If I was a supplier and wanted to be as competitive as possible, I would poll my customer base on a semi-annual basis. I would send out a performance survey request to every customer that has done business with me more than ten times a year. Using the standard, quick completion method of asking for a 1 to 5 rating, the survey would ask questions like:
How would you rate our service with respect to the following:
- Communications — Email and telephone
- Follow-through — Doing what we say we will do
- On-time delivery
- Order fulfillment — Line item or complete purchase order
- Product/manufacturer coverage
- Product support: Are we technically savvy?
- Repair/replace/return policy
- Website — ease of use and specific utility features
- Catalogue — if hard copy
- Responsiveness — General attentiveness to customer concerns and questions
- Overall credibility
- Product knowledge level of inside and outside sales personnel
I would also ask: If you had the power to change anything about our company or the way we do business, what would you change?
That last question might have some supplier executives squirming in their chairs, but what the survey communicates to the customer is just as important as what the results of the survey convey to the supplier's management. Specifically, responding to relevant, real-time feedback is the key towards bi-directional improvements realized by well-defined and productive changes. By “bi-directional,” I mean that both the supplier and the demander benefit from any changes that make the supplier's goods or services more desirable or accessible.
An incentive for completing the survey is not out of the question, but if a customer increases its return business based upon the supplier's sincere desire to learn where it can improve, evidenced by earnestly considering the required changes, then the time and trouble to solicit the customer's comments has been well worth it. If the responses to the survey are not doable by the supplier, then even that fact should be considered and responded to in some fashion — both internally and externally.
Knowing what you can or cannot do (and why) is strategically important knowledge for your business. I would suggest that the last question mentioned on the survey items above can be posed in person by your outside salesperson at his or her next customer visit, soon after the email survey request has been sent. The salesperson's reiteration of the sincere desire to learn from the customer's experience may encourage the responses that did not come via an email response.
As a “demander” in the demand and supply chain network, I would like to believe my input is important enough to consider. From a one-to-one perspective, if my suppliers asked me what I would change to make doing business a better experience, I would welcome the opportunity to provide instant feedback. I would also appreciate some kind of response from the supplier acknowledging my survey submission and what might or might not be changed as a result of my feedback.
Someone once told me that everyone has three basic needs: to be loved, to be understood, and to be taken seriously. When it comes to business, I'll settle for the last two out of the three.