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Angry and Bored? You Must Be a Customer

Finding out what customers really think is a crucial first step toward an improved bottom line. New technology may help.

Apple Federal Credit Union, a DigitalMailer client, purchased the online-survey tool as an adjunct to its more traditional market research. “I needed an inexpensive way to get a timely response from our members,” says Chris Cooper, CFO of the Fairfax, Virginia-based credit union. “This is an excellent and low-cost tool to supplement our traditional [and more comprehensive] market-research surveys.”

One benefit of online surveys is that their cost and simplicity allow business units to take control. At Apple Federal, for example, department heads identify problems affecting various customer segments and create surveys using the question library that is part of the software. At any given time there may be four or more such surveys under way, which would be prohibitively expensive if handled by mail or phone. Sometimes the results translate into immediate savings; Cooper says that the WebSurveyor tool (used in an online-form capacity) helped Apple facilitate migrating the majority of its online banking members to E-statements, which is expected to save the credit union more than $7,500 per month.

Online surveys offer speed and convenience to both the companies creating them and the customers responding to them. But that power can lead to abuse. Piotroski says companies must respect the patience levels of core customers. “The promise of continuous customer feedback could erode if people are constantly being surveyed,” she says. Timing is everything. “Typically, an optimum period is right after a service interaction or a transaction, when the experience is fresh in the customer’s mind.” But beware the temptation to “use surveys to constantly ask, ‘How’m I doin’?'” she says, “because that can easily backfire.”

Gartner’s Kolsky cites another potential drawback. “You need to avoid data overload, where you’ve accumulated so much data on the customer that you lose the sense of what it all means.” He suggests that clients set up a committee that decides when various customer segments will be surveyed, and agrees with Piotroski that companies have to be judicious in their solicitation of customer feedback. Sometimes the key to boosting customer demand is to make no demands of your own.

Russ Banham is a contributing editor of CFO.

On a Scale of 1 to 5…

Surveying the World of Surveys

Divining how satisfied customers are (or aren’t) with your company’s product or service is a major driver behind Enterprise Feedback Management, but the technology can provide a useful platform for other kinds of surveys as well, including:

  • HR processes (internal customer satisfaction). Human-resources surveys are usually administered to all employees in an organization or to specific groups (for example, help-desk users) to monitor their feelings about the organization, specific processes, and overall changes they’d like to see adopted.
  • Market research. Similar to customer satisfaction, but with a focus on future products or services and likely to involve multiple collection channels.
  • Process enhancement. A newer use that helps companies monitor processes that require consensus or periodic reporting; emphasis is on data collection, reporting, and storage and retrieval of results.
  • Compliance. Used to track quality-dependent certification processes (Six Sigma, ISO9XXX, help-desk certifications) that require that periodic monitoring and quality assurance steps be completed on time and properly.


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