How to Measure and Increase Customer Satisfaction

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business man consulting with happy customer

Increasing customer satisfaction means keeping more customers, and making it easier to acquire new ones. But that doesn’t mean that measuring—and increasing—customer satisfaction is easy.

Improving customer service isn’t just a feel-good thing. Happy customers drive revenue. Conversely, bad service can decrease profits. Poor service has caused half of American consumers to give up on a purchase, and driven one-third of customers to a competitor’s business. Studies have also shown that increasing customer loyalty by as little as 5% can grow profits up to 95%.

From the right metrics to using templates effectively, monitoring your customer satisfaction rates can make a big difference to your organization’s customer retention, overall growth, and bottom line. And in this simple guide, we’ll walk you through what to measure, what matters, and how your customer support team can be efficient yet personal.

Customer satisfaction takes more than quicker responses times

For starters, it can seem like the easiest solution is just to make sure that your team’s customer response times are getting faster. But speed doesn’t necessarily translate to increased satisfaction. Yes, customers want a timely response. More importantly, though, customers want their issue fully resolved—and they want to know that they’ve been treated like a person, not just another support ticket.

“Faster response times are important. Very few people like to wait longer for an answer,” says Sean Serrels, director of Customer Advocacy at Palo Alto Software. “However, even more important than a fast response is an accurate and useful response. After all, who cares if you got an answer in 10 seconds if the answer misses the mark?”

Or worse yet, if someone sends an email response that conflicts with another response. Ultimately, solid customer service that leads to satisfied customers takes finding your team’s balance of being as comprehensive, accurate, and helpful as possible—as quickly as possible.

Use templates but keep a personal touch

A good first step to improving response times and customer satisfaction is making sure your team has access to a library of template responses, as well as the understanding and training to customize those templates effectively.

For example, let’s say that your favorite team email lets you maximize the power of templates to standardize replies and more quickly respond to inquiries. Templates are great. We are big fans of templates. However, too much boilerplate copy can annoy customers, because they can tell when a message is impersonal.

“While improper use of templates can contribute to a negative outcome, I believe that they’re really necessary for providing good support,” says Sean. ”We have a team of six level-one customer advocates that handle between 2,000 to 3,000 tickets per month. If the team had to hand-type every answer, we couldn’t handle a tenth of that volume. Beyond enabling your agents to be more efficient, templates (of some sort) help your team to ‘speak with one voice.’”

Impersonal never feels fast. It just feels like a brush-off. Being fast without making sure you fully understand the customer’s issue will likely result in resolution taking longer.

Here are 5 ways to help your team get the job done right the first time around, with templates:

  1. Make sure you fully understand the inquiry or issue.
  2. Ask follow-up questions as needed, and note that you need some additional information so you can make things right.
  3. Restate the customer’s problem so they know you are listening and that you understand their issue.
  4. Empathize. Use warm, personal language and tone that shows you are helping and are on their side.
  5. Use templates to keep messaging consistent, but personalize according to the customer and situation.

“The approach that we’ve taken is creating snippets instead of templates,” explains Sean. “The snippets are written to flow together and to be used piecemeal, rather than as a template with a complete email message. This allows our customer advocates to use just the pieces they need and to customize the rest of the reply. This results in messages that use the same ‘voice’ to impart the same information, but each advocate’s message can be delivered with their own personal ‘style.’”

How and when to ask for feedback

Customers need to let you know how satisfied they were with your customer support. But when—and how—should you ask?

“You should ask for feedback only after you’re certain that the question has been fully answered or the issue has been fully resolved,” says Sean. “Asking for customer feedback before the question is answered or the issue is resolved almost always results in negative feedback from the customer.”

Once you’ve resolved the customer’s support issue, have a brief survey email ready to go. Make the feedback form fast too. Getting an answer to a quick question or two is far better than no response at all. For example, ask:

  1. When coming to us with your recent problem, was your interaction pleasant or uncomfortable??
  2. Did we fully resolve the problem?
  3. What else would you like to tell us about your experience with our customer service team?

Remember, you may never get enough responses from a wide enough spectrum of customers to form a fully representative impression of how customers perceive your customer service. Odds are most of your responses will come from the people who feel they’ve had the best or worst support experiences. That’s neither good nor bad, but it is a good reminder that no matter what you measure, keep the results in context.

What metrics matter, and what do they mean?

Beyond some up-or-down basic satisfaction surveys, every organization also has to figure out what quantitative metrics they need to monitor, what the numbers mean, and how to use the results to help the team improve.

For example, Palo Alto’s Customer Advocacy Team reports internally on their customer satisfaction percentage (it’s in the 90s, by the way, but the team is always working on how to do better). Sean Serrels and the team also implement, review, and update specific training for the team to try to increase satisfaction on more technical or difficult calls.

