Why B2B customer surveys should be different from B2C surveys – and how to get them right

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John Coldwell
Managing Director
InfoQuest
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Business-to-business (B2B) customer satisfaction is fundamentally different from business-to-consumer (B2C) customer satisfaction, and it is important to understand the distinction. 

B2C is about buying a motorcar or a bar of chocolate or some music. It might be about you having the condition of your teeth checked or even having a tonsillectomy. These are all experiences, judged on the point of sale and the subsequent delivery of the product or service. Highly developed, high-volume experiences lead to brand value. B2C is where the money that is already on the table gets shuffled around and redistributed.

B2B is about buying raw materials and components, capital goods and long-term services such as buildings management and financial audits. These are all ongoing relationships, built on trust, mutual support and mutual benefit. In most cases the goal is “partnering”. The value of these relationships is measured as “good will” on the balance sheet. B2B is the wealth creation of this world.

In short, B2C is about the experience. B2B is about the relationship.

For this reason, B2B customer surveys need to be fundamentally different from B2C customer surveys.

The following categories and questions are ones that B2B surveys should provide some useful steer for those looking to build a survey, consisting of the ten most  commonly  chosen question sets used  by our clients over the  past  few  years.  But remember as you review it that this is merely a possibility for a starting point.  The actual final content is entirely up to you.

  • Available responses to the satisfaction questions are totally satisfied; somewhat satisfied; insufficient experience to evaluate; somewhat dissatisfied; totally dissatisfied.  
  • Available responses to the statements are fully agree; somewhat agree; insufficient experience to evaluate; somewhat disagree; totally disagree. 

STANDARD QUESTION SET (included in all surveys)
 
1.  Overall
A.  On an overall basis, how satisfied are you with our company?
B. How satisfied are you with the ease of doing business with our company?
C. I would purchase products or services from your company again.
D. I would recommend your company to an associate.
 
TEN MOST OFTEN SELECTED CATEGORIES
 
1. Pricing
A. How satisfied are you with the procedures we use for providing quotes?
B. Price quotes are provided quickly and accurately.
C.  When providing quotes, your availability of information is readily accessible and up to the minute.
D.  When providing quotes, the prices you quote or the availability of product meets my needs.
 
2.  Customer Impressions
A. How satisfied are you with our company as a business partner?
B. I intend to continue my business relationship with your company.
C.  When I think of quality products and services, I think of your company first.
D.  Your company listens and responds to me when I have a problem.
 
3.  Sales Performance
A. How satisfied are you with the overall performance of our sales representatives?
B.  Your sales representatives thoroughly know and understand your products and services.
C.  Your sales representatives understand my business needs.
D.  Your sales representatives suggest solutions to improve our business.
 
4.  Customer Support
A. How satisfied are you with the level of customer support we provide?
B.  Overall, your personnel make me feel as though you have my best interests in mind.
C.  Questions and needs are responded to quickly and efficiently.
D.  Company personnel are knowledgeable of and responsive to my business needs.
 
5.  Delivery
A.  How satisfied are you with the delivery of our products or services?
B.  Your deliveries arrive when promised.
C.  Your deliveries are complete and accurate.
D.  All deliveries are clearly marked to identify the contents.
 
6.  Product Quality
A.  How satisfied are you with the quality of our products?
B.  The products supplied by your company perform as represented in your literature.
C.  Any issues having to do with quality are promptly corrected.
D.  The quality process that you use in your company is sufficient for our requirements.
 
7.  Product Value
A.  Overall, how satisfied are you with our products?
B.  I purchase your products because they represent excellent value for the money.
C.  When I think of product quality, I think of your company first.
D.  Of all the suppliers of your product I’ve used, yours provides the highest overall reliability.
 
8.  Management Interactions
A.  How satisfied are you with your interactions with our management?
B.  The management people I have contacted in your company are customer focused.
C.  I know that your management is available to address my problems and concerns.
D.  I can always contact someone in your company who can make decisions that affect me.
 
