How to conduct B2B customer satisfaction research

How to conduct B2B customer satisfaction research
Contents

Why tracking B2B customer satisfaction matters

Which methods to use in B2B customer satisfaction research

Best practices for B2B customer satisfaction research

 

 

Why tracking B2B customer satisfaction matters

Customers are the lifeblood of your business – but unless you understand what they think about you, it’s tough to actively manage the relationship with them. 

That’s why every B2B company needs a regular program of research into their customers’ satisfaction. 

Tracking satisfaction, then taking action to improve it, leads to happy customers. These are more likely to increase their spending, stay loyal to your business, and recommend its products or services to others.

Others, in turn, may soon become customers themselves – essentially making their cost of acquisition free.

In contrast, many dissatisfied customers will leave and find alternative solutions. Not to worry though, you can just replace them with new customers, right?

You can – but that takes more time, more effort, and much more money. HubSpot reports that it costs up to 25 times less to keep customers, compared to capturing new ones. Moreover, customer acquisition costs (CAC) have been rising year on year. Profitwell has estimated a 60% CAC increase in five years, as well as a higher CAC for B2B than in B2C.

Running a regular B2B customer satisfaction survey helps you to retain satisfied customers, boosting the top line and bottom line – but there’s a wide range of other benefits to realize too. 

It lets you track your customers’ needs and wants, so you know what they expect from the business. They’re the ones who use your products and services, so they’re well-placed to identify the areas you should improve.

It will give you the information you need to set a benchmark for your business – a customer satisfaction standard to maintain or aim for if you’re falling short. 

It shows you what customers think of your brand while giving the less vocal ones a regular platform to share their views constructively. It can even reveal nascent trends you need to be aware of.

A well-designed B2B customer satisfaction research program can achieve a lot, in other words. Some of the most useful things it can tell you include:

  • How to keep customers, boosting revenues 
  • How to improve loyalty, reducing your reliance on high CAC to grow the business
  • How the business is performing against internal and industry-wide benchmarks
  • What your customers’ unmet needs and wants are
  • Where your business needs to improve

Which methods to use in B2B customer satisfaction research

How much the research can achieve depends on how it’s been designed. 

Something quite simple and tactical, like asking customers to use a five-star rating system, is very quick and easy. However, that metric is transactional by nature and only has the potential to add reasonable value if run in parallel with a more strategic and insightful study.

Whichever way you run a B2B customer satisfaction (CSAT) survey, the best overall technique is to tailor your communication. An impersonal, generic experience risks alienating customers.

Think about who you want feedback from and target them with care. Using a personalized process and leveraging existing relationships will increase engagement and the sample size. 

It’s ideal to outline how their feedback will be used, i.e. to ultimately provide them with better experiences or services. 

Then in terms of how to ask for their feedback – how satisfied they are and why (not) – bear in mind that B2C research methods may not necessarily work as well in B2B research. We’ll highlight where that’s the case.

Overall between B2C and B2B, there are key differences in terms of who the buyer is, who the end-user is, the distribution channel used, and the purchase process. This impacts how to run the research too.

Depending on your objectives, the type of B2B customer satisfaction survey questions you need will vary. Some of the main methods to consider using are below. While #1-3 have traditionally been very popular in customer satisfaction research, basing your strategy around one of those methods isn’t always the best overall approach in B2B:

  1. Overall customer satisfaction (CSAT)
  2. Net promoter score (NPS)
  3. Customer effort score (CES)
  4. Customer churn analysis
  5. Five-star rating system
  6. Bespoke metric based on your industry

            While it’s possible to track metrics for each with just one or two questions, after a customer interaction, collecting data this way can be piecemeal and hard to make conclusions from. 

            Alternatively, in a 10-minute online survey, there could be scope to include all the questions required for each of #1-6, depending on how many other research objectives there are. CSAT-based surveys will often include an NPS section and might also explore reasons why customers have lapsed or churned, for example.

            However, there’s not always enough time – or need – to cover all of #1-6, so you have to prioritize. Also, take care not to be blinded by science or get scores for the sake of it. Often, it’s more insightful to base a study around one approach – e.g. a CSAT, customer churn analysis, or a bespoke metric, then probe for customers’ reasoning with further exploratory questioning.

            With that in mind, here’s what each method offers in a B2B customer satisfaction survey: 

            #1 Overall customer satisfaction (CSAT)

            The primary aim of a CSAT is to find out to what extent your customers are satisfied overall. 

