Customer feedback is an invaluable tool for measuring the effectiveness of your quality management system. ISO 9001:2008 has made the customer the primary focus of the quality management system, as it is a recurring theme throughout the standard. As such, the standard recognizes the value in using customer feedback to gauge success, and as a tool for continuous quality improvement.
Customer satisfaction is defined as “customer’s perception of the degree to which the customer’s requirements have been fulfilled”. It’s important to note here that customer satisfaction is not the absence of bad product or customer complaints. It pertains to the customer’s experience as a whole to include both business expectations (e.g. cost, delivery, etc.) and product/service expectations (e.g. usability, responsiveness, reliability, etc.). Again, you can’t assume your customer’s requirements are being fulfilled because they haven’t provided you with negative feedback directly. Reaching out to them and giving them a voice may uncover weak areas that are not on par with your competitors or are potentially problematic. Remember, there is always room for improvement.
That said, all feedback, both positive and negative, is very beneficial and must be maintained and analyzed. Keep in mind though that it is difficult to gauge and trend satisfaction using qualitative feedback. That is why quantitative feedback in the form of a survey can be used as a direct measure of satisfaction. Understanding that customer response rates can be low, it is important to design the survey so that it is quick and easy to complete. Surveys should generally take no more than 3 or 4 minutes, and the scoring system should be straightforward and not complicated. The survey should also include an area for the customer to make general comments on how the quality of service or product can improve. Because customer participation in completing surveys is generally low, you may need to become a bit creative in order to improve the level of response.
Another aspect to be mindful of is that the word ‘customer’ is not limited to those outside the organization. Most processes/departments within a company have internal customers whose feedback is as equally important as those outside the company. Internal customers can be surveyed for feedback as well. Many times the biggest weaknesses within an organization occur when there is a transfer of product or information between departments or processes. Feedback is a bit more difficult to obtain internally, but it is something that should be considered in order to universally enhance the quality of service or product.
In closing, soliciting customer feedback (external or internal) is crucial for understanding their needs and expectations in order to continuously improve your service or product. Satisfied customers indicate a solid quality management system and are key to an organization’s success.