The Death of Customer Satisfaction

Every day, a quarter of the world’s population connects via Nokia Siemens Networks infrastructure, products, and solutions. The company serves telecommunications providers and partners in every corner of the globe with more than 70,000 employees throughout 150 countries. This giant business-to-business company is a client of UP! Your Service, and they knew very well that satisfying customers was essential for growth in profitability and market share.

But Nokia Siemens Networks had a problem: its Customer Satisfaction Survey was unwieldy. The survey had grown bloated, expanded over time to accommodate many internal requests for more data and details on customer expectations, perceptions, priorities, and competitive comparisons. It was like a bus with 48 seats and 100 extra people hanging from every window, rooftop railing, and bumper.

Customers did not enjoy this annual assessment process. Most ignored it. Many who did complete the survey used it as a hammer to hit the company hard with their complaints. Employees did not appreciate it either: it was difficult to decipher and hard to fathom what to do. Even worse, individual incentives were tied to very specific changes in one part or another of the survey, leading to individual actions that did not align each other across the organization.

“Imagine a customer satisfaction survey that consisted of 150 questions,” says Jeffrey Becksted, the company’s Head of Customer Experience and Service Excellence. “We thought that the more information we could collect, the better we would be able to respond. But, imagine the effect of 80 thickly detailed PowerPoint presentations descending on our organization all at the same time. We simply had too much data for us to digest in a meaningful time frame. We were so focused on asking our customer about us, that we failed to ask the really important question of what actions we can take to create more value for them.”

Managers at Nokia Siemens Networks knew there was a problem with the survey. “It was obvious that we had to take a fundamentally different approach to surveying our customers,” Becksted says. “We were focusing on too many areas, and not asking action-oriented, value-creating questions. So, we started over.”

Rajeev Suri, the CEO of Nokia Siemens Networks pulled the plug on this dysfunctional practice, and formed a new team to find a better way to measure. Imagine that for a moment. Here was a legacy process-built on years of adding, and arranging questions to collect feedback for every department and process throughout the company-that generated massive amounts of data.

And, overnight, the Customer Satisfaction Survey was gone.

How do you move beyond satisfaction? How do you stop looking backward to evaluate performance, and instead look forward to create new possibilities and potential? By changing your mindset and transforming your survey to a value-add proposition. Nokia Siemens Networks brought people from different departments together with a new goal-to create conversations and cultivate insights that would improve the relationships with their clients moving forward.

“Instead of asking clients how they rate our service, we asked them to explain their challenges, their goals, and the ways in which we could help them,” says Becksted. “We asked them where Nokia Siemens Networks fits into their future-not how we’ve served them in the past. We asked about expectations and their experiences of working with Nokia Siemens Networks.”

Today, instead of 150 questions focused on expectations, satisfaction, and competitive comparisons, Nokia Siemens Networks interviews its clients with a Customer Experience Survey that has far fewer questions and a greater focus taking the right new actions, on increasing loyalty, and building future business. And, they’ve already witnessed a tremendous response.

“It’s a simple change,” says Becksted. “‘How did we do?’ — a lagging metric of past performance — becomes ‘What can we do?’ — a leading indicator of future success.” How can you move beyond satisfaction? “Change the goal,” says Becksted. “Companies don’t put limits on process improvement, product development, and the bottom line. Why put a cap on improving service by simply reaching customer satisfaction? The goal needs to be constantly adding value. Focus on them, not you. Instead of asking a client to tell you how they perceive your service, ask them to tell you about their needs, challenges, desires, and goals. It doesn’t matter how well you’ve done as much as it matters how they see you in their future.”

“Get leadership involved,” Becksted concludes. “If the leaders of an organization can’t see the detriment of only measuring the past, then your company is doomed to become a thing of the past. However, if they can look into the future, and change the mindset and the survey, to move beyond satisfaction, the results can be astounding. It’s a simple change that’s already paying off for our company and our customers.”

PS: This blog post is excerpted from Chapter 14 of the New York Times bestselling book, “UPLIFTING SERVICE: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues and Everyone Else You Meet”.

PPS: A related and very interesting video on this topic by Ron Kaufman is here: “It’s Time to SCRAP the Customer Satisfaction Surveys!”