            In B2B, usually, you’ll go deeper by also asking questions to see how satisfied or dissatisfied they are with specific aspects or criteria. Doing this often indicates what may be driving customers’ overall satisfaction scores.

            For example, you could ask for individual satisfaction scores for service aspects like your prices, product quality, website ordering, delivery, customer service, etc.

            You can also ask about intangibles – for example, how satisfied they are with your reliability, proactivity, and so on.

            A common way to do a CSAT is by asking questions like: “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 aspect/intangible]?” 

            Then take the average score, or divide the number of positive responses by the total number of responses to get a CSAT percentage.

            A regular CSAT survey feature is a set of questions asking customers how important your products/services (or aspects of them) are, then asking how satisfied they are with these. 

            This exercise lets you divide criteria into four categories: 

            • Monitor – low importance, low satisfaction: Watch in case they become important
            • Maintain – low importance, high satisfaction: Continue current performance levels
            • Promote – high importance, high satisfaction: Focus strategy or marcomms on these
            • Prioritize – high importance, low satisfaction: These are the areas to improve 

            Another common CSAT question is: “In the past 12 months, would you say that [company] has got … much better, slightly better, no change, slightly worse, or much worse?”

            The answers here are particularly useful when running regular, periodic surveys and when the overcall CSAT score remains relatively flat. Critically, if you follow up by asking why, the answers could help you identify issues that need resolving before they get worse. 

            Often, a B2B customer satisfaction survey is built around the question style above. There may also be some value to adding in questions for other methods, which we’ll go over now. 

            Used in isolation though, these can tend to be more tactical and may not yield sufficient strategic insights to let you understand, then meaningfully improve, customer satisfaction in the long run.

            #2 Net promoter score (NPS)

            Technically, NPS measures customer loyalty rather than satisfaction. In contrast to the above, there’s only really one question to ask here: “How likely are you to recommend [company] to a friend or colleague?”

            The question uses a 0-10 scale with customers falling into the following categories:

            • 9-10: Promoters – loyal to your company, satisfied, and likely to recommend 
            • 7-8: Passives – neither loyal nor likely to recommend, but satisfied
            • 0-6: Detractors – neither loyal nor satisfied and may dissuade others

            The actual NPS is calculated by subtracting the percentage of detractors from promoters – but the score itself is shown without a % symbol. NPS is a widely-used method to come up with a performance score for a business to track and try to increase. 

            However, we find that NPS is not well-suited to the B2B model as it’s too one-size-fits-all.

            In B2C, NPS works better – it’s more common for consumers to have a favorite brand they stay loyal to. In contrast, there are several types of loyalty in B2B, including:

            • Forced loyalty – customers have no option to change their provider
            • Preferential loyalty – customer spend is always distributed between multiple providers

            As a result, NPS doesn’t necessarily correlate to commercial performance in B2B. It doesn’t work as a metric that once you improve, will translate into improved growth or revenues.

            Instead of using NPS, we recommend creating a different ‘hero’ metric that’s more specific to your company, just as product managers create a ‘North Star’ metric for new releases. We’ll cover this at #6.

            #3 Customer effort score (CES)

            A CES approach reveals how much effort customers need to put in during any interaction. For example, you could ask: “How easy was it for you to register for our free trial today?”

            Provide a Likert or numeric scale and then take the average score, or detract the high effort responses from the low effort ones.

            The theory is that there is a correlation between high customer loyalty and low effort. The easier you make things throughout customers’ journey or buying process for example, the more likely you’ll retain them.

            In the book Harvard Business Review on Increasing Customer Loyalty, it’s claimed that out of customers reporting low effort, 94% intended to make another purchase and 88% would increase their spending.  

            Similar to NPS, this metric alone will only paint a limited picture. Of course, it is important to know if your customers have pain points when interacting with you and where the friction is. Working towards an easy-to-use UX and a seamless CX may well improve satisfaction, but the link isn’t always that direct or simple. 

            You could have a customer who once had to put in a lot of effort with you to resolve an issue, but is otherwise very satisfied overall – or vice versa. CES questions work well as part of a wider study, but you may find the focus too narrow to reveal how to improve satisfaction unless high customer effort has been identified as a key business challenge to address.

            #4 Customer churn analysis

            If churn is a concern, finding out the reasons why customers are leaving can be a good way to learn how to improve satisfaction among current ones.

            This exercise won’t provide a holistic picture of customer satisfaction though, as it focuses on those who have already stopped using your products and services (or are about to).

