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Main elements of handling customer satisfaction in ISO 9001

How often do you meet people who think that their customers are unsatisfied by the products and/or services that their company offers? How often do you think about it?

We all tend to believe in the quality and superiority of our products and services, and we forget about the subjectivity of the clients’ perspective. Let us take a step back and consider the issue of customer satisfaction, not just because ISO 9001 asks us to do so, but because we want more satisfied customers, and we want our business to grow, and in order to achieve that we need satisfied clients.

What is customer satisfaction?

ISO 9001 defines customer satisfaction as a customer’s perception of the degree to which the customer’s requirements have been fulfilled. This definition clearly shows that customer satisfaction is a subjective judgment of whether their requirements (not the contractual obligations) are fulfilled. It also points out that customer satisfaction is not a yes/no issue, but a range of different levels of satisfaction.

Another aspect should be taken into consideration. Namely, it’s not always the case that the client who does not complain is a satisfied client, and the one who complains is a dissatisfied customer. On the contrary, very often unsatisfied customers don’t complain directly to the provider, but complain to their friends and relatives, which constructs negative image for the provider, i.e., for your company. On the other side, there are clients who might complain directly to the company even in cases when they are generally satisfied by the service/product, but they want to get something more, such as additional features. If these complaints are handled properly, these customers, or even the most dissatisfied customers, can end up having a positive attitude regarding your company. Additionally, you can use the complaints from the customers as feedback for improving your business (through improving your operations, employees, suppliers, etc.).

ISO 9001 states that “the organization shall monitor information relating to customer perception as to whether the organization has met customer requirements” as one indicator for the effectiveness of the quality management system.

Integrated framework for enhancing customer satisfaction

In order to construct an effective framework for managing customer satisfaction, a holistic approach is needed. The framework should integrate different aspects of customer satisfaction, and it looks like this:

Aspects of customer satisfaction

Analyzing customer requirements and expectations. Analysis of the customer needs, requirements and expectations can vary significantly depending on the industry, country, maturity of the market, type of organization (service oriented, manufacturing, etc.), company culture and a lot of other elements. The methods for analysis can include market research, trends analysis, analyzing CRM information, analyzing complaints, and so on. For some industries, more proximate analyses are possible like direct meetings with the client, sales force information, conducting client assessment, customization of contracts by the clients, etc. The important thing to have in mind when doing this analysis is that there can be significant differences between what clients need, what they are requesting, and what they expect.

The results from the customer needs analysis can be used for marketing purposes as well, and help you determine market trends and gather business intelligence for new products/services. Focusing on clients’ needs and expectations contributes to the development of a customer-focused organization, which ultimately contributes to enhancing customer satisfaction and customer loyalty.

Managing client expectations. The first element is to deliver consistent services/products to your client that will fulfill their requirements, which is the main and more tangible expectation. The second element is to deal with the intangible expectations of the clients. For those purposes, good practices propose defining a set of “rules” in a document, referred to as a Code of conduct, which will frame the expectations of the clients and will provide guidance to the employees. Also, good practices advise providing mechanisms for customers to complain through designing a procedure for handling complaints.

Monitoring and measuring customer satisfaction. In order to be able to improve your company and to enhance customer satisfaction you must know how your customers feel about your services/products and if they are satisfied with the overall experience with your company. This means that you should regularly monitor and measure the level of satisfaction of your customers. For these purposes, you can gather two different types of information: information collected directly from your customer, and internal information (complaints and sales figures, customer retention, trends in new customers, etc.). As previously mentioned, one way of gathering direct feedback from clients is complaints. These are generally the unsatisfied customers. However, you need to get feedback from the satisfied and unimpressed clients as well. For this you will have to initiate the communication with the client.

The approach for collecting information from clients for their level of satisfaction also varies. The methods can include surveys through evaluation sheets, questionnaires and/or interviews, focus groups, and suggestion boxes. These methods can be used through different channels, such as a sales meeting, online survey tools, telephone, social media, email and website. Another aspect that should be taken into account is the time frame – when and how often you will collect information. This also can vary based on the type of organization and variety of clients, as well as the methods and channels used. The most important thing to have in mind is to collect information that is relevant for your purpose, which is to improve your service/product and increase customer satisfaction. Thus, you should focus on collecting information that is easy to analyze and will result in clear trends, causes and indicators for improving your operation, service and/or product.

Customer satisfaction management is a must

Managing customer satisfaction is a difficult task. There is no right approach. It is more of a trial and error process, and it is a process that should be continuously updated and improved based on the circumstances. However difficult and resource consuming it might be, managing customer satisfaction is an essential element for a successful business, and ultimately, a process that can be very rewarding for the company.

Click here to see a sample of  Customer Satisfaction Questionnaire.