Every business leader knows the guideline proposing “You cannot manage what you cannot measure.”  For many aspects of business, metrics are straightforward.  Build times. Inventory turns. Material costs. First-call resolutions.  But a critical – if not the critical – success measurement for most companies is the abstract concept of customer satisfaction.

Measuring customer satisfaction is part science, part art form, and part grit. Satisfaction can be impacted from the first impression- such as an advertisement, web search, or family recommendation – to the last viable moments of the product or service.  Any touch point between the customer, product, and business throughout the product’s life cycle can immediately change a customer’s satisfaction level.  For better.  Or, for worse.

Volumes of books and research has been published on customer satisfaction management.  The Ultimate Question and Uncommon Service are two of the many excellent texts on this topic.    However, for businesses on the cusp of beginning their customer satisfaction improvement journey, the most common mistake is switching from a zero-data model, to a process of unwieldy surveys and uncontrollable feedback.

Following are a few simple tips to start tracking customer satisfaction in a meaningful and manageable way.

Define What Is Important.  You know your product and business better than anyone.  And you know that customer satisfaction can be affected in countless ways, such as  sales team interactions, product performance, and customer service.  Use your experience to decide which aspects impact the customer experience most.   Write one or two crisp, simple survey questions around this experience, such as:

How well did our customer service team resolve your issue?

Would you hesitate to call our customer service team again?

Define your scale, such as 1-5, and track data trends over time.

Two Minute Rule.  Customers are not your employees; they do not owe any of their valuable time to you.  However, most customers are willing to donate a few minutes of time in hopes improvements will be mutually beneficial.  Your survey should be short enough to complete in 1-2 minutes.  Longer surveys will be ignored, or completed with random answers.

Call Dissatisfied Customers.  This takes nerve, but is critical.  Call a sampling of customers which rate you poorly.  Apologize, and ask for details of the experience.  Don’t over promise changes, but assure the customer their words will be heard for ongoing improvements. An overwhelming number of customers will provide valuable, actionable feedback.

Rapid Experiments.  Once baseline data is available for a few weeks, begin a series of quick changes to address opportunities and monitor changes to data.   Expand programs which work; discard those which do not.

When traction is reached on the first issue, re-start the process on the next critical aspect of your business.  There are no concrete rules on managing and improving customer satisfaction.  Improvements require patience, consistency of data collection,  and active listening to customer feedback.    However, with discipline and focus, customer satisfaction can be quantified, tracked, and improved as a key metric within the overall business management system.