Using Survey Results to Improve Customer Satisfaction
In the early days of shared services, formal measurement of internal customer satisfaction was not widespread. Most shared services organizations (SSOs) were too busy getting the basics such as service level agreements (SLAs) in place to have time to create and administer customer satisfaction surveys. Besides, with few services offered and frequent interaction with customers during the shared services "start up" phase, it was not difficult to maintain an accurate sense of customer attitudes through informal means.
With the growth of SSOs, the addition of multiple service offerings, and the expansion of the customer base, informal monitoring of customer satisfaction no longer suffices. As a result, more and more SSOs have designed - and are administering on a regular basis - formal surveys of customer satisfaction. However, too often, survey results are not used effectively by SSOs to drive actions that will lead to improved survey results in the future. Exelon’s Business Services Company (BSC) is an exception, systematically addressing survey findings to improve customer service and, as a result, customer satisfaction.
Formation of Exelon’s SSO
Exelon was formed in 2000 as a result of the merger of two large utilities, Unicom of Chicago and PECO, based in Philadelphia. The Business Services Company (BSC) was formed the next year as Exelon’s SSO, providing a variety of services to Exelon’s operating units.
From 2001 through 2003, BSC was busy integrating the operations it inherited from Unicom and PECO and achieving the synergy savings from the merger. It was also designing and refining its shared services management model. BSC initially focused on a few demanddriven functions including information technology, supply chain, accounts payable, payroll, employee service center, and legal to form the core of its shared services offerings. Over time, BSC service offerings have changed, with some being added and some being discontinued, but the core functions have remained relatively constant.
Initial customer satisfaction surveys and resulting actions
In 2004, BSC had evolved to the point that a more formal approach to measuring customer satisfaction was needed. With assistance from ScottMadden, Inc., customer satisfaction surveys were designed and administered for all of the BSC transactional functions. A total of nine surveys were employed, including surveys for each function and a survey of executives. While overall satisfaction was good, detailed analysis of the survey results revealed many opportunities for improvement. In fact, in several areas, customer satisfaction scores were in the 3rd and 4th quartile of ScottMadden’s database of survey results.
BSC received highest marks across the board for the professional and courteous attitudes and knowledge and experience of its employees. The biggest area identified for improvement was communication – especially as it relates to decisions, changes, or updates that affect customers – and knowing whom to contact for service. To prioritize specific areas for improvement, Exelon used ScottMadden’s Payoff Index. The Payoff Index is a statistical methodology that identifies the areas for improvement that will produce the biggest impact on overall customer satisfaction.
Based upon the priorities thus established, the BSC management team launched a number of initiatives aimed at improving customer satisfaction. One way that BSC addressed communication concerns was through development of customer engagement models. These models detailed each department’s plans for maintaining close and frequent interaction with its customers. In addition, account managers were designated by some of the larger service providers to serve as central points of contact for Exelon operating units. Other improvements included providing customer service training to accounts payable and payroll personnel and improving customer service hotlines.
Mixed results in follow-up surveys
Approximately one year later, in 2005, surveys were updated and customer opinions once again gathered. The results were mixed, with some areas showing significant improvement but other areas showing little or no improvement. Moreover, communication was continuing to show up as the key area of BSC customer dissatisfaction.
In analyzing the results, two conclusions were reached by BSC management. First, most of their communication improvement efforts since the initial surveys had been targeted at the management and executive levels in the customer organizations. As a result, overall executive satisfaction had increased for six of seven practice areas. At the user level, however, little improvement was noted. Second, many process improvements aimed at increasing customer satisfaction that were initiated in 2004 did not become operational until late in the year. As a result, these improvements were not always apparent to users surveyed in early 2005.
BSC management resolved to do a better job of communication at the user level and continue to execute and refine many of the process improvements implemented in 2004.
Persistence pays — improved satisfaction reflected in recent surveys!
Customer satisfaction surveys completed in 2007 provided a far more positive picture. Overall satisfaction had improved for every function. Three of eight functions earned satisfaction scores in the top quartile of ScottMadden’s database and three additional functions were in the 2nd quartile. For the first time, no function scored in the 4th quartile in overall satisfaction.
