It isn’t possible to improve our own operations unless we have properly identified our strengths and weaknesses as seen by the people that we ultimately answer to – our customers. A Customer Satisfaction Study helps to track and understand the overall satisfaction of the customers and our competitive advantages in the marketplace, and reveals as well areas for improvement.

In BU Surfactants, we have conducted customer satisfaction studies regularly for a number of years, but in 2006 we decided to conduct one on a global level across the whole Business Unit. One reason for conducting a global survey was, of course, that many of our customers are global companies, but a global survey also allowed us to benchmark between regions and to use our resources more efficiently.

Pre survey – The process of selecting an external partner
We decided to spend some time on the selection of our external partner. We needed to be certain that some main criteria were covered, such as knowledge of the industry, ability to manage a large number of phone interviews in multiple languages, statistical capabilities, and quality of post-survey materials, such as analysis, workshops and transcripts. Our project team included representatives from all regions, to make sure that as many aspects as possible would be taken into account.

Sara Mårlind, AkzoNobel Surfactants
We started off by making a short list of prospective survey firms, including two partners used previously. We also asked for input on survey firms from colleagues in other Business Units and consulted information provided by the trade association representing market research companies [http://www.esomar.org/]. The next step was to check out web sites and contact a few companies to get additional information; from there we asked for detailed quotes from three. In the end we chose the same partner we had previously used in Europe in 2003 and 2000, but the selection process was still time well spent, because we learned more about suppliers and their capabilities; as a result, everyone was comfortable with the choice we made.

In addition to meeting the criteria we had set up, by choosing Opticom International Research we benefited from being able to compare our result for the European market with our previous studies and also a possibility to benchmark on an aggregated level with Pulp and Paper Chemicals and Functional Chemicals [Cellulosic Specialties], since our studies had a similar approach and focus areas.

The Survey – things to consider
Once you have selected a partner, the next step in the process starts. The work done before the survey is actually carried out is very important. What questions do we want to ask? Who should we ask? Should we focus on existing customers or make a special study of potential customers? And then we have the collection of customer data. This, by the way, takes much more effort than one might think, but with good data you increase the efficiency of the survey.

In our study we focused on our existing customers and conducted a total of 399 interviews in 53 countries. Our main objective was to assess our performance with respect to our products; supply chain services; service and technical support; and marketing, sales and communication. We also included questions regarding Responsible Care and REACH.

New for the 2006 study was that an internal survey was included, asking our Sales & Marketing people the same questions that we asked our customers, but using an internet interface. The interesting thing about this was to see where the internal view differed from the customer view.

Post survey – utilizing the results
A survey is a potential gold mine of vital information, but it´s the action we take from the results that makes the difference. Used to its full potential, a survey can make it easier to develop successful strategies. It can open our eyes to new issues and can be a guide when making tactical decisions.

Parallel with the presentation of the results of our survey, we held workshops in each region, and on the market application level as well. At the end of each workshop, a list of recommended actions was generated. As always, prioritization is key; not everything can be done at once.

Some specific actions were incorporated into existing business plans, and some findings resulted in valuable input with respect to targets we already have established in our strategic plans. For each region, the top three actions were identified.

For example; in Surfactants Europe, one of the top priority issues was to improve communication around lead time and delivery deviations, track the deviations every quarter and present them in our quarterly internal communication.

Next survey – follow-up
We are planning a follow-up survey during spring 2008 using the same supplier. This will again be done on a global level, this time using an internet interface, but still based on the same questionnaire. A full-blown customer satisfaction study using telephone interviews, like the one carried out in 2006, is scheduled for 2010. At that point, it will be time to evaluate the supplier once again.

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