A guide to customer satisfaction research in B2B, including asking the right questions

A guide to customer satisfaction research in B2B, including asking the right questions

Lots of businesses claim to be customer-centric, yet not enough companies ensure their customers are actually satisfied.

Tracking customer satisfaction, identifying any issues, and then taking action to improve these results in happy product buyers and users. They are more likely to buy again, increase their spending, remain loyal customers, and recommend you to their contacts.

These contacts could soon become customers themselves, without any acquisition costs or business development efforts on your part. However, on the flip side, most dissatisfied customers will leave – you can replace them, but that needs more time and resources. 

Keeping customers costs up to 25 times less than capturing new ones, Hubspot reports. Not only that, but Profitwell has estimated a 60% increase in customer acquisition costs over five years – and these costs are higher in B2B than B2C.

Therefore, every B2B company can benefit from a regular B2B customer satisfaction study to help retain satisfied customers. 

The research reveals customers’ needs and wants, so you know what they expect from you. Satisfaction tracking sets a benchmark for your business – standards to maintain, or aim for if your current performance is below par.

It also outlines what customers think of your brand and gives less vocal ones a platform to share their views on perceived service quality constructively. An insightful B2B customer satisfaction research study can help boost both the top line and bottom line, by showing you:

  • How to keep customers, growing revenues 
  • How to improve customer loyalty, reducing acquisition costs
  • What customers’ unmet needs and wants are
  • Where your business needs to improve customer satisfaction
  • How your business is performing against competitor benchmarks
Contents

How to do B2B customer satisfaction research projects

Areas of customer satisfaction to explore

Best practices for customer satisfaction research in B2B

 

 

How to do B2B customer satisfaction research projects

Here is our advice for conducting customer satisfaction research projects end-to-end with a B2B audience including:

  • Research setup
  • Methodology
  • Design and fieldwork
  • Analysis and reporting

#1 Research setup

First things first, engage key internal stakeholders at the outset and put a plan in place to keep them informed throughout the project. This is crucial if your customers interact with different departments across the business, e.g. service, product, sales, and account teams. 

Gain the support of stakeholders who oversee customer relationships as soon as possible. Don’t bypass them otherwise, they and/or their customers may react badly and question why you kept them out of the loop.

Stakeholders may:

  • Need to grant access to customer contact details or check data-sharing permissions
  • Require convincing that customer satisfaction research will bring benefits
  • Have their own questions to ask, so they should have input in the design stage
  • Need to follow up on the research results

This last point is vital. Any key stakeholders excluded from the research process could challenge the final insights and recommendations – querying if you asked the right questions or included the right mix of customers.

This is where it helps to have a market segmentation, splitting your customer base into different groups with comparable wants, attributes, and behavior. Recruiting for a customer satisfaction research project based on your segments means you can compare results later on and develop separate follow-up action plans.

If specific customer accounts, segments, international markets, etc. spend significantly more than others, factor these differences into your research setup. Make sure you not only include key groups in the research, but you factor in their relative importance.

Aim to explore strategically important relationships in-depth. Try to focus on major accounts as a priority, but sometimes stakeholders are keen to include everyone.

Work with internal stakeholders to decide upfront which customers’ feedback matters most, before recruiting respondents. Set target quotas to ensure a representative spread of your customer base – in terms of your main buyer segments, customer spending, etc.

#2 Methodology

When it comes to deciding between quantitative and qualitative research to measure customer satisfaction:

  • Quant is traditionally the more common approach for customer satisfaction research, with businesses looking for robust satisfaction metrics to track over time.
  • But, in B2B research, note that a customer satisfaction survey will usually have a smaller base size in comparison with a B2C one. The target market is relatively smaller and senior decision-makers willing to take part in research are much harder to find in B2B.
  • Tracking customer satisfaction metrics is only useful coupled with an understanding of why you received that rating. Ideally, resources permitting, aim to get qual insights from across your customer base, on top of a quant survey. 
  • Qual depth interviews with decision-makers at your major accounts help reveal the reasons behind customer satisfaction scores. It also ensures their opinions have sufficient sway on the program’s insights.
  • Moreover, qual interviews are a good way to make key clients feel appreciated, with a less indirect or impersonal approach compared to online surveys.

