Just Tryin' To Keep The Customer Satisfied

It’s not just a Paul Simon song. Part of the job of doing good customer relationship management is making sure that everyone is, in fact, satisfied and—hopefully—happy.

There’s some good news in about it. The American Customer Satisfaction Index’s annual ecommerce report recently found that customer satisfaction with ecommerce websites was up, despite increased (and increasing) expectations. The index was founded at the University of Michigan but is now run as a privately held company that measures customer evaluations, on a 100-point scale, of products and services for 225 companies in 47 industries in the U.S.

And according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, customer satisfaction with ecommerce websites inched up 1% to 80.1. Total ecommerce sales rose 16% to $194.3 billion in 2011, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The interesting thing, to my mind, is that there is additional consumer expectation of ecommerce sites—as differentiated, say, from brick-and-mortar retail establishments. “Consumer expectation continues to increase” for online marketers, says Larry Freed, author of the report. However, “when you walk into a retail store, you don't expect to get better service,” he adds.

So what we’re to take from that is that CRM continues to be one of the most important factors in doing well with an online business today.

Let’s take a step back. You’re probably familiar with CSAT, customer satisfaction, measured by a survey tool that looks something like this:

What is your overall satisfaction level with our company?

1. Very dissatisfied

2. Somewhat dissatisfied

3. Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied

4. Somewhat satisfied

5. Very satisfied

Very basic, no-frills approach to measuring customer responses. Simple, perhaps; but what company among us doesn’t want to see itself as number five all the time?

Several years ago, an academic journal, the Journal of Marketing, took a look at the relationship between CRM and customer satisfaction in an article titled “Why Do Customer Relationship Management Applications Affect Customer Satisfaction?” by Sunil Mithas, M.S. Krishnan, and Claes Fornell.

The article came to a number of conclusions. CRM applications, it found, were indeed positively associated with an improvement in customer knowledge. Perhaps more relevant to emarketers, a positive association was found to exist between CRM applications and customer satisfaction.

All right, so it’s what we’ve all been aware of, anecdotally. But the rising customer expectations of online marketers combined with the proliferation of CRM solutions only works when the CRM goes beyond the obvious and-how-was-your-meal-today satisfaction query and seeks out more ways of better serving the customer.

If indeed, as the study shows, customer knowledge and customer satisfaction are closely aligned, then it seems that good CRM is going to keep customers educated, in touch with the vendor, and obviously pleased with the product or service they are purchasing.

And that satisfaction breeds loyalty; and loyalty, these days, comes with a slew of side benefits.

For example, satisfied customers are far more likely to become ambassadors or evangelists for your company or brand. We’re all learning the power of social media, and one of its most significant attributes is its ability to spread the word about something that people either really, really like — or really, really hate!

In fact, one of my company’s recent additions to its platform is a tool that tracks your brand’s online reputation, both in terms of name recognition and in terms of the attitude or sentiment that people have about the brand. Let’s say that your brand is a nationally recognized name … but you’re well behind your competition in sentiment. This is a good time to get back to CRM basics, to make sure that your customers are as satisfied as you can possibly make them, that you’re inspiring them to go out there and tell the world about how terrific a brand you are.

Let’s not forget the findings at the beginning of this article. Consumers have already high expectations of their online retailers and service purveyors — and those expectations are rising! So we’d all do well to keep our CRM focus sharp this year, to be handling complaints better than ever before, to be clear and useful and available to customers to head off those complaint situations before they can even happen, and to remember that consumers have more power than ever before.

We need them as much as they need us. And CRM is the bridge that connects us.

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