Voice of the Customer: The Impact on Customer Satisfaction

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Customer satisfaction is a key component of competitive strategies and keeping customers happy is critical to long-term business success. As such, many firms have placed new emphasis on listening to their customers in an effort to better understand them.[1] At leading edge or world class firms, the voice of the customer is not treated passively or left to chance. Such firms actively seek customer input and guidance to better serve their markets.[2,3,4,5,6]

Many firms have instituted total quality management (TQM) programs in recent years. A basic tenet of TQM is that quality begins with or is based upon the customer.[7] One of the primary roles customers play in business relationships is to supply information for their trading partners.[8,9] Communication from customers can help smooth daily business activities, facilitate planning, and reduce problems. Thus, listening to customers is typically part of TQM programs. Among the common techniques used for listening to the customer are surveys (telephone and mail), personal visits/interviews, focus groups, and complaint analysis.[10] This research was undertaken to assess the value of customer-oriented intelligence gathering/feedback processes. Specifically, the research examined the relationship between customer input (i.e., voice of the customer) and customer satisfaction levels.

CUSTOMER SATISFACTION

Customer satisfaction is the customer's after-purchase judgment or evaluation of a specific product or service.[11] Keeping customers happy or satisfied involves day-to-day interactions as well as the consideration of a more global, longitudinal evaluation of performance.[12] Strategic initiatives ideally should incorporate customer satisfaction goals and methods for reaching these goals.

A common way to measure the level of customer satisfaction is to determine the difference between expected or desired quality levels and the actual quality level achieved.[13] The measure pertains to the customer's perceptions of the quality received -- not to the seller's perception. The gap between customers' opinions and the organization's perspective regarding what constitutes the key drivers of customer satisfaction must be bridged in order to increase customer satisfaction.[14]

Benefits associated with customer satisfaction improvements include increased market share, better economic returns/profitability, greater customer loyalty, and less reliance upon intense, price-based competition.[15,16,17,18] Understandably, customer satisfaction has been termed "the only meaningful competitive advantage."[19] Firms are well advised to encourage dialogue and even solicit complaints from customers.[20] Listening to customers can strengthen relationships and encourage loyalty.[21,22]

Identification of relevant dimensions of customer satisfaction is not a straight-forward or simple task. Few buyers can fully explicate all factors that may affect their satisfaction. Research has shown that only a limited number of respondents will bother to evaluate specific issues when providing customer satisfaction feedback. Indeed, customers themselves may have only a latent awareness of relevant dimensions and performance.[23] Hence, firms must ensure that they determine the specific features of the service deemed most important by customers and that they measure customer satisfaction for those elements.

VOICE OF THE CUSTOMER

Firms actively involved in customer service satisfaction measurement and solicitation of buyer feedback should have more satisfied customers. There are several key customer constituencies that need to be heard. One critical group -- buyers -- is the focus of this research. A good way to understand customer needs is to query purchasing managers charged with responsibility for buying decisions. For this research, investigators sought buyers' perspectives regarding distribution service within their industry. …