Customer service surveys come in a variety of forms and can be placed in different locations: from online, to in-office, to in-vehicle. Match the format with the type the driver will most likely fill out.

Customer service surveys come in a variety of forms and can be placed in different locations: from online, to in-office, to in-vehicle. Match the format with the type the driver will most likely fill out.

Customer satisfaction surveys can do wonders for a fleet management team, allowing them to target problem areas, publicize and reward positive behaviors, and establish benchmarks for customer service. All of that is possible — that is, as long as customers actually fill them out.

At a Glance

When writing a customer service survey, consider the following:

  • Determine the goal and customer recommendations.
  • Don't bombard customers with numerous surveys.
  • Make sure the survey is available to everyone, offering it both via e-mail and a hard copy.
  • Follow up on both low- and high-ranking scores.

That’s where paying close attention to how the survey is written, and taking careful measures when it comes to analyzing the results, becomes very important. Without careful consideration to the approach, fleets may be better off not troubling their customers in the first place. Luckily, a few easy tips can point you down the right customer satisfaction survey path.

Do Your Homework

Before writing the survey, doing a little homework can provide a solid foundation. First, establish the goals. What are you hoping to learn? Identifying ideal outcomes is the first step in knowing what questions to ask.

If you’re not sure of your goals, Dan Berlenbach, fleet maintenance superintendent, City of Phoenix, recommended another pre-writing assignment: become familiar with customer expectations.

“It could be well worth your while to survey your customers’ expectations, and their priorities, before you survey them about your quality of service,” he suggested.

Doing so can be a simple — but vital — first step, Berlenbach said. To start, he recommended making a list of key services, with a numerical scale customers can use to rate the importance of each.

After identifying the services most important to customers, use those as the basis for the survey to gauge how well the fleet is doing.

Rely on Past Experience

Leverage past experience — if surveys have been conducted in the past, use them as a starting place. “We had a special audit conducted on the garage several years before I was hired, and I used that survey as a base for our present survey,” said George Hrichak, fleet manager, City of Chesapeake, Va., Central Fleet Management.

Past surveys (or those of colleagues in other areas) can serve as excellent inspiration — and a welcome shortcut for those short on time.

Target Questions to Areas of Concern

For the most part, pre-planning will help vital survey questions emerge. Even so, it’s also worth tailoring questions to any known areas of concern. “I was hired to address several shortcomings within Fleet,” Hrichak said, “so my questions were based upon tracking our progress to correct those issues.”

Questions that gauge satisfaction in the following areas should be considered as well:

  • Repair quality.
  • Time taken to complete repairs.
  • Assistance offered by fleet employees.
  • Overall satisfaction.

Berlenbach also suggested establishing core questions that various other departments can use, too. This allows disparate functions, such as facilities and fleet services, to compare levels of service. These include:

  • Staff is courteous and professional.
  • Staff provides exceptional customer service.
  • Staff provides quality work products.
  • Work was completed in a timely fashion.
  • Work was completed in a satisfactory manner.

“We then added maintenance-specific questions to allow us to hone in on those processes and concerns unique to vehicle maintenance,” Berlenbach said.

The best advice overall, though, is to keep it simple. “People generally do not want to spend much time filling out surveys, so you must target the questions to gain the most value in the feedback,” Berlenbach noted.

Determine the Format

Just as important as the questions is the format in which they are presented. Both Berlenbach and Hrichak recommend a combination of multiple-choice questions (i.e. rating scales) and open-ended questions that allow customers to write in their answers and/or provide additional comments or complaints.

“The benefit of using numerical ratings of course is that you can measure your service and easily compare results year to year,” Berlenbach said. “That allows you to track improvements and other changes you make to your service.”

Using a numerical scale also allows you to establish a norm, then track when you dip below it. “Falling below the norm is a statistical indication of customer complaints that bears analysis and corrective action,” Berlenbach commented.

Make It Easy for the Customer

Perhaps the most important step in writing a customer satisfaction survey is making it user-friendly. After all, if a survey seems like a pain to complete, you’re not likely to get many responses. And, while some feedback is better than none, this makes it difficult to establish reliable scores.

Keeping a survey short and easy to read is key. It’s also important to allow anonymous submissions, although giving the respondent the opportunity to provide a name is important, too, as it allows for follow-up.

It’s also important to consider the audience and how the survey will be distributed. For instance, if respondents don’t have ready access to a computer, an online survey won’t yield much. Or, if customers don’t spend much time in the shop, a paper survey distributed in the waiting area won’t be as effective as a survey e-mailed to them to fill out at their desks.

“You have to consider your customer base when deciding the medium of the survey,” Berlenbach said. “In the City of Phoenix, we have a large refuse fleet as well as Streets and other Public Works organizations. Many of their operators do not have ready access to e-mail and the Internet, so even though Web-based surveys offer many advantages, we had to design our collection method to best suit our audience. We designed our survey using [the online survey tool] Survey Monkey, but for these audiences, we passed out paper versions to the operators.”

Hrichak also finds offering a number of media helps boost response. “We use several different types, but all types use the same questions,” he said. “Each vehicle brought to the garage gets a mirror hanger survey that targets the vehicle operator. We also have a pad of surveys and a drop box at the customer service desk that are used for both operators and their supervisors who come to the garage for various reasons. Lastly, we use an internet survey annually, which is sent to all department heads, division chiefs, and members of our Fleet User’s Group.”

Once Complete, Look for Trends

Once surveys have been completed, only half the work is done. That’s because completed surveys are only as good as what you do with them.
When it comes to analysis, Hrichak advises to look for trends, as these can point to potential flaws in the process, training, or other change needed in the organizational culture.

