. We boarded with the usual German efficiency (row numbers at a time) and we even set off on time (unlike my flight the previous day), but yes, you guessed it. I had a cramped seat, the meal was a dried sandwich, the wine was like vinegar and there was no movie!
Since there was no movie, it did at least give me time to pen my looming Thursday Night Insight piece. Thinking back over the last couple of days’ events, it hit home to me what the difference was between customer satisfaction, delighting customers and customer loyalty. Was I satisfied with my flight back from Athens; yes, it got me back without crashing and on time. However, was I delighted; no, and if I ever have a choice again I will definitely choose a different airline. My reflective time also allowed me to think back to the surveys I took part in at the airport and the hotel and emphasized the importance of not only asking the right questions but also picking the right time so respondents are in the right frame of mind to answer them properly.
The market research industry is probably its own worst enemy at times and latest thoughts often swing from one extreme to another. Either questionnaires are designed so detailed to get to the heart of what customers think that you run the risk of not surveying the busy but important customer; or with the desire for simplicity becoming worldwide, does a CSI (Customer Satisfaction Index) or NPS (Net Promoter Score) oversimplify things and not actually mean anything other than a number used for internal benchmarking?
All researchers like their lists and so here are my 5 top tips from this week’s experience to take into account when designing a customer satisfaction or customer loyalty project:
- Tip number 1: Make sure you allow scope to get feedback on what really matters. Therefore always try and build in a qualitative stage upfront so you can design your quantitative questionnaire with confidence. If budget and timings don’t allow for a qualitative stage, make sure you allow for scope within the questionnaire for open-ended answers so respondents aren’t infuriated in not being able to give their fullest answers.
- Tip number 2: Don’t use fancy vocabulary or at least use layman’s language (qualitative research can also help to validate how customers think and speak in this area). By way of example, the questionnaire from my hotel in Athens asked about housekeeping. Should they not have asked about cleanliness and comfort in the room to make it more understandable to a wider audience?
- Tip number 3: Don’t just look to understand what satisfies customers. Design your questionnaire to look at what delights customers as this will drive loyalty and therefore drive upwards profitability.
- Tip number 4: Use a research design that allows for a range of customers to be interviewed; not just the extremes of customers who are either highly satisfied or have an axe to grind, and make sure you don’t just analyse stated answers. Using statistical tools can help you infer what is really important to customers and therefore driving customer satisfaction.
- Tip number 5: Make sure the survey design is fitting to the marketplace you are looking to get information from. If you only have a couple of minutes, ask the really important questions only. If the respondent will have more time, design a wider ranging survey that looks to get to the crux of the matter (and make sure it is at a convenient time to collect the most thorough information you are looking for).
To conclude, in designing customer satisfaction and loyalty surveys I think we should all remind ourselves of the words of Albert Einstein “Things should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler” – but remember; it can be the simple things in life that can actually delight your customer.
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