9.  Ordering
A.  How satisfied are you with the effectiveness with which we process your orders?
B.  I never experience a problem when I place an order by telephone.
C.  Ordering from your company is an easy process.
D. Your company is flexible and accommodating when we need to make changes to an order.
 
10.  Customer Support
A.  How satisfied are you with the customer service we provide?
B.  The customer service personnel are pleasant and knowledgeable.
C.  Whenever a problem arises, I know who to contact.
D.  If someone cannot initially answer my question, they find the answer and get back to me promptly.
 

Best practice

The next question is: who should you be surveying?

The short answer is ‘your most important customers – opposed to the key account managers' best friends. These should be a combination of:

  1. The highest revenue customers;
  2. The highest profitability customers (probably not the same as the highest revenue ones); and
  3. The customers with the highest growth potential (using the ‘windows of opportunity’ model or ‘share of wallet’ - what percentage of the customer's needs are you supplying [that you want to supply]).

Best practice for obtaining feedback from your customers requires two parallel systems.

The first is a regular, event-based telephone call from your own people to the customers, at an appropriate time following the delivery of your products and services. This is to make sure that all went well and, if it didn’t, allows knowledgeable people to sort out any issues as quickly as possible. This is aimed at the recipients of your products and services who, by the way, are not necessarily the decision-makers.

The second is an occasional (every 12 – 24 months) in-depth survey of the decision-makers, looking at all your systems, disciplines and procedures, and looking for any “people” issues.  It is this second, business process analysis review that I want to concentrate on.

The raison d’être for any B2B customer satisfaction survey should be “To increase profitable sales”.  The increases will come from three routes.

  • Reduced customer churn - identify individual dissatisfied customers, find out what has led to the dissatisfaction and do something about it.
  • Selling more to existing customers - using “share of wallet” or “percentage penetration” figures will help identify key customers who could and should be buying more from you.
  • Increased prices - customers that love you will, by definition, understand and value your company’s contribution to their success.  If you go the extra mile, and your customer knows that (and values that) then that opportunity should be realised.

Statistical validity is not important for a typical B2B customer satisfaction survey on the basis that a) the number of customers is not large when compared with B2C, b) the relationships are already being managed by key account managers and c) these customers are all different anyway.  It’s important that you choose the most important customers to be included in your survey.

To this end we hope that you will find the following two diagrams helpful.

Coldwell 1

Most people will recognise the above diagram as being similar to their own circumstance.  Parǽto’s 80:20 theory defines the curve – A’s being the major buyers of your goods or services and the C’s being the tail-end Charlies.

The second diagram highlights what often happens in terms of contribution.

Coldwell2

The A customers know the power of their spending. They buy from you as though they are buying a commodity rather than a value-added item. The extra demands from large customers can include special packaging, special deliveries, stock-holding, extra-long credit terms, days out playing golf – all on top of extra-keen prices. These extra costs regularly turn A customers into marginal accounts.

But you need the A customers. They deliver the volumes that you need in order to gain the economies of scale – without which you couldn’t service the B customers.

My personal advice to clients is to carry out the customer satisfaction survey on the A’s and the B customers.

The survey needs to identify if any of the A customers are looking like they might take their business elsewhere, to the competition. If that happened, news of the migration might get out, leaked to the trade press, and some of your B customers might follow without knowing the full story.  And that’s a bad thing.

And the B customers need to be surveyed so that more can be sold to them. This is where your profit comes from. This is where we’re looking for references, referrals, case studies, cross-selling, up-selling and more business.

And when it comes to the C customers, those tail-end Charlies, they won’t be left out; they’ll benefit from the generic improvements you’ll be making to your systems, disciplines and procedures for the A’s and B’s.

For further information on B2B customer surveys, read InfoQuest's guide: http://infoquestcrm.co.uk/new-book/

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