Q: How can I measure customer satisfaction?

A: Customer satisfaction depends on the product or service, but especially on how those values get delivered. Unfortunately, firms often make assumptions about what makes customers happy, and end up measuring for satisfaction in a limited fashion.

To create valid measures of customer satisfaction, you need two things: an accurate understanding of what makes customers satisfied, and a baseline measure of where you stand on those metrics.

The good news is that a well-constructed investigation into your customers can uncover both. First, conduct some formal focus groups. Those will surface more potential metrics than you expect. Based on what you thought mattered, and what the focus group participants suggest, create a formal survey that asks current customers about which satisfaction elements matter and how you currently fare.

As specific or new questions arise, or you need a more detailed understanding of an existing metric, consider deploying a survey. Whether that survey goes to the audience by phone, e-mail or social channels depends on the target. Also, be careful to make absolutely sure the list used matches the audience in question.

Next, do the same thing with both lost customers and prospects. These important groups may include people you lost because of poor service. In addition, prospects needs may turn out to be different from what current customers expect.

Once you know customer perspectives, consider long-term metrics. You may have measures in current databases regarding transaction times or other purchase behaviors that highlight customer satisfaction elements. You can also look for ways to incorporate new data gathering quietly into the customer experience. Finally, return regularly to the survey you used to establish the baseline of customer satisfaction.

One last note: Consider the use of mystery shoppers, or other means of assessing things customers may not be able to communicate. Finding ways to observe or otherwise quantify what that means may take personal observation from someone not tasked with providing customer service.

Mike Porter is the faculty director of the MS in Health Care Innovation at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.