There’s no shortage of acronyms that represent the various slices and dices of every potential aspect of a customer service interaction. And, no one report fits every organization. Ultimately you will have to figure out the best mix of metrics to monitor. Figuring out what to track can feel overwhelming—but fear not, says Sean.

“First and foremost, survey your customers for their feedback on their experience with your team. This metric above all else should be your bar for success,” he says. “When trying to move that bar, there are many helpful metrics, but the most helpful thing (even beyond metrics) is any comments you receive when you gather that feedback. Comments gathered from customer satisfaction feedback can help you garner whether the issue is training related, staffing related, or a different systemic problem.”

Here are four other key metrics—or issues beyond the numbers—that Sean says are best to keep an eye on:

1. Identify and address any training or staffing issues

Do you have enough people—and are they the right people? Are you using the right hardware and software for the job, and is everyone trained on the technical and psychological skillsets they need to be effective?

2. Assess your “first reply” times

How much time passes between receiving a support inquiry and a team member reaching out? What is the optimum response timeframe? Is your team operating within that timeframe, and if not,  where specifically can you make improvements? “Try to keep this metric as low as possible while still delivering a good initial reply to the customer’s question or issue,” says Sean.

3. Examine “full resolution” times

How much time did it take to bring the issue to a full resolution? “Sometimes this number will match the first reply time, and that’s great as it means your initial reply fully answered the question,” says Sean. “Sometimes the customer will have follow-up questions so that they can understand the initial answer, or perhaps they didn’t provide enough information in their initial query to provide a direct answer. So the full resolution time is a measure of how long it takes to get to a satisfactory end result.”

4. Look at total number of replies

How much back and forth did it take to resolve the issue? Could there have been fewer replies? Should there have been more?

“Number of replies is a measure of the interaction above, and it’s also called ‘Ticket Reopens’ by many ticketing systems,” explains Sean. “It’s a count of how many interactions it takes to get the conversation to a ’fully resolved’ status. The lower you can get this metric the better, as you don’t want your customers to feel like they’re wasting time going back and forth via email.”

The main thing is to monitor only the metrics that align with your business goals, and that you and your team can use to make real service improvements.

5 things you can do now to improve customer satisfaction

When it comes to increasing customer satisfaction with your organization, every team will need to take a different approach. Here are things that Sean says he and the Palo Alto team have found the most useful—and odds are you can quickly put some of them to work in your organization.

Encourage constant team communication

“The Customer Advocates here at Palo Alto Software talk, ALL-THE-TIME,” says Sean. “We encourage that. As a matter of fact, if we walk into the CAT area and it’s quiet, we wonder if something is wrong.”

Maintain a well-balanced team

“When hiring we try to find candidates that have what the team is lacking,” says Sean. “If the team is heavy on emotional intelligence, empathy, and soft skills, we try to find heavy technical candidates and vice versa. Having a diverse team means that they can lean on each other’s strengths.”

Foster open communication

“Differing points of view gives us the best chance of handling complex questions or problems,” explains Sean, “but that only works if the team is communicating with one another.”

Get regular feedback from team members

“We make it a point to talk to every member of the team individually at least bi-weekly about their overall performance and see how we can help them overcome challenges,” says Sean. “When there’s bad feedback from a customer interaction, we immediately communicate that back to the advocate so that they can learn and follow up. We have a weekly team meeting where we discuss our current goals and challenges, and we do continuing education to improve customer satisfaction.”

Know where customer feedback came from

“When surveying our customers for their satisfaction we ’categorize’ where that feedback originated,” explains Sean. “If we received negative feedback from a customer talking about the LivePlan Dashboard, we track that. If we get a lot of negative feedback from our support in that area of the product, it informs us that we need more training around that feature. Having a good idea of where negative feedback is coming from is key to improving your training to provide better product support which, in turn, improves customer satisfaction.”

Better customer service and company performance are within your team’s reach

Figuring out how much customers are satisfied with your service and overall business isn’t always easy. However, by putting the tips above to work, you can figure out the right things to track, improve your team’s performance, and help your organization provide better service. And all that adds up to a more customer-friendly company, that is more likely to retain customers and see stronger performance on the bottom line.

The alternative? In today’s fast-paced, competitive world, there isn’t one.

“As customer service capabilities evolve, so too must our approach to how we treat our customers,” says Sean. “Without all the customer context, you’ll never know how much you stand to gain by putting your customers’ needs first. Instead of driving revenue, you’ll just be answering the phone.”

Posted in Customer Service

Anthony St. Clair

Anthony St. Clair

Anthony St. Clair is a business copywriter, author of the Rucksack Universe travel fantasy series, and a craft beer writer specializing in Oregon. Learn more at anthonystclair.com.