Transplace uses two kinds of surveys to gauge customer satisfaction

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Challenge: Executives at Transplace, a transportation and technology service provider in Dallas, felt customer service had taken a backburner to the new, exciting things happening in the digital world. In an attempt to better serve its clients, the company changed its corporate goals to improved customer satisfaction. To help align its more than 500 employees with the new objective—and additionally to patch cracks in its customer service—Transplace elected to use the Internet.

Solution: Transplace had two options for asking its customers about customer service and how they could be better-served: traditional, face-to-face client interviews, which would allow customers to express specific challenges or disappointments to a impartial third party, or an online survey. Transplace decided to use both.

“Through the Executive Customer Surveys, in a short time, it's easy to see trends year after year after year,” said Transplace's COO-CMO George Abernathy. “The goal itself was to improve value to customers, and the survey is justification that we have.” Transplace was an early adopter in using Internet surveys to gather customer service feedback when they started six years ago. Now, for comparison and consistency from year to year, the survey has been expanded to cover additional services and technologies Transplace has provided in adapting to the digital age, according to Abernathy. Questions like, “Transplace develops innovative solutions to my company's challenges,” allow clients to comment.

The home-built surveys are distributed to all clients, with a specific focus on the top 30, through a link sent via e-mails between Thanksgiving and Christmas every year. This time of year was picked because there is a better chance customers won't be traveling, said Abernathy. The surveys feature questions that are ranked on a one-to-six scale, with six being “extremely satisfied,” five “satisfied,” four “somewhat satisfied” and so on.

When the survey comes back with lots of fours, this identifies a problem area in customer satisfaction that needs to be fixed, Abernathy said. The first surveys seven years ago were very basic, asking general questions

While the Internet is the easiest, most-efficient way to mass-distribute a survey, it's not without its limitations.

“There's a perception [with online surveys] that they're spam, and that creates the challenge of not having these surveys caught by a spam filter,” Abernathy said. “With the customer's approval, of course, we use ways to work around that.”

Beyond getting around corporate spam filters, Abernathy said, a bigger problem is that some customers feel Internet surveys “don't dig deeply enough.” To address that, Transplace uses a supplemental personal interview every other year, an addition Outlook Marketing Services helped develop. These structured interviews are conducted by an outside party so execs have an opportunity to give more complete, free-form answers. One of the new, digital-focused questions asked during the live one-on-one portion is how the changes in digital and the adoption of technologies Transplace suggested have made, or brokeen, business, said Jeff Rappaport, CEO of Outlook Marketing.

Results: Last year, Transplace's Executive Customer Survey was sent to 200 to 300 companies and saw a response rate of 50%. Of those respondents, only one from Transplace's top 30 chose not to participate, Abernathy said.

Abernathy said the surveys have been so successful that Transplace has been able to identify specific problem areas, like the way it reported business intelligence, and then change the programs it used to ones that its customers understood better and ones that actually solved their needs.

“When we asked clients to rank Transplace's reporting of business intelligence, we received fours,” Abernathy said. “So after some research, we moved to the Microsoft Business package and, over the past three years, we have increased our scores [in that area] consistently.”

Thanks to the surveys, Transplace has an engaged, healthy conversation with its customer, Abernathy said, adding that he believes clients appreciate the company's willingness to hear negative feedback (and make changes).

“We use the surveys as a mechanism to see what parts of our service needs to be upped,” Abernathy said. “And we're proud of their success.”

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