Can't get no satisfaction?

Q - Once in a while, I’ll overhear guys gripe about other tool dealers. I try not to snoop, but sometimes I can’t help listening to them slamming my competition. One day, it dawned on me -- how do I keep them from saying stuff behind my back?

A - One way to keep them from saying bad stuff is to give them lots of good stuff to say.

A satisfied customer is obviously more likely to brag on you than to rag on you. But it can be hard for you to be a true judge of customer satisfaction. It’s very difficult to see ourselves as others see us.

For instance just because you’re working hard doesn’t mean you’re meeting or exceeding your customer’s expectations -- especially if you’re working hard on the wrong things.

Try asking your customer “How am I doing?” Most likely you won’t get a straight answer. (Sometimes even your best friend won’t tell you that your breath stinks.) That’s why asking face-to-face rarely helps. Most guys won’t tell you to your face that they’re unhappy with your service. 

So, how can you find out what your customers really think? Here’s a lunchtime assignment: Stop at a fast food joint. Call it research. Eat at Burger King, Taco Bell or virtually any fast food joint. Turn over your receipt and you’ll probably find a request to take their phone-in survey. Take the survey and notice what they ask you.

Surveys are a big thing for big business. It helps them keep tabs on their systems and staff performance. It can be just as helpful to you as a dealer.

Survey Says...

But, there are two major problems with most surveys: First, they're time-consuming. A survey can take a lot of your customer’s time and even more of yours to tally the results. Second, it’s hard to read and react to the results. Just like people often won’t tell you to your face what they’re thinking, often on a survey they’ll rank you artificially high. Even if they give you an honest answer sometimes it’s not “actionable” (something you can fix).

So, why bother wasting your time? Because done well, a survey can help you see your blind spots, improve your business, and be a lot more profitable. Good feedback can help you create satisfied, loyal customers and put a lot more cash in your pocket.

What can you do to get this feedback? Create a very short survey that focuses on just one question: "How likely are you refer me to a friend?" The answer to that single question is the proven key to growth and profits according to Frederick F. Reichheld author of The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth.

Reichheld says the answer to that question is powerful because it shows your customer’s true level of trust and satisfaction. It doesn’t matter if you score perfectly on a survey.  If they won’t risk their reputation referring you to a friend, they aren’t all that satisfied.

So what should this survey look like? I suggest using a simple postcard. On one side put lines for them to write their name, phone and email address. On the other side, put this simple 3-question survey:


1.) What am I doing right as a tool dealer?

2.) What could I do better?

3.) How likely would you be to refer me to a friend? 

Not Likely 1...2...3...4...5...6 Very Likely


That should do it. Short and sweet.

Now you just need to get your customers to take your survey. Most guys won’t need any incentive to take such a short survey, but to get the maximum number of responses turn your survey into a prize drawing. Your customer’s completed survey is his entry to win tools and toys.

Give customers a week or so to do the survey. This way he can think about it and not rush. He can return his survey next time you stop at the shop. Just have the drawing deadline clearly spelled out on each card.

If a customer’s name is pulled, check that he answered all 3 questions. If so, he wins a prize. If not, draw another name. (One entry per person. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited by law. Yada. Yada. Yada.)

If you’re really into technology, you can use an online service like Survey Monkey ( or Constant Contact Surveys (get a 60-day free trial at to gather and tally survey results. But you may find it more work to set-up and use once you see how easy my manual method is.

To tally your results manually, put everyone with a score of 4 and over in one stack. We’ll call them “Promoters”.  Then take everyone with a score of 3 and under in another stack. We’ll call them “Advisors”.

Now count your stacks. The more people in your “Promoters” stack than your “Advisors” stack, the better job you’re doing. (But don’t get too confident, there’s always room for improvement!)

Next, thumb through both stacks to see what advice you get in question #2, paying special attention to your “Advisors” cards. Make notes on improvements you agree you need to make and highlight issues you hear from more than one customer.

One warning: a few customers may be very negative. Try to let it roll off your back. There will always be one to two. Chalk it up to human nature and move on.

Finally, now that it feels like you’re doing a terrible job, go back through all the cards one last time and read the response to question #1. Pat yourself on the back and celebrate. Then wake up the next morning and start on your list of improvements.

Take this quick survey every year. It can keep you in touch with customer satisfaction, improve your business -- and stop you from worrying about what customers are saying behind your back.