            The actual customer churn metric isn’t the answer you’re looking for here, that’s just what tells you if you need to run some research in the first place. 

            Estimate the customer churn rate by dividing your total number of lost customers by your total customer base. Monitor it over time and if it’s increasing, you know there’s a problem.

            Finding out the triggers, or the points of no return, causing churning customers to abandon you will help you stop the bleeding. It’ll show you the areas to prioritize to prevent remaining customers from following suit.

            You could ask: “What was the main reason why you decided to stop using [company]?” or: “How influential were each of the following in your decision to stop using [company]?”

            In B2B SaaS, for example, it’s common to ask clients that are ending a subscription why they’re leaving during the cancellation process. Any answers given here might be insightful, but if not, then it’s worth running a separate study to get to the bottom of why they’re going. 

            #5 Five-star rating system

            Commonly used in B2C or B2B2C, but also increasingly in B2B, asking customers to rate their satisfaction on a five-star scale is quick and simple. Essentially, it’s just a one-question survey, or two questions if you add an optional open-text box for giving a reason why.

            Often presented to a customer straight after an interaction (on a website, in an app, or even automated at the end of a phone call) it can be a good way of capturing real-time satisfaction.

            In most cases though, as a standalone source, it’s hard to get the level of insight needed to monitor ongoing customer satisfaction and work out how to improve it from five-star ratings.

            It’s very transactional, which is fine if you’re just trying to get a quick pulse of the satisfaction levels for a new product feature, for example. For anything more than that, the system would need to be used in parallel with a much more strategic study.

            It’s too piecemeal to use by itself for an informative review into how satisfied customers are with your business and individual elements. Alone, it’ll rarely be insightful enough to show you how to improve customer satisfaction for the greatest commercial impact. 

            #6 Bespoke metric based on your industry

            As explained at #2, in B2B it’s often better to use a metric that’s more specific to your business. 

            To find the right one, you could take the insights from any previous customer satisfaction, journey, or buying process research you’ve done. See which criteria most influence your sales. 

            For example, for an online electronic components retailer, the bespoke metric could be ease of completing a transaction. It’s something crucial to them, but won’t necessarily be one of the most important criteria to track for B2B companies in other industries.

            This is a similar approach to the North Star metrics used by Product Managers – for Zoom, it’s the number of weekly hosted meetings on average. So in terms of customer satisfaction, you can build a bespoke metric that’s based on your company mission or on something that differentiates you from competitors.

            Best practices for B2B customer satisfaction research

            #1 Include key internal stakeholders in the process

            This is particularly important if your customers interact with different service, product, sales, and account team members across the business. Relationships matter. 

            Don’t try to bypass those who ‘own’ the customer relationship within your organization. Gain their support for the research first, or they – and your customers – may react negatively.

            Key internal stakeholders will likely:

            • Need to permit you to access their customers’ contact details – therefore, they may need convincing that a customer satisfaction study will add value
            • Have separate questions needing answers, so they should play a role in shaping the survey’s design
            • Be required to follow up on the research results’ insights and recommendations

            The latter point is crucial. If key stakeholders are left out of the research process, they may not accept its results – and question if the right customers were included, the right questions asked, and so on.

            #2 Reflect your customer base in the research and include major accounts

            If some customer accounts, segment types, or markets, spend significantly more than others then not only should they be included – their relative importance should be factored in.

            These strategically important relationships need to be explored in-depth. Ideally, focus on major accounts first and foremost, but often stakeholders will want everyone represented.

            Again this means collaborating with internal stakeholders to decide upfront which customers’ feedback matters most, before recruiting respondents. If you can set target quotas, rather than trying to weight the results retrospectively, the data will be easier to interpret.

            If you can filter your results by customer spend, it leads to more powerful conclusions and a more commercially-prioritized list of next steps following the debrief.

            However, often there aren’t enough respondents to have quotas or filters. A B2B customer satisfaction survey will usually have a smaller base size in comparison with a B2C one. The target market is smaller and decision-makers are harder to reach in B2B.

            In which case, a great option is to conduct some additional qualitative depth interviews with decision-makers at your major accounts. This ensures their views have sufficient sway on the study’s insights and they can help to reveal the reasons behind the satisfaction scores.

            #3 Don’t only get quantitative survey data 

            Ideally, resources permitting, there’ll be scope to get fuller qualitative insights from across your customer base, on top of the main survey. Tracking a customer satisfaction metric is only useful once you understand why you received that rating. Exploring the reasons behind the scores, by speaking to your most valuable clients, brings quantitative results to life. 