This again points to the value of using numeric scales, which make it easy to tabulate results and chart progress (or lack thereof). Tabulating results for online surveys can be even easier, as many services compile results in just a couple clicks.

Always Follow Up

While reliable and quite revealing, numbers don’t always tell the whole story. Customers can. That’s why it’s important to take advantage of any follow-up opportunities available to gain additional information. Fleet management may have a hunch about the cause of a problem; customers can confirm if it’s right.

“Once the problem has been verified, we investigate further, internally, to learn what caused the problem and why it happened and then put procedures or practices in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Hrichak said. “It is important to follow-­up/respond to negative surveys to let the customer know that you read the survey and appreciate the feedback they provided. Also let them know what steps are being taken to address the problem they reported or to let them know the circumstances that caused the event to happen.”

Berlenbach agreed that follow-up is integral to making the most of survey results. “Contact the customer as soon as possible, with either news that you’ve addressed the problem or discuss with them the plan to make it better,” he suggested. “Be sure to involve the customer in the solution to ensure they will be satisfied. And, you should strongly consider a face-to-face visit with your customer if the complaint is significant enough. Nothing says ‘sincere’ like a visit to your customer’s office to explain how you will improve your service.”

Follow Up With Staff, Too

Just as it’s important to follow up with customers for more input, it’s important to follow up with fleet staff, too.

When it comes to customer complaints or poor scores, Berlenbach suggested involving the team. “Discuss the complaint [or low score] to discover the root cause,” he said. “Address the cause immediately if possible. Or if it’s a resource or policy issue that will take time, set up an action plan with dates and responsible staff.”

Likewise, successes should be followed up on, too. Celebrating the positive behaviors customer service surveys reveal can motivate staff to continue offering excellent service. This is a practice Hrichak employs.

“Fleet personnel who are written up for their good customer service skills are recognized at our monthly shop meetings,” he said. “If you use mirror hangers, have a space for the technician repairing the vehicle to write his name for that personal touch — plus, the customer then knows who worked on their vehicle and can associate a face to the service.” With the technician’s name in hand, fleet managers can also give specific and personalized feedback to reward or correct behavior.

Share What You’ve Learned

Survey results aren’t only of interest to managers. Customers and staff alike will be interested in the outcome.

Each month, Hrichak posts all survey comments on the bulletin board in the customer waiting area. If negative comments appear, the corrective action is listed, too.

Berlenbach agreed that sharing results builds goodwill with customers. “If you are ‘transparent’ with your results, your customers will see that you take it [and them] seriously,” he said. “You can share the results on your intranet webpage, in customer newsletters, and especially if you periodically meet with them, that’s an ideal time. It’s amazing how much value people place on visits like this, and how much understanding can be gained.”

Make the Time Investment

It’s easy to say you value customers’ input, but providing a customer satisfaction survey and demonstrating you’ve taken action based on the results shows them you truly do.

“It does take time and effort away from your daily tasks,” Berlenbach said. “But it is always worth it, as the time you devote to preventing and resolving issues will ensure greater mission support, satisfaction on both sides, and cheerleaders for your department when the outsourcing man comes calling." 

10 Tips for Customer Service Success

  1. Always practice two-way communication with the customer.
  2. Provide staff with regular customer-service training.
  3. Strive for excellence in every interaction — from the way the phone is answered to the cleanliness of the vehicle upon return.
  4. Always show respect for customers and make them feel important.
  5. Show customers how much you value their business not just in words, but in actions, too.
  6. After each service, the mechanic should make a personal call to the driver to make sure everything is running right.
  7. Make your waiting area comfortable, and consider supplying magazines, the newspaper, and/or coffee.
  8. Hold a customer appreciation event this can be as simple as providing popcorn and soda for a day.
  9. After a visit, explain the services you've provided and how they will benefit the driver.
  10. Always thank customers for coming in.

Survey Don'ts

While there are many survey "do's," it's important to keep a few "don'ts" in mind, too:

  • Don't over-survey. Bombarding customers with too many surveys can wear them out and hurts response rate. One suggestion is to survey customers annually, and survey the same audience no more than twice per year.
  • Don't jump to conclusions. When it comes to analyzing results, be sure to research all the factors that might cause them rather than making an assumption.
  • Don't operate in a vacuum. To truly validate results, it's important not to analyze them alone. Instead, involve key staff in both the analysis and action planning.

How a Customer Service Survey Influenced Our Operations

Customer service surveys can make a real impact. Dan Berlenbach, fleet maintenance superintendent of the City of Phoenix, offers a strong example of how one survey — and consistent follow up with customers — can prompt real, positive change.

“One department’s foreman was unhappy with service,” Berlenbach said. “First, we made contact at a higher level, and held a face-to-face meeting to understand the issues and to ensure their management knew we took the issue seriously. Second, we met at the foreman and supervisor levels to thoroughly understand the issues and begin problem resolution. While working those ‘tactical’ level problems, at the ‘strategic’ level (Fleet Services management), we developed an action plan to make process changes that would ensure service did not deteriorate again.”

George Hrichak, manager, Central Fleet, City of Chesapeake, Va., also pointed to several improvements his organization has made based on customer feedback, including quick-turn bays for small repairs, appointments for preventive maintenance (PM) services, and state inspections and e-mail notifications when repairs are completed.

A sample of the City of Chesapeake's customer satisfaction survey can be found here. A sample of the City of Phoenix's survey can be found here. Additional sample surveys can be found on under FleetDocs.

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