Magazine article Training & Development Journal

Customer Satisfaction: The Partnership Imperative

Magazine article Training & Development Journal

Customer Satisfaction: The Partnership Imperative

Article excerpt

Customer Satisfaction: The Partnership Imperative

Unhappy customers don't fight--they switch. If one supplier can't provide what a customer wants, plenty of others with similar products or services are willing to try.

It's not news that a typical customer prefers to work with suppliers who approach its business as an ongoing partnership rather than a one-time transaction. What is striking is how much today's customers value intangible aspects of the customer/supplier relationship.

According to recent research conducted by Learning International, a sales, service, and management training company, buyers value such things as dedication and account guidance more highly than the tangible factors of price, product performance, and quality. In fact, three factors--business expertise and image, dedication to customers, and account sensitivity and guidance--jointly contributed 77 percent to overall customer satisfaction.

The partnership imperative

The study explored the factors that influence a customer's decision to maintain or sever a vendor relationship. The study surveyed 210 buyers from Fortune 1,300 and Canadian 450 firms across seven industry segments about what they value most in a buyer/seller relationship.

The responses evaluated four different areas of customer satisfaction--the sales organization, the salesperson, customer service personnel, and product or service. Six factors emerged as key components of customer satisfaction:

* business expertise and image, 29 percent

* dedication to customer, 25 percent

* account sensitivity and guidance, 23 percent

* product performance and quality, 10 percent

* service department excellence, 9 percent

* confirmation of capabilities, 4 percent.

High quality isn't enough

A good relationship between the customer and the salesperson can't make up for an inferior product, but the study suggests that product quality alone cannot guarantee a customer's loyalty.

"I don't want an order taker as a salesperson," said one customer. "I want to be important to the salesperson even if I'm not a new account. If I'm not important to a supplier, I'll find another one who wants my business."

While constant account attention appeared to be a key factor in maintaining customer satisfaction in all the industries surveyed, customers in each industry differed somewhat in evaluating how much each factor contributed to their overall satisfaction.

Across industry lines

The survey polled customers from seven industries: high tech, financial services, business equipment, business services, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and indirect sales. The sectors showed notable differences between what contributes most to customer satisfaction in their industries.

For example, the high-tech and business-equipment sectors weighed service-department excellence more heavily than most of the industries--20 percent versus the sample average of 9 percent. Indirect sales customers had a high regard to for business expertise and image--39 percent, versus the standard 29 percent. Chemical and pharmaceutical companies valued account sensitivity and guidance, while the business and financial services sectors emphasized product performance and quality.

The figure shows a profile of customer expectations in one industry, financial services.

Whatever the industry and whichever factor was labeled as most important, three factors were common threads among all responses:

* business expertise and image

* dedication to customers

* account sensitivity and guidance. …

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