Take a Page from Southwest Airlines: Listen to Customers
As a Midwest-based micro-cap private equity firm, we strive to add value to our portfolio companies by sharing best practices amongst our various management teams. For example, Cole Information Services in Omaha, a nationally-recognized lead generation business, was the first to leverage cost efficient on-line customer surveys on a quarterly basis. ESSCO, another MCM portfolio company, a niche distributor of vacuum cleaner parts and accessories, started conducting these on-line customer surveys shortly after Cole began receiving quality responses. This practice has helped them improve many aspects of their business and has positioned them as the leader in terms of customer service.
While MCM’s portfolio of companies include micro-cap niche manufacturing, distribution and service businesses, our management teams think like Fortune 100 CEO’s and continuously seek out ideas from industry leaders such as Southwest Airlines, Amazon, Apple and others that can be utilized within a micro-cap private company. Southwest Airlines, leads the domestic airline industry in customer service and was voted “Best Bang For Your Buck” in a recent survey by Airfarewatchdog. Southwest has continually utilized on-line surveys to gain insights on how to improve customer service helping give them an edge over their competitors and continuing their stranglehold as the dominant player in the industry.
Taking a page out of Southwest’s book, some of our portfolio companies have been utilizing these on-line surveys to drive continuous improvements within their respective customer service organizations. Thanks to the information derived from these surveys, ESSCO has improved not only their customer service levels (96% of ESSCO’s customers recently surveyed indicated that its customer service levels were better than its competitors) but have also helped management make operational improvements.
Isn’t the internet a wonderful thing? It allows micro-cap sized companies to conduct meaningful customer research for the cost of what some Fortune 100 companies spend on paperclips.
A few tips to keep in mind when launching your company’s survey initiative:
- Select an online survey company that is reputable, will keep your surveys confidential, and will provide you with on-line analytics to better understand the results. Our portfolio companies have had considerable success with Zoomerang or Survey Monkey but there are many other on-line survey companies to consider for your business.
- Response rates will be higher if you ask 20 or fewer questions. Spend some time developing a concise list of very targeted questions that will help increase response rates and value-added feedback.
- Involve your ENTIRE management team and work together to incorporate new ideas or better ways to word questions.
- Force your customer to answer the question. For example, answering “I don’t agree or disagree” only gives your customer an option to NOT answer the question.
- Send surveys quarterly. Do not survey your customers too often or your company emails will end up in the Junk Mail folder or go unanswered. Our CEO’s have found that quarterly surveys are sufficient in getting the information you need while being respectful of your customers’ time.
Flickr photo courtesy of hfabulous