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Michael Casey

Quality Insider

Safeguarding Customer Loyalty

A case study

Published: Monday, May 26, 2008 - 22:00


llegra Print and Imaging of Portage, Michigan, was founded in 1988 and has been growing by at least 6 percent annually over the past five years, despite a weak local economy. Allegra Portage is a member of the Allegra Network, a large graphic communications franchise, with more than 600 locations worldwide. In early 2008, Allegra Portage faced a potentially significant drop in sales due to continued weakening of Michigan’s economy, and other printers becoming more aggressive. Seeing an increasingly difficult environment, Brian Kaufman, Allegra Portage’s vice president and owner, wanted to stay more closely connected with his customers without adding administrative and capital expenses. He hired Survey Advantage to develop a real-time survey process tied to the completion of printing jobs and services.

Kaufman and his managers use the survey feedback to pinpoint immediate customer concerns that affect customer relationships. As a result, they were able to correct issues immediately, before they became real problems. Within two weeks of starting the real-time surveys, a $30,000-per-year account used a survey to voice her frustration with a nagging problem. Kaufman was able to respond immediately. The problem was fixed within a week, and the customer was once again completely satisfied. Gathering real-time feedback alerts Allegra to customer issues, builds customer loyalty, and is helping the company stay on track to hit its sales targets in a difficult economy.

The challenge
As demand has shifted from print to electronic media over the past 10 years, the printing industry has consolidated. Projections indicate that as many as 10 percent of printers will either be purchased by larger companies or go out of business in 2008. Allegra’s Portage, Michigan, location wants to be on the buying end of those transactions, in spite of being in one of the most economically depressed markets. Brian Kaufman, Allegra Portage’s owner, knows that maintaining his current customer base is critical to meeting his 6-percent annual growth target.

In the past, Kaufman had tried to improve customer loyalty by having his customer-service team haphazardly call customers after orders were delivered. The process was time-consuming, and it was difficult to consolidate information and track trends over time. It was also often inconvenient for his customers, who invariably gave positive feedback, which didn’t help him improve operations.

Kaufman’s Allegra has been among the first printers in the nation to roll out new offerings, such as mailing services and variable data printing, and has been recognized as the best-run business in the network. In tackling this next challenge, it was only natural for Kaufman to look for an innovative solution.

The campaign
Kaufman hired customer-research firm Survey Advantage to design a customer-service survey that would integrate into Allegra’s print operational management system, Printers Plan, and e-mail a survey to customers after print jobs were shipped. Survey Advantage’s survey software was able to pass variable data, such as job number and buyer number, from Printers Plan into the survey, allowing Kaufman to isolate specific jobs and contact customers when necessary.

The set-up in Printer’s Plan was simple: It took Kaufman about 10 minutes to drop the e-mail text into the right directory and another hour to tweak the project survey and e-mail invitation templates supplied by Survey Advantage. The survey had just five questions, and Kaufman was able to select which shipped orders would trigger a survey, so as not to over-survey customers who had multiple print jobs. The whole process now takes about five minutes each day to choose and launch the surveys, compared to the hours it used to take to call customers.

Kaufman typically sends surveys with about 30 percent of his shipments daily and receives a 35 percent response rate. He has found that customers provide more candid feedback via the online surveys compared to phone surveys, partly because they have time to think about the job and also because they don’t need to worry about offending someone on the other end of the phone. This more specific feedback defines Kaufman’s work for him. “If any survey response falls below a rating of satisfied, it’s automatically forwarded to me, complete with the job number and buyer number. Within a day of filling out the survey, the customer receives a call from me,” says Kaufman. “That way we are able to address an issue before it becomes a real problem. I listen to customers and sometimes visit them to show how much we care about their business. It‘s just one more way to build customer loyalty and stay connected, and customers have consistently said how much they appreciate the fact that we ask for and respond to their feedback. No one else is doing this.”

Kaufman receives an online report daily via e-mail with a link to all of the previous day’s survey results. “I can look for trends, read all of the comments at once, or click into individual surveys to read individual comments,” he says. Kaufman can also look at historical survey data to identify trends in his customers’ feedback.

Within days of implementing the surveys, Kaufman heard from an account who had been a loyal customer for a number of years, consistently spending about $30,000 per year. The customer had an issue with the way Allegra was conducting business with her. Kaufman was able to respond quickly and safeguard the customer’s loyalty. “It was a very easy problem to fix, but to the customer it was big. Had we not known about this issue, who knows what would have happened?”

The results
“The automated survey process has helped us tactically with our customers, but we are also able to identify trends that tell us immediately if a process is starting to break down,” says Kaufman. “It is so much easier to address problems early on.” Kaufman has also found that about 20 percent of his customers ask for a follow-up call, giving him an opportunity to maintain close ties and expand business with them.

Customers have told him that Allegra’s willingness to hear and respond to their needs is impressive, and that Allegra’s reaction and ability to address issues is what helps maintain customers’ loyalty. “There are so many local printers who have alternative capabilities but leveraging technology and our team to respond quickly and stay connected is what makes the difference,” Kaufman says. With the help of a steady stream of real-time customer feedback, Allegra Portage is on track to hit its sales-growth target of 6 percent, even in a sluggish Michigan economy.

Lessons learned

  • Respect your customers’ time when surveying.
    Keep project-based surveys short (about five questions), select 25 to 30 percent to survey, and be aware of who is receiving surveys, so as to avoid survey fatigue.
  • Make the customer feel special.
    Contact customers who want follow-up. These are as much selling opportunities as they are service opportunities.
  • Share trends and details with your staff.
    Use staff meetings to highlight positive feedback from customers—a pat on the back always lifts team spirits. In sharing negative feedback, keep the focus on solving problems, not blaming people.


About The Author

Michael Casey’s picture

Michael Casey

Michael Casey is president and founder of Survey Advantage (www.surveyadvantage.com). Prior to starting Survey Advantage in 2001 he helped American Power Conversion grow from a $2 million business in 1987 to a $1.8 billion business by 2000. As Global Director of Service, Michael was responsible for capturing, analyzing and acting on customer feedback to reinforce ISO 9000 and Baldrige quality standards. Survey Advantage’s mission is to help businesses improve their business performance through the delivery of cost-effective, comprehensive customer feedback systems and easy-to-digest reports. Michael sits on several boards, is a frequent speaker at association conventions, and writes monthly case studies for several industry publications. Michael can be reached at mcasey@surveyadvantage.com.