Turn frowners into fans: How to gauge client satisfaction

Turn frowners into fans: How to gauge client satisfaction

Simple questions for your dissatisfied clients can turn your lousy customer service numbers into success.
Oct 01, 2008

We all know that the key to success is customer service and word-of-mouth referrals. Happy clients refer friends and family, those new clients refer their friends and family, and so on. But how do we measure customer service? How many smiles at the front desk does it take? How many warm, wise words in the exam room equal a referral? How do we develop a baseline and seek to improve it?

The bottom line
Leave it to businesspeople to find a way. In 2006 Fred Reichheld, a partner at Boston consulting firm Bain & Co., published The Ultimate Question (Harvard Business School Press, 2006). This smart book promotes the use of NPS, or net promoter score. There's only one question you need to ask clients to set the baseline: "How likely is it that you would recommend our practice to a friend or colleague, on a scale of 1 to 10?" You then sort the responses into three groups: promoters (9s and 10s), passives (7s and 8s), and detractors (0s through 6s). The percentage of promoters minus the percentage of detractors is your NPS number. For example, a practice with 75 percent promoters and 15 percent detractors would have an NPS of 60.

Once you figure out this number, you can work to improve it. It's that simple. According to Reichheld, the average U.S. company has an NPS of about 15 (which I think is really low). In veterinary practices where I've used the NPS concept, I've found an average of 40 to 45.

Can we talk?

Reichheld also suggests you ask a second question as you gather your NPS number: "May I follow up with you at a later date?" The permission clause is key. The goal is to get constructive criticism from willing clients. You then contact those who agreed to talk and ask them one final question: "Why did you give us this rating?" Some of the most useful feedback comes from detractors. Unhappy customers will give you an earful, perhaps revealing some serious shortcomings in your business. Cure what ails this tough crowd and convert detractors into promoters. Then watch your NPS score climb.

Here's an example: We contacted a detractor who gave a "2" rating at one practice. The client said she'd be willing to talk to us, and it turns out she was upset because her bill was more than the estimate and no one offered an explanation or even made a comment about the difference in price. Once we apologized and explained why there was a difference, she was much happier and appreciative of the services rendered. We then held a meeting with the entire team and reviewed how to present medical care plans to clients. In addition, we built in a double-check system to make sure this didn't happen again.

At another practice, a detractor gave the hospital a measly "1" rating. Ouch. When we contacted the client, she was upset with a doctor who was "rough" with her pet and unfriendly. "The doctor acted like she hated my pet," the client told us. Other detractors made comments about this same doctor. We tried to improve this doctor's bedside manner. And when that didn't work, the manager fired the doctor. In the six months that followed, the practice experienced a 10-point increase in its NPS.