The Value of Customer Satisfaction at Technology Companies

Virtually everyone in the US and other parts of the world interacts with technology every day-whether in obvious ways, such as surfing the web, or less obvious ways, such as dealing with your phone bill or driving your car.  For example, software is inherently very complex with an almost endless number of points of failure.  Problems can range from a confusing user model to the dreaded blue screen of death.  However, the technology companies that focus on customer satisfaction, and get it right, have a significant competitive advantage and enjoy substantially higher returns.  In our last installment I discussed how firms with better customer satisfaction experienced improved stock performance of 300 to 400%.  Likewise, a 5% increase in customer retention results in a 30% increase in the value of the firm.

So how do technology companies that face the significant customer satisfaction challenges inherent in their businesses improve customer satisfaction?  I propose five steps that technology companies can take to significantly improve customer satisfaction and gain substantial improvement in financial performance.

1. Seek constant feedback and measurement.  In order to have a comprehensive customer satisfaction program, technology companies need constant feedback on how they’re performing and need to establish a baseline measurement.  The following chart shows the most commonly used forms of feedback in use at a broad range of companies.

While these more quantitatively focused survey techniques are useful, they rarely tell the whole story.  Companies need to exploit many other, more personal, qualitative feedback channels.  Senior management needs to regularly meet with customer decision-makers.  A powerful institutional mechanism for feedback is a well functioning, independent user group.  User groups can systematically collect and aggregate extraordinarily useful feedback on company and product performance at relatively low cost.

Qualitative and quantitative data needs to be proactively documented and tracked over time.  But, most importantly, companies need to take appropriate action based on this feedback.  Seeking feedback is usually viewed very positively by customers.  However, companies that fail to act on specific service or product issues will see customer satisfaction plummet relative to where it had been if they hadn’t sought customer feedback in the first place.

2. Establish a customer centric corporate culture.  Many technology companies are notorious for having a corporate culture that treats the customer as an inconvenience at best.  At one company I attended a post-implementation debriefing meeting.  The installation team was asked their view of how the project had gone.  They universally reported the project had gone well and that the installation was successful.  However, when asked how the customer felt, they said the customer was very unhappy.  Clearly the culture of this company was focused on internal rather than customer satisfaction.

“When brand begins to involve the customer, the brand deepens.  When it begins to involve all elements of the enterprise-from employees to processes, procedures, collaboration, and even the environment-then it is culture.” <Need attribution>

Cultural change is a challenge for firms in any industry, but is often most difficult for technology firms.  The more substantive interactions that take place between a broad base of employees and customers the easier this cultural change will be.  Better empathy and understanding are the inevitable result.  These interactions can take place in a variety of venues ranging from involving customers in product design to active participation in user group activities.

3. Establish multiple regular points of contact.  In order to drive improved customer satisfaction and experience, technology companies need to maintain multiple points of contact in the customer organization and in particular, these points of contact need to be at all levels.  One company I was involved with had a very stable and the product was popular with the users.  Customer support at the user level was consistently rated as outstanding.  Nevertheless, this company was in serious danger of significant customer losses.  This company, while maintaining excellent contact at the user level, completely failed to maintain any relationships at the decision-maker level.  Since the applications space was undergoing rapid change, the decision-makers made the assumption that the current vendor was not keeping pace and were actively seeking alternatives they considered more state of the art.  The vendor was not involved at all in helping to influence the strategic direction of the customer.

4. Create multiple opportunities for engagement.  Technology companies need to establish multiple mechanisms through which they can engage customers.  Very effective traditional approaches include advisory boards and user groups.  They range from informal ad hoc customer councils to user advice on specific product developments to formal long-established independent user groups.  More and more technology companies are now using social media and community development techniques either independently or in conjunction with established user groups.

5. Make your company easily accessible.  One of the most frustrating and satisfaction deflating things for customers of technology companies is having a problem and not knowing who to contact or having a contact and getting no response.  I recently had a problem installing a software product from a well-known vendor.  Since it was a large company, I was able to reach someone on the phone.  I was informed, though, that technical support no longer took phone calls and only worked through online chat.  While I was able to resolve the issue, the fact that I could no longer talk to anyone directly creates a significant negative reflection on the company.  Technology companies need to be easily accessible through as many channels as possible-phone, chat, e-mail and in person.  In person can range from a visit by a salesman to local company or user group events.

Technology companies that effectively implement this five step program will be able to accrue the benefits of improved customer satisfaction including improved financial performance, increased sales and reduced expenses.