Customer Satisfaction B2B: the ingredients for a successful survey

It seems obvious that companies should try to satisfy their customers. Satisfied customers usually return, tell other people about their experiences and can pay more to collaborate with a supplier they trust.
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Statistics suggest that the cost of keeping a customer is only one-tenth of what it takes to find a new one. Therefore, when we win a customer, we have to do whatever it takes to keep them.

Conducting a customer satisfaction survey is a good way to start measuring where you are in terms of customer satisfaction and retention, in other words, loyalty.

Why is B2B customer satisfaction so important to a supplier?

When we buy a product or service, we expect it to be right. We don’t jump up and down on the chair saying, “I can’t believe it, it worked!”. That’s what we paid for, so we have a clear expectation.

It happens in B2C when the consumer buys a new appliance, a smartphone or a dress, but even more so in B2B where the products and services are complex such as programming in an IT or engineering project, the start-up of a job that will last several months or years, or the installation of a new machine in a customer’s plant.

How do you measure your customers satisfaction?

As a supplier to other businesses, your customers satisfaction needs to be constantly monitored. However, gathering objective, comprehensive and unbiased feedback is as critical as it is difficult.

Only a small proportion of dissatisfied customers complain openly, if you also add cultural factors it becomes very difficult to access spontaneous information. Some studies have shown that Italians, for example, prefer to give neutral opinions when interviewed; they tend to stay on average values and prefer not to fully reveal what they think.

Having a coffee with our customer or asking our sales team to get feedback is not enough; what we get will always be conditioned by the existing business relationship. In addition, we may ask the wrong questions, receive distorted information, or there may be some ‘unspoken truths’.

5 basic aspects to consider:

  • Who should be interviewed?
  • What needs to be measured?
  • How should the survey be carried out?
  • How should customer satisfaction be measured?
  • How to use the results to increase satisfaction, loyalty and profitability?


Who should be interviewed?

The B2B Customer Journey is more complex than B2C.

One of the most important choices when setting up the survey is deciding who should be interviewed. This phase is carried out involving management and/or the sales team.

Who should be interviewed for a manufacturer, for example, of industrial machinery? The production manager, the purchasing manager, the general manager? In the case of some B2B SME’s, the Owner or CEO may be more than enough

Giving a precise answer to this question is essential and depends on the organization and the departments involved in the purchasing process. You may need to involve engineering, manufacturing, purchasing, or quality control departments. Because each department evaluates suppliers differently, the customer satisfaction survey will need to cover the multiple views.

For each position, the CFO, purchasing manager, head of production or CEO, a different approach will be required. Each has a different role and interaction with the supplier and its products or services. A favorable environment needs to be created in order to allow the information we need to emerge.

The survey is an extra tool available to the sales force to strengthen the relationship with its customers. It is the supplier who formally invites its customers to take part in the survey.

What needs to be measured?

Every supplier knows that there are aspects in which there is a margin of tolerance, others where the Customer does not allow error. If a supplier fails in one of these, they may lose the customer.

High-level topics are included in most customer satisfaction surveys, these are questions that give general information:

  • What is your overall supplier satisfaction?
  • How likely or unlikely is it that you will still purchase from the supplier?
  • How much would you recommend the supplier to a friend or colleague?

However, it is when you drill down to a more specific level that you get the most relevant insights.

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The more accurate the setup of the analysis and the interaction with customers, the more accurate and relevant the information obtained will be. When entering the merits of more specific issues, you need to define exactly which factors to analyze. These factors or attributes differ from supplier to supplier and may vary over time. They may include the following:

Questionnaire Section
B2B Customer Satisfaction Questions
Product Quality, Product Duration, Product Design, Quality Consistency, Product Range, Product Interoperability
On Time Deliveries, Response time to requests
Staff & Service
Availability Sales Representative, Complaints Resolution, Request Responsiveness, Post-Sales Services, Technical Service
Company Reputation, Relationship Management, Clarity of Quotes, Invoices on Time
Market Price, Value for Money, Total Cost of Use

The list is not exhaustive by any means, the external company conducting the survey will help in the initial stage of identifying the attributes which need to be measured by identifying the issues, learning the terminology and analyzing internal documentation. Internal focus groups with the sales staff will prove highly informative. This internally generated information may be biased, but it will raise most of the general customer issues and is readily available at little cost. Here again, in the case of SME’s, it may be enough to involve only one person, the General Manager or Sales Director.

Another key aspect that is measured using this type of survey is the comparison with direct competitors. Customers do not easily offer information regarding how much better or worse an aspect of their suppliers’ product/service is compared to the competition. This is also the reason why it is important that the interviewer is not the supplier himself but a third party.

How should the interview be carried out?

There are several ways in which the interviewed can be held, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. For the B2B channel, in-person interviews are always preferable.

This method makes it possible to build a relationship and keep the interviewee’s involvement and attention high. Direct and open-ended questions obtain more authentic answers during a face to face interview. In addition, those conducting the interview can derive many qualitative and quantitative elements which can be integrated into the survey.

How To Use A Customer Satisfaction Survey To Greatest Effect?

Customers who gave their time to the survey now expect the results to translate into concrete action. If this does not happen, further dissatisfaction is created.

Some actions can be quick and immediate, such as sending a newsletter, changing the billing process, or creating a call center to provide technical information.

A five-step process can be used to make these long-term improvements.

Step 1: Identify the gap

  • Examine survey data to see where there are absolute low scores and low scores compared to the competition
  • Pay special attention to issues that are important to customers
  • If there have been no errors in the collection phase, we assume that the scores are correct unless there is irrefutable evidence to the contrary – you must always remember that perceptions are reality, even when they surprise or are very different from what we think we know about our customers.
Step 2: Analyze and question the client segmentation

  • How do satisfaction scores vary depending on different types of customers?
Step 3: Analyze and question customer value proposition (CVP)

  • Satisfaction scores are low because the customer value proposition (CVP) is not effectively communicated to the market?
  • Are scores low because CVP is not effectively implemented?
Step 4: Create an action plan

  • List critical and areas for improvement
  • Identify the root cause
  • Identify any barriers that could stop the improvement
  • Check the adequacy of allocated resources (typically money and people)
  • Assign people and time to the tasks you need
Step 5: Measure and review

  • How has the Customer Satisfaction Index moved?
  • Is the change significant/real?

Measuring satisfaction needs to be an ongoing process. People’s opinions are constantly changing. Monitoring surveys provide benchmarks of your company’s performance and if competing suppliers are also measured, there will be relative performance measurements. Measuring satisfaction at regular intervals will allow you to always have the situation under control.

This places a considerable burden on the external company which must design an effective survey. The questionnaire must be consistent so that there is no dispute over the reliability of the different responses.

Last of all, there should be a constant review of the process; improving customer satisfaction is a race that never ends!

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