2020 saw an influx of new boaters and other outdoor products in response to the pandemic and the desire for safe, family-friendly recreational activities.  But with this surge of participants comes new challenges to help keep them in the fold.  One tool to help with this is a good customer satisfaction system to help you detect and respond to issues in a professional and timely manner and identify opportunities for improvement.  In this article, I talk about the first set of customer satisfaction survey best practices based on my 36 years of research experience and over two decades as a research vendor for boating, recreation and other durable products.  The remaining items will be covered in a subsequent article.

Customer Satisfaction Survey Best Practices

1. Use an appropriate scale

With regard to scales, match the number of scale points with the degree of discernment customers can identify with your product.

While there are many aspects to choosing the right scale, one key consideration is how many scale points to include.   Too few will hurt sensitivity (the ability to differentiate high vs. low satisfaction customers or the ability to detect changes over time) while too many could confuse respondents.

The right number of scale points depends on the nature of the product.  For simple products, a 5-point scale (similar to what Amazon uses) may be sufficient.  However, more complex or high-involvement products could benefit from greater degrees of discrimination (7 to 10 points).  It is especially important to have enough gradients at the top of your scale (most positive) since this is where the vast majority of respondents land.

Think of it this way.  If the customer loves your boat but the dealer didn’t hook up the fish finder properly, the customer might downgrade you one notch.  If you are only using a 5-point scale, this means going from a 100 to an 80 (not a great score).  On a 10-point scale, it would reduce you to a 90 which seems more fitting for the “infraction”.

The key principle I use is to match the number of scale points with the degree of discernment for your type of product. For soft drinks, I would have a hard time rating items on more than 5 levels (love it, like it but not my favorite, its Ok, don’t really like it, don’t get it near me).  For things like boats, RVs and motorsport products, it is easy to envision many other gradients – especially at the top of the scale.

2. Include “diagnostic” questions that are important to the customer

Customer Satisfaction Survey Best Practices

Example Diagnostic Questions

In addition to measuring overall satisfaction, it is important to include a battery of questions to help understand the specific strengths and weaknesses of your product or service. These “diagnostics” should be developed based on a deep understanding of what is important to the customer.  Far too often, I’ve seen companies create this list based on what is important to them instead.  But if you miss a key item, then your understanding of the customer will be incomplete.  A sign of this is when customers rate you highly  on all your diagnostic questions but still give you a relatively low overall satisfaction score.  In many cases, this means you missed something important that will hinder your ability to figure out how to improve performance.

How do you identify the key diagnostic questions to include?  The very best way is to do qualitative research (either formally or informally) with your customers.  Ask questions like: What specific things were you looking for when shopping for a new boat?  Why did you choose our brand (or dealer) instead of others you were considering? What did you like or dislike about your purchase and delivery experience?  What do you love about your boat? and How can it be improved?

3. Use Open-Ends to Aid Understanding

Some customer satisfaction surveys do not include comment questions or “open-ends” because this data is difficult and inefficient to analyze.  But excluding them is problematic for three reasons: 1). Customers want to be heard in their own words and not be constrained by your set of questions. 2). It can help to explain low (or high) ratings.  For example, if they gave you a poor “quality of construction” rating, what specifically did they dislike?  3) It serves as a “catch all” for those aspects of the product or service experience that might not have been anticipated or covered by your set of diagnostic questions described above.

There are at least two open-ended questions that I always include in a customer satisfaction questionnaire:

  • Please describe the reasons for your satisfaction?” As the question implies, this question should follow your overall satisfaction rating AND precede the diagnostic questions.  If you don’t do the latter, then respondents will simply “parrot back” some of the items included in your battery of questions.
  • Please describe any problems incurred”  This question would follow a question where we ask if they experienced any issues and whether such issues have been resolved to their satisfaction.  The answers to this are extremely helpful in resolving concerns and provides guidance to improve product quality and reduce warranty expense.

A couple other optional questions include: “What do you love about your ____” and “What one thing would you suggest be changed or improved with it?” The answers to these questions can help your marketing and product planning efforts.

4. Ask customers if they wish to be contacted

The main reason for implementing a customer satisfaction program is to improve customer retention.  And the timely and professional response to any issues identified is key to this.  I learned this lesson years ago when working at Mercury.  I was perplexed by our customer satisfaction data that showed that customers who had problems were often MORE satisfied than those who never had an issue.  I later figured out that these issues created a “moment of truth” for our company and dealers.  By quickly and professionally addressing the customers concerns, we were able to demonstrate that we cared about them and valued their business.  But those who did not have any concerns had no idea whether or not we stood behind our product.

Addressing issues quickly and professionally can lead to increased customer loyalty.

So, in your customer satisfaction survey, be sure to ask if they have any (unresolved) concerns and, if so, whether they wish to be contacted (and collect their contact information).  But, one word of caution.  If you are unable to follow up with the customer in a timely manner, do NOT ask this question.  You will only make matters worse by creating false expectations.

In the section below, I will tell you about how you can access a free customer satisfaction survey tool that my company is offering.  But, in it, I have turned off the “Do you wish to be contacted” question by default since it would be counter-productive to ask if a timely response is not assured.

This concludes my first set of customer satisfaction survey best practices.  The remaining items will be provided in my next article which you can see by clicking here.

Free Survey Resources

The Left Brain Marketing “Ready-made Solutions” are a set of survey tools that includes a “Customer Satisfaction with the Product” and “Customer Satisfaction with the Dealer” questionnaire among others.  Designed for boat builders, dealers and similar companies on a limited budget, these survey tools are free to use “as is” or can be customized for a minor additional charge.   Each tool was personally developed by Jerry Mona, often considered the foremost research expert in the marine industry, based on his decades of experience helping leading manufacturers and trade associations to get in touch with their target customers.

Check out the “Ready-made Solutions” page for an overview of each tool or fill out our brief request form to get started.