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Why customer satisfaction is your most important project metric

Colin Ellis | March 20, 2015
Nothing matters quite as much as making sure your customers are happy, says Colin Ellis.

If you decide to eat elsewhere, then you have made that choice based on the information that you have. If you decide to stay, you know more or less what to expect.

Projects, of course, start out with the best of intentions. They are driven by the customer and they are involved at the start when their requirements are being gathered. We include them in the planning and delivery teams and we're well set up for success. Then for some reason we neglect to check the health of this relationship as the project progresses.

Good project managers will speak with their sponsors and ask the questions directly, such as:

  • Are you comfortable with progress?
  • Are we proceeding as you expected?
  • Is there anything else you'd like me to be doing?
  • Do you have all the information you need?

Even if this is the case, I've seen very few project status reports that record this satisfaction and I think that's a mistake.

The concept of customer service or advocacy is studied long and hard in product and service-orientated industries.

IT departments also survey customers when they've been asked to resolve issues with hardware or software. However in the billion dollar project management industry we shrug our shoulders and look to the triangle.

In 1997, Richard L. Oliver defined customer satisfaction as 'pleasurable fulfilment', where the confirmation or disconfirmation of pre-consumption expectations is the essential determinant of satisfaction.

This means that customers have a certain predicted product performance in mind prior to consumption, he said. In other words, this is measurable right from the start.

Face-to-face meetings, customised surveys (given the project layers) -- we should use whatever it takes to capture the 'pulse of the customer' with regards to the delivery of their project.

In their paper 'Measuring customer satisfaction in the context of a project-based organisation', Thomas Ahola and Jaakko Kujala stated: "There is very limited amount of study that focuses on impact of customer satisfaction in project business.

"It can be also argued that in the project business, each customer relationship is specific and involves a very high risk of making wrong conclusions," they said.

The fact that this is the only paper I can find that relates to measuring customer satisfaction in project management tells you everything you need to know about the importance it is given by suppliers of delivery services (internal or external).

A lack of trust
Let me get back to my earlier example of the CIO who said his organisation doesn't get the way the IT team does projects. I spent four weeks interviewing customers and project managers across this organisation and found that no trust or respect existed.


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