by Christopher Paris
VP Operations, Oxebridge Quality Resources

When ISO 9001:2000 was released, it introduced a need to gather data on customer satisfaction. This resulted in a flood of “Satisfaction Surveys” being released by ISO 9001 certified organizations to their customers. This had the unexpected result of causing such customers to ignore the surveys entirely, as they were receiving more and more of them. So no one was getting feedback.

Marketers say you are lucky to get a 10% return on any survey. I’d bet in the ISO 9001 world, the return rate is even lower.

So, how do you meet the requirements of 8.2.1? Try what I call “Passive Customer Satisfaction Measurement” — the word “passive” being used because you can collect a bit of satisfaction data without active engagement by the customer. No calls, no surveys, no contact at all.

1.) Baseline your current level of business with each customer. That can be by measuring dollars per year, # of PO’s they place with you, orders, # line items, etc. Whatever works. Then, continue to take that snapshot ever month. What you are looking for is a sudden drop off in sales or orders. Frequently customers switch vendors without any notice: it may be that they are frustrated with your quality but never filed a complaint, or it could be a change in their buyers, who bring their preferred suppliers with them. ¬†When a drop is noticed, research it: did the customer go out of business? Did they move? Were their quality problems with product you delivered to them? As a last resort, call them to find out. But even failing that, you can set goals for customer retention.

2.) Measure returns. Even if customers don’t file complaints, they may just return product. That counts as a metric of customer dissatisfaction, and should be measured. You’re probably already doing this, but simply apply it to the metrics used for 8.2.1.

3.) Monitor external sources of perception. By this I mean forum boards, social networking sites, etc. See if people are posting bad things — or good things — about your company online. Even if the information is posted anonymously, possibly by competitors or disgruntled ex employees, it’s valuable information about the public’s perception of your company, and thus your customers. Act on such information as best you can, resisting the urge to post in your defense or slam the folks (trolls) discrediting you. Take away their ability to gripe by becoming excellent.

4.) Consider the Anti-Survey. This is a postage-paid card inserted into every shipment that invites the customer to send it only IF THEY HAVE A PROBLEM. (Be sure to word it in a friendly and upbeat manner, so you don’t make it look like you are EXPECTING problems with your products.) Count the number of anti-surveys you send, and then calculate those returned. Each one returned is a hit of dissatisfaction, and you can make a semi-reasonable argument that everyone else is semi-satisfied.

These methods are not as concrete as “active” methods (such as surveys), but they are a great way to obtain data when you can’t get it directly from your customers, or as a compliment to a struggling survey system.

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