It’s often been said that running a successful eCommerce business is often analogous to being a professional plate spinner; the multitude of daily demands required to operate a prosperous company can often require the ability to multitask at a level that can be challenging for even the most skilled businessperson. Although it’s often not a high-profile aspect of operating a successful eCommerce business, ensuring a high level of online customer satisfaction remains an unquestionably integral, eternal element in achieving and maintaining long-term business success. For as long as there has been competition in the American marketplace, successful companies have recognized the importance of customer satisfaction—and most successful eCommerce businesses devote considerable time and energy to ensure their clients are satisfied with the products and services received. While some companies have the ability, and desire, to devote significant resources to their online customer satisfaction, others work to incorporate customer satisfaction into their corporate culture. “We consider ourselves to be business partners with our clients, and believe their success is dependent on our ability to maintain high levels of order and inventory accuracy,” explains Kailei Sudbrook, Director of Client Services for ShipNetwork, a national leader in eCommerce fulfillment services. “Customer satisfaction applies not only to our clients, but helping to partner with our clients to ensure that their customers are fully satisfied with their purchasing experience.”
Measuring Customer Satisfaction and Financial Success
Measuring the importance of customer satisfaction (or lack of it) in your bottom line can often prove to be a challenge, but most industry experts agree that in today’s fiercely competitive business world, not even the most successful eCommerce business can afford to have many unsatisfied customers. Customer satisfaction is important in both the B2C (business to consumer) as well as the B2B (business to business) sectors. For example, for B2B companies such as ShipNetwork, achieving client satisfaction also means controlling operational expenses; “We want to be able to offer our clients the lowest possible costs,” explains ShipNetwork’s Vice President of Operations. “We do that through multiple actions—including extensive use of advanced technology—that helps ensure our clients are fully satisfied with our services and the related costs.” The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) is one yardstick that many businesses rely on to help determine how well their company and industry is succeeding in achieving a high level of customer satisfaction. Using data from interviews with roughly 180,000 customers from over 300 companies and 44 industries, the ACSI is an annual, national economic indicator of customer evaluations of the quality of products and services available to US household consumers.
So just how financially important is customer satisfaction in online business?
According to the ACSI and our own customer satisfaction report, firms with higher levels of customer satisfaction consistently tend to report higher earnings; and given the plethora of choices American consumers have both online and in person, the importance of customer service has never been greater. For example: in the ACSI’s 2017 Retail Report—an annual survey examining the implications of customer satisfaction benchmarks for top retailers, both online and traditional—customer satisfaction with America’s retailers has recently declined slightly, although still at a near-record high of 78.1 on the ACSI’s 100-point scale. Covering six retail industries (online retail, department/discount stores, specialty retail, drug stores, supermarkets, and gas stations) the study found that as satisfaction with department and specialty retailers declined, a growing number of consumers were shopping online. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that consumer satisfaction remained higher for internet retailers, as they outperformed all other retail categories with an ACSI rating of 82. Still, even a successful eCommerce business can face some headwinds in the area of online customer satisfaction; in the ACSI survey, some consumers complained that checkout and payment wasn’t as easy as in years past, and satisfaction with the ‘customer support’ offered by online retailers has also declined. In its recent examination of what’s required to “make customers happy”, management consultant firm McKinsey & Company surveyed 27,000 American consumers across 14 different industries; the survey found that measuring consumers’ “journeys”—that is, their overall history of interaction with a business—is 30 percent more predictive of the customer’s overall satisfaction, than simply measuring an individual purchasing experience. Most significantly to business’ bottom line: the McKinsey survey found that “maximizing satisfaction with customer ‘journeys’ has the potential to lift revenue by up to 15 percent—while lowering the cost of serving customers by as much as 20 percent”.
Consistency: The Ultimate Key to Success
The key to achieving those results, according to McKinsey, can be summed up in one word: consistency. In a world of ever-increasing choices for consumers, the survey found that successful companies must be able to provide consistently high levels of customer service; for example, the survey said banks have found that there is an “exceptionally strong” correlation between consistency on customer journeys and overall performance in customer experience. In other words, it is not sufficient to provide a customer with a single, ‘high quality’ experience; rather, to attain the full financial benefit of customer satisfaction, the McKinsey survey found that businesses must ensure clients consistently view their history with the company in a positive light. According to the McKinsey study, there are several high-profile corporate examples of companies whose consistently high level of customer satisfaction has translated into long-term financial success; the survey cited the examples set by Southwest Airlines and Progressive Insurance as two industry leaders long known for achieving and maintaining high customer satisfaction levels, and related financial success. Of course, there is no ‘magic formula’ that can be used to ensure customer satisfaction; it’s estimated there are approximately 6 million private, diverse businesses operating in the United States, all of whom face different challenges and opportunities on the road to achieving customer satisfaction in online business. However, regardless of the nature of the business, empirical evidence proves that a perpetual commitment to the time and effort required to attain a high level of customer satisfaction can (and most often will) improve a company’s chances for long term prosperity. “As a successful company, we understand that customer satisfaction is not static, and that just because a client may be satisfied with his or her most recent experience, that won’t necessarily translate into long-term satisfaction,” explains Kailei Sudbrook, ShipNetworks' Director of Client Services. “As with any successful, long-term relationship, maintaining a high level of customer satisfaction requires that we continually revisit our products and services to ensure that we meet the evolving business needs of all of our clients.” Even in a business era of constant change, the financial benefits of a perpetually ‘satisfied customer’ remain unalterable.