21st century customer satisfaction: They’ve never been this demanding

The CEO might lead the business, but it’s the FD who keeps it running. Real Business started the FDs’ Satisfaction Survey back in 2001, making it Britain’s largest poll of senior financial decision-makers ever since. This year we broke all records: 1,038 business leaders replied.

The Survey asks FDs, MDs and other financial decision-makers how happy they are with their auditors, banks, recruitment agencies and software providers. We know that business leaders are smart – they’re also, for good reasons, cynical and extremely demanding. In other words, the perfect evaluators.

What they told us paints a clear picture: it’s never been more difficult to satisfy a sophisticated business client.

It is, after all, the digital age. Do you want to keep your clients happy? Be available 24/7. Return calls the same day. Build and nurture your relationships. Always listen, understand and deliver. Provide innovation and new services. But don’t up your fee.

The most vital point, respondents agreed, is that suppliers must always meet the terms they agreed on. Not delivering is unacceptable.

“What really satisfies me is when providers deliver on time and within budget,” said Donald Russell, FD Eleanore Mathieson. “That’s easy to say, but it’s hard to achieve. I’ve had a lot of good providers as an FD. But excellence – that’s a level above. And that’s much rarer.”

Neither do business leaders tolerate sloppy generalism. Suppliers must bring their own knowledge about sector, business, products and services to their clients. Respondents made it clear that it’s not always about being “the best”, but about being the most appropriate for a client’s needs. Decision-makers want to be listened to – and to be understood.

This is an accurate picture of what business leaders expect from their finance providers. And all in all, it’s a rather positive one. Relationships between businesses and their banks are better than most of us would believe, and relationship banking is still alive.

The best banking provider was, according to the survey, Lloyds – undefeated for the eighth year in a row – followed by RBS and HSBC. Other service-provider winners included BDO and Haines Watts as best auditors, UNIT 4 and IRIS as best software vendors, and Alexander Charles as best recruiter.

Good to see that there are still providers who satisfy even the most hard-to-please customers. It is, after all, a tough time to be in the service business and while customers are becoming more demanding and reputations are increasingly damaged (take the banking sector), pressure is tightening.

For business leaders, this survey is a spotlight shining on the ways to truly satisfy customers in a 21st-century business environment.

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