BSC management attributed the improvement in customer satisfaction to the cumulative effect of the many improvements in communication and processes that had been implemented since 2004. Effective deployment of customer engagement models, more proactive communication of changes affecting customers, and continuing efforts to improve customer "touch points" such as hotlines, help desk, and the BSC intranet site all contributed to improved results.
Such improvements were noted by customers. "IT has been very responsive to operational issues and impacts," stated a PECO vice president.
While pleased with the results of the 2007 surveys, BSC management is now focused on implementing additional improvements to further increase customer satisfaction. As stated by Ruth Ann Gillis, president of the BSC, "the expectations of our customers continue to increase so we have to continue to raise the bar for BSC performance. Customer satisfaction surveys provide valuable input to our future improvement initiatives".
There are several lessons for others that are using or plan to use customer satisfaction surveys, including:
- Embrace the survey results: don’t let pride interfere with an objective appraisal of your survey results. Denial and rationalization are part of human nature but don’t let them cause you to discount bad survey results. If customers are telling you that they are less than fully satisfied, you need to respond.
Isolate the key issues: the survey provides the opportunity to ask a variety of questions about various dimensions of customer satisfaction. Carefully examine your survey results to identify common themes that are causing customers to be dissatisfied, and then prioritize the key issues. ScottMadden’s Payoff Index methodology to identify high priority issues was useful in this aspect.
Take meaningful, concrete actions: for each key issue identified through your analysis of survey responses, an action plan should be developed. Actions should address the underlying issues and be designed to achieve substantial improvements.
Be persistent: actions needed to improve satisfaction, especially if such actions are to produce meaningful results, take time to design, implement, and produce results. Furthermore, customer perceptions often lag reality, so improvements are not always recognized until they have been in place for some time. Allow time for improvements to produce results and be noticed and don’t be discouraged if follow-up surveys don’t reflect an immediate improvement in customer satisfaction scores.
Acknowledge customer feedback: your survey plan should include follow-up communications to customers thanking them for their input and informing them of the actions you are taking in response. Linking your improvement actions to the input provided by your customers will not only show them that your are improving your operations – it will also encourage their participation in future surveys!
The customer satisfaction survey can be one of the most effective performance measurement tools for any SSO. When used to drive initiatives to address customer issues, the survey can be a great customer satisfaction tool as well, as demonstrated by the Exelon BSC management team.
The BSC Business Operations Council
Managing a group of practice areas performing distinct support functions such as information technology, finance, supply chain management and human resources under one corporate umbrella is a challenge for any multi-function SSO. For Exelon’s Business Services Company, such challenges included consistent demonstration to clients that they were receiving the best service available, allocation of resources among BSC functions, and development of business plans for BSC functions that were strategically aligned with each other and with clients.
In order to address these challenges, BSC created the Business Operations Council (BOC). The BOC – led by a small group of professionals in the BSC Business Operations Group – consists of representatives from each practice area and operates under the hub and spoke model. The BSC Business Operations Group serves as the hub and the BOC members serve as the spokes to the various BSC functions. The BOC’s goal is to provide a consistent interface with internal customers through standardized service level arrangements (work orders outlining service levels, pricing and performance metrics) and to execute an integrated business planning and reporting process.
The creation of the BOC has been received very positively within Exelon as it has been able to achieve most of its goals. Ruth Ann Gillis notes that "the Business Operations Council has been very successful at sponsoring cross-functional initiatives and has also proven to be effective at leveraging best practices across the BSC."
About the Authors
Sonny Garg, Vice President, Commercial Operations Group, is responsible for leading the business and strategic planning processes for Exelon’s $800 million Business Services Company. He also manages a portfolio of transactional services for all of Exelon, including payroll processing for 18,000 employees and accounts payable ($2.5 billion in payments).
Edmund Lee, in his role as Manager, BSC Business Operations, is responsible for the alignment of Practice Areas within BSC and with its clients. Edmund leads BSC-wide activities such as business planning, service level arrangements, performance reviews, and client satisfaction surveys.
Walt Simpson is a partner with the management consulting firm of ScottMadden, Inc. As a leader of the firm’s shared services practice, Mr. Simpson assists clients in optimizing the performance of internal services.