Automotive Industry Supplier, Midwest

Written with Michael Casey

The survey results prompted them to do more that just fine-tune the new design; it led them to make some major functional changes. Feedback from the user’s perspective gave them an entirely new set of insights – it was very powerful when they had the customers’ own words to guide development.

Quick Read

Since 1979, an automotive parts manufacturer had one premier product that is used by automakers GM, Toyota, Ford, Honda, Mercedes and Daimler-Chrysler. This company was considering branching out to make another OEM product for the same industry and wanted to solicit customer input to verify that their design direction would meet their customers’ needs. Working with Survey Advantage, the OEM gathered some eye-opening customer feedback that led to several significant design changes that better aligned the new product with customers’ priorities. The survey process also identified customers to test prototypes, identified a set of possible early adopters, uncovered several sales opportunities, and created a sense of goodwill toward the company among customers. The company recently launched a customer satisfaction survey via Survey Advantage, and plans to make surveying a regular part of doing business.

The Challenge

The company was incorporated in 1961 to develop and commercialize the then-new technology. The company focused its efforts on commercial and consumer products and in 1979, introduced the automotive OEM part that is still a mainstay of their product lineup. Their product has become the standard of excellence throughout the automotive world and is sold directly to every major automaker, including GM, Toyota, Ford, Honda, Mercedes and Daimler-Chrysler.

A few years ago, they began looking at leveraging their expertise and customer engineering relationships to develop other parts and expand their product line. One area in particular seemed to be a natural fit and their engineering team had some ideas on how they would design such a part. But they wanted some customer input before they committed to a design direction.

A customer survey was the logical way to accomplish the task. They started by having their field salespeople in Detroit ask automotive manufacturers what they look for in the new part they were considering. The process was very slow, however, and information from conversations was difficult to quantify, so the company began to look for outside help and direction.

The Campaign

The concept of a formalized outsourced survey was a new one for the company, which has a strong do-it-yourself culture. But the product development team realized that while they had the technical competence to build a survey, they needed outside customer research and survey expertise to ensure the results were unbiased. There was also a sense within the company that with more than 25 years experience in the market, they were already well in touch with customer needs. But they couldn’t be absolutely certain that they were going in the right direction until they heard directly from their customers.

They worked with Survey Advantage to design the survey questions, and began the process of compiling customer email addresses, which until then, they had not collected on a regular basis. On the day the survey launched, feedback began rolling in, and the development team was able to see the results as they were tabulated. With a response rate of 53%, the feedback was eye opening.

The Results

The survey results prompted them to do more than just fine-tune the new design; it led them to make some major functional changes. Feedback from the user’s prospective gave them an entirely new set of insights – it was very powerful when they had the customers’ own words to guide development.

While customer feedback gave them a clear mandate on the new design, it also provided a number of unexpected benefits. Several customers commented that they were impressed by their refreshingly proactive approach in asking for their design input. In addition, the survey asked customers if they would like to evaluate a prototype of the product, and 75% indicated that they would, providing them a ready list of testers and possible early implementers. Other customers asked that they contact them, about either the new product or other issues, alerting the company to opportunities.

The survey was a tremendous value for the money – to have that capability available will be a distinct competitive advantage for them. In fact, they just launched a customer satisfaction survey with Survey Advantage and plan to make that a regular part of how they do business.

Lessons Learned

Never assume you know what your customers want. Gathering unbiased, valid input directly from customers is the only way to truly understand their interests and priorities. High quality feedback also puts the team on the same page with respect to focusing on the customer.

Surveying is an effective marketing tool. Having a no-pressure means of communicating with customers opens lines of communication, creates goodwill, and generates opportunities.