Beyond quant survey data, other metrics you already have access to, such as website engagement statistics, may also add context to your research results. Social media research can also provide rich insights into the customer journey and experience.

It’s best to take an open-minded approach to research methods and instead prioritize getting the most useful results possible.

Whether you’re going to use a quant questionnaire or qual topic guide, there’s an important balancing act to get right. It’s very valuable to include questions on competitor perceptions but without making the research interviews too long, to avoid the risk of respondent fatigue.

Context is crucial with satisfaction scores – if 90% of your customers are satisfied with your performance, that sounds great, but not if 95% are satisfied with a competitor’s service quality. If competitors in your space receive higher satisfaction scores for similar services, you need to know the reasons why.

Your competitor intelligence will shed light on where your business requires improvement – to get more customers, make them satisfied, and take a greater market share. You’ll also get a competitor-based customer satisfaction benchmark to compare your company against.

#3 Design and fieldwork

The research design will determine how useful your results are. Depending on your objectives, the type of customer satisfaction survey questions you need will differ. 

Don’t use customer satisfaction survey templates found online – these will be too generic to deliver actionable insights that are relevant for B2B industries.

Below are some of the main customer satisfaction survey examples to consider. Something simple and tactical, such as asking customers to use five-star rating systems, is quick and easy – but very transactional. 

Arguably scores such as these only add value and provide powerful insights in combination with more strategic and insightful research. More strategic studies are very specifically tailored to your business and research objectives – e.g. by using bespoke metrics combined with exploratory questioning around the scores.

  1. Overall customer satisfaction score (CSAT): e.g. On a scale of 1-10, where 10 is extremely satisfied and 1 is extremely dissatisfied, how would you rate your satisfaction with [company/service]?
  2. Net promoter score (NPS): e.g. How likely are you to recommend [company] to a friend or colleague?
  3. Customer effort score (CES): e.g. How easy was it for you to register for our free trial today?
  4. Customer churn analysis: e.g. What was the main reason why you decided to stop using [company]?
  5. Five-star rating: e.g. Please rate the service you received today: ☆☆☆☆☆
  6. Bespoke metrics based on your industry: e.g. How many times do you use our software each week, on average?

Traditionally, the first three are popular in customer satisfaction surveys, but basing your strategy around these isn’t always the best overall approach in B2B

It’s possible to track metrics for each of these with just one or two questions – often straight after a customer touchpoint – but collecting data this way is piecemeal and difficult to draw conclusions from.

But in a 10-minute online survey, there could be scope to include most of the questions you need for each of #1-6, depending on how many other research objectives you have. A typical CSAT-based survey often includes an NPS question and might also explore reasons why customers have lapsed or churned.

However, there isn’t always enough time – or need – to cover everything. Besides, because there are different types of loyalty in B2B industries, in our experience, NPS questions are not as useful as they are in B2C.

Also, there’s little value in getting lots of scores for the sake of it. Usually, it’s more useful to base a study around one of the above approaches, e.g. a bespoke metric, then do a deep-dive into customers’ reasons for their scores.

#4 Analysis and reporting

Customer satisfaction research projects that ask respondents for too many scores often lead to a ‘data dump’ report that’s difficult to read and act on.

Whether the customer interviews were long or short, set aside data that isn’t interesting or unique. There’s no need to include the answers to every question in a report:

  • For any qual results, analyze the results thoroughly – look for common themes and run brainstorming sessions to find the most relevant and interesting stories.
  • For quant results, look for statistically significant stories. Always add significance testing to the tables, so that some of the most noteworthy findings stand out.

If you have enough data to filter your results, e.g. by customer spend, it leads to more powerful conclusions and more commercially-prioritized next steps after the debrief.

Areas of customer satisfaction to explore

There is more to B2B customer satisfaction research than getting an overall score and the underlying reasons.

Customers may be happy with some aspects of your business but less so with others. Exploring satisfaction for different aspects of your client-facing operations helps you narrow down where you’re performing well versus the areas for improvement.