            Moreover, it’s a good way to make key clients feel appreciated, or that they’re getting special treatment, with a less indirect or impersonal approach compared to an online survey. It also ensures that their opinions won’t be under-represented or under-weighted. 

            There are other options in addition to, or as an alternative to, depth interviews though. For example, social media listening can provide rich insights into the customer experience.

            Beyond the quantitative survey data, other metrics you already have access to – such as website engagement or lead generation statistics – may also shed light on the findings.

            #4 Research competitors’ customer satisfaction too

            Don’t ignore the competition – too many customer satisfaction surveys neglect to ask for comparative scores for competitors. 

            Context is vital with satisfaction scores. If 85% of your customers are satisfied with your performance, that sounds good – until you learn that 95% are satisfied with a rival’s service.

            You need to know whether competitors in your space are receiving higher scores for similar services. If so, why.

            Tracking competitor perceptions will help you understand where further improvement is needed, to win more business and take a greater market share. You’ll also identify a competitor-based B2B customer satisfaction benchmark to compare your business against. 

            #5 Use statistical techniques to understand their subconscious satisfaction

            Often your customers may not realize the reasons behind their opinions and actions. Therefore, research needs to go a step further to reveal what is truly driving satisfaction. 

            Statistical techniques like regression analysis go beyond what respondents say and can identify the factors which truly influence their perceptions or their loyalty.

            Regression analysis shows the relationship between a dependent variable – the outcome – and independent variables such as factors, product features, and so on.

            Statistical modeling also plays a role in identifying any ‘shadow effect’ – one major factor which significantly affects satisfaction scores regardless of performance in any other area.

            #6 Don’t just focus on the negatives

            When designing a B2B customer satisfaction survey, there’s often a natural inclination to ask questions which mainly aim to identify and explore weaknesses or improvement areas.

            It’s really important to also design questions that will let your customers say what’s going well and the reasons why. Delivering these positive experiences to more of your customers could be just as important as working on the subpar aspects.

            Similarly, there’s often a temptation when analyzing the survey results to only fixate on the negative conclusions and just prioritize a plan to address these.

            Drawing attention to the good news stories will help you spread best practices where needed in the business, to hopefully raise the bar – and the satisfaction scores – next time.

            #7 React to any issues in real-time

            In case your customers use the survey as an opportunity to raise a query, concern, or issue, then be prepared to react and respond quickly.

            Include clear options for requesting prompt contact, so that you can close the loop with them quickly.

            This will prevent any risk of their comments being overlooked. It helps stop any problems from escalating and becoming critical. 

            #8 Make a plan to follow up on the insights

            Firstly, take the time to thank your customers since they have taken the time to support you. 

            Make the process a more engaging experience by showing them how their feedback drives change. Tell them what you’re doing next and ideally, when they’ll start seeing the impact.

            The real work starts after the survey. Collaborate with a select few key customer accounts to develop action plans based on the feedback.

            Then run workshops with all customer-facing staff, so they understand the areas where it’s particularly important to perform well. There are lots of ways to incentivize action – set KPIs, other targets, or even link customer satisfaction metrics to employee bonuses.

            Finally, don’t repeat a B2B customer satisfaction survey until enough time has passed for the changes to be implemented and recognized – usually 12 months, but wait longer if needed. 

            Summary

            Why tracking B2B customer satisfaction matters

            Well-designed research provides the insights you need to fully understand: how to keep customers, boosting revenues; how to improve loyalty, reducing your reliance on high CAC to grow the business; how the business is performing against internal and industry-wide benchmarks; what your customers’ unmet needs and wants are; where your business needs to improve.

            Which methods to use in B2B customer satisfaction research

            Common metrics and approaches you can measure – and build a broader program of research around – include but aren’t limited to: overall customer satisfaction (CSAT); net promoter score (NPS); customer effort score (CES); customer churn analysis; five-star rating system; bespoke metric based on your industry.

            Best practices for B2B customer satisfaction research

            To get actionable insight that will lead to meaningful improvements, we recommend that you: include key internal stakeholders in the process; reflect your customer base in the research and include important accounts; don’t only get quantitative survey data; research competitors’ customer satisfaction too; use statistical techniques to understand their subconscious satisfaction; don’t just focus on the negatives; react to any issues in real-time; make a plan to follow up on the insights.

            Chris Wells
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