“Time reveals all,” goes the old saying.
That may be true, but most companies don’t have endless time to learn the important things in their business – especially what’s on their customers’ minds.
People who stop buying your company’s products or services rarely bother to inform you about their reasons. They simply fade from the horizon.
Conversely, customers who are delighted with the way you do business have valuable information about what’s working, if anybody bothers to ask.
|Profit Matters president Alec Milne stands 6’10” tall, and his stature in the local business community is equally grand because of what his research expertise has done to help companies improve their bottom lines.|
Calgary-based research company Profit Matters has been uncovering such critical data for a decade, across Canada and internationally.
The company’s most significant work is the customer-satisfaction survey – a proven, remarkably effective method of gathering information that can have a tremendous influence on a company’s chances of long-term success.
“It’s an excellent way of finding out what a client’s customers want, and what they think of the company,” says Alec Milne of Profit Matters.
Such information is especially important for businesses and corporations aiming to maintain a high reputation.
About 18 months ago, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) made a rule change. The Geneva-based ISO, which is an international reference for quality management requirements in business-to- business dealings, now says companies that are ISO certified must take a measure of their customer satisfaction on an annual or biennial basis.
“It’s our biggest service,” Milne says. “It is certainly the most fun work we do.”
Profit Matters has done customer-satisfaction surveys for more than 300 companies. They range from small, two-person operations, right up to multinational corporations, including TransCanada PipeLines, Ipsco Steel and Prudential Steel.
Milne says the customer information it gathers consistently surprises the client. “In every single instance, we’ve given the client a jaw-dropping moment,” he says.
One of those who asked Milne’s firm to survey its customers learned that its customers overwhelmingly complained nobody ever got back to them when they left voicemail messages while trying to place an order.
“When you tell that to the head of sales and marketing, their eyebrows go up substantially.”
That particular client, whose recent rapid growth had hurt its ability to treat customers properly, responded by hiring more staff and controlling its voicemail practices. The move immediately got the company back on track for success.
“It’s very critical in these processes that you listen to the customer – and that you act.”
Milne frankly tells potential clients that if they merely plan to shelve his survey results, they’d be wasting their money.
“It is critical that if you are not prepared to act, then you shouldn’t ask the question.” Otherwise frustrated customers will become even more upset, for being ignored twice.
Scientific surveys of the type done by Profit Matters are among the more misunderstood aspects of the marketplace. Some CEOs think they can save money by doing their own research, such as sending every customer in the company database a questionnaire.
The problem lies with accuracy, or the lack of it. “Typically, they get a low response rate,” Milne explains.
In fact, external survey firms will get up to three times the response rate of an internally generated survey.
“And they don’t know if it was the people who were really happy who responded or if was the people who were very dissatisfied,” he adds.
“They have no way of knowing because it’s not scientific.”
Indeed, internal feedback received by a corporation through its sales force is often inaccurate.
“As consumers, we just don’t tell people when we have an issue with their service,” Milne says. “We just quietly take our business elsewhere, or worse, we tell them something inaccurate but easier for them to digest.
“Either way, it can mean decisions are based on misleading information. This is really important – management think they are getting accurate feedback, and in most cases they aren’t.
Milne and his highly qualified team of professionals have mastered the crucial principles of random selection. Having chosen a highly representative sample of the customer base, they contact them and ask methodically crafted questions – including “open-ended” questions that give respondents a chance to sound off.
“We really encourage clients to go with a telephone survey. That’s an opportunity for their customers to tell us what they want to tell us.”
Another misunderstood side of this highly specialized work is the quality of people making the phone calls.
“Often, survey companies will hire people and pay them minimum wage, and they’ll pound out these questionnaires.
“We take pride in paying our surveyors about three or four times minimum wage. The people we’re talking to are professional purchasers, or they’re a vice-president in a major corporation.
“You have to have someone who’s got the English skills, the conversational skills, interview skills and the intellectual depth to follow up on opportunities in these conversations.”
Profit Matters offers a range of services, including market-feasibility studies, business plans and other proven, successful processes that lead companies to greater success.
In any case, Milne loves the work.
“When you’re dealing with entrepreneurs and with people who have businesses and ventures, they really have a passion for what they’re doing. They have so much personally and emotionally and financially invested in these corporations, their passion is very infectious.”
For further information, call Alec Milne at 403.269.6886 in Calgary, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org