Then you’ll know more specifically where remedial action is needed. Common areas of satisfaction, or dissatisfaction, to explore in a project include:

  • Overall: As above
  • Product/Service: Ask customer satisfaction questions about your product range, quality, reliability, durability, appearance, speed, and so on, where relevant
  • Buying process: E.g. How easy is it to find what you’re looking for on our website? How satisfied are you with the order customization options?
  • Customer service: Ask questions about staff’s availability, knowledge, helpfulness, responsiveness, proactivity, and complaint handling.
  • Account management: E.g. How satisfied are you with your account manager? Why/why not?
  • Delivery: Ask questions about delivery speed, meeting deadlines, costs, recyclable packaging, and so on.
  • Pricing: Explore satisfaction around your product/service pricing, discounts, invoice clarity, and value-for-money perceptions

The above list is an example – some of these may not be relevant to your business and there will likely be other areas you’d like to explore in a customer satisfaction research study.

Best practices for customer satisfaction research in B2B

#1 Explore areas of both satisfaction and dissatisfaction

When creating customer satisfaction surveys, it’s tempting to prioritize questions that aim to identify and explore weaknesses or areas for improvement.

But it’s important to include enough questions that let customers confirm what you’re doing well and give reasons why. That way, you capture the positive experiences that more of your customers need to have.

Similarly, when analyzing the results, don’t only focus on negative outcomes and plans to address these. Also, highlight the positive stories to learn from and keep aiming for.

#2 Use statistical techniques to explore subconscious satisfaction

Statistical trade-off techniques such as regression analysis explore beyond respondents’ given answers, identifying hidden factors that influence their perceptions.

Your customers may not realize the true reasons behind their views. Regression analysis shows the relationship between a dependent variable – e.g. overall satisfaction – and independent variables like factors, product features, and so on.

Statistical models may also identify a ‘shadow effect’ – one major factor with a significant effect on satisfaction scores regardless of your performance in any other area.

#3 React in real-time to any issues that customers raise

Some customers may use the survey as a forum to raise their queries, concerns, or issues, so be prepared to respond quickly.

Include a clear option to flag comments for customer service staff or their account manager, so you can close the loop promptly.

It helps stop any problems from escalating and also avoids the risk of data analysts treating the comments as standard open-ended responses. 

#4 Capitalize quickly on the momentum from your research

After the research, take time to thank customers for theirs. Explain how their feedback will drive change – set customer expectations by telling them what you’re doing next and ideally, when they’ll start seeing the impact.

Then the real work starts. You could collaborate with a select few key customer accounts to develop action plans, based on the results, to make sure your next steps will land well.

Start by running workshops with your customer-facing staff, so they understand the areas driving positive and negative outcomes. Don’t wait long, otherwise, priorities may change.

Summary

Tracking customer satisfaction, identifying any issues, and then taking action to improve these, leads to happy customers. They’re more likely to buy again, increase their spending, remain loyal to your company, and pass on recommendations to their contacts.

B2B customer satisfaction research can show you: how to keep customers and grow revenues; how to improve customer loyalty, reducing acquisition costs; what customers’ unmet needs and wants are; where your business needs to improve customer satisfaction; and how your business is performing against competitor benchmarks.

How to do B2B customer satisfaction research projects

Engage key internal stakeholders at the outset and put a plan in place to keep them informed. If specific customer accounts, segments, international markets, etc. spend significantly more than others, factor these differences into your research setup.

Ideally, resources permitting, aim to get qual insights from across your customer base, on top of a quant survey. It’s also valuable to include questions on competitor perceptions but make sure the research interviews are still concise to avoid respondent fatigue.

Don’t use a customer satisfaction survey template found online – they’re too generic for B2B – but consider including overall customer satisfaction score (CSAT); net promoter score (NPS); customer effort score (CES); customer churn analysis; five-star rating; and/or bespoke metrics.

Areas of customer satisfaction to explore

Common areas of satisfaction, or dissatisfaction, to explore in a customer satisfaction research project include: overall; product/service; buying process; customer service; account management; delivery; and pricing.

This list is an example – some of these may not be relevant to your business and there will likely be other areas you’d like to explore in a customer satisfaction research study.

Best practices for customer satisfaction research in B2B

In customer satisfaction research, we also recommend that you: explore areas of both customer satisfaction and dissatisfaction; use statistical techniques to explore subconscious satisfaction; react in real-time to any issues that customers raise; and capitalize quickly on the momentum from your research.

Chris Wells
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