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Oct 29, 2002
Case Study

How to Retain Business Clients by Using Regular Emailed Surveys

SUMMARY: Almost everyone surveys their customers occasionally to find out
how they are doing. Business cleaning company Jani-King is in
an incredibly competitive marketplace, so they decided to survey

How do you get clients to answer a survey that frequently? This
Case Study provides great advice. Best bit: Jani-King's emailed
surveys are in the body of the email itself, so recipients do not
have to click over to a Web page to answer them.

If you think your industry is competitive, just be
glad you are not in the $78 billion commercial cleaning business
where clients are ceaselessly hounded by sales reps from rival

"Anything to do with office management or services is highly,
highly competitive," says Michael Kearns, President Synergy
Franchising Corp, a master franchiser in the Jani-King network of
commercial cleaning services. Kearns' clients "probably get
four to five calls per week from someone wanting to be their next
office cleaning service."

In order to keep clients from hopping to competitors, Kearns
needed to go beyond high quality service at a decent price.

He explains, "I'm a firm believer that people buy from people
they like. The more we can get to know them, we're not just the
company that happens to clean their business building. We're a
real person. It's easier to fire a company than it is to fire a

Kearns' company has more than 1,000 clients in the Carolinas, so
although his team of reps makes a big effort to meet with each
client personally at the start of an account, and then
occasionally afterwards, it is not possible or cost effective for
them to meet with each individual client frequently. (That
might annoy busy office managers.)

He needed another solution to keep the relationship strong.


At the start of each client relationship, whether it
be a new building or a new building manager, Kearns has a rep
contact that client for a data gathering meeting.

The rep has a complete check list of information to gather

- Who the billing contact is so Jani-King does not bother the
wrong person with accounting calls.

- What is most critical to that client in terms of their
cleaning needs for the property. (Kearns notes that just as no
buildings are exactly alike, no client's cleaning priorities are
alike either although many think their requirements are plainly
self-evident. Often a new manager will have different tastes and
requirements than the prior one did, so this meeting can save a
transitioning account.)

- How that client would prefer to be contacted for Kearns'
monthly Customer Satisfaction Survey (phone, fax, email, a
combination, or not at all).

All of this data is then entered into a master client database by
Kearns' team. They carefully keep old historic data on file
forever, it often also proves useful to save accounts with new
building managers or to get new account reps up to speed on their

Kearns launched his monthly surveys a few years ago in order to
supplement personal site visits economically. "I wanted to keep
my finger on the pulse of what's happening with clients."

At first he offered clients a choice of phone, fax, or not-at-all
(a few clients prefer not to be contacted). "They are the
customer, they dictate what we do," he says. Faxed surveys were
initially the most popular choice.

Kearns began to wonder if faxing was the best way to go
because by 2002 he was only getting an average 38% response rate.

(Note: To put this in perspective, most companies would be happy
with a 10% response rate to a survey, but not Kearns.) He
figured the bloom was off the rose when it came to faxed surveys.

"An individual has to pick it up at the fax machine, circle and
write comments, walk all the way back over to the fax machine,
look up what number to fax to... they don't have time to deal
with that in today's business world. Time is precious."

This Spring Kearns decided to offer an emailed survey option.
His email launch had three steps:

1. Choosing an email survey design and vendor

Kearns wanted to make answering his survey as easy as
possible, so unlike most marketers who email clients a link to
a Web page with their survey, he wanted to mail the
interactive survey form itself in the body of his message.
Just in case a client couldn't see the survey (a few email
programs still have problems with forms), he also included a
link to the online version.

Just like his other surveys, Kearns made the questions short
but pointed to get the most useful information with the least
amount of hassle for the client. (Link to sample emailed
survey and Kearns' email vendor below.)

2. Test run
Before launching the email version survey, Kearns first had
his reps phone 25 of his most important clients to ask them to
try out a sample of it. "They all agreed. Fortunately we had
really done our homework diligently to put out what we felt
was a really good survey - so we had no suggestions for

3. Building the email request database
The last thing Kearns wanted to do was offend any client by
sending them email they hadn't requested. Whether or not
his company already had an email address on file for each
client, his reps contacted each and every client personally to
see if that client wanted to get the monthly survey

Like most companies with pre-existing marketing databases, it
was not easily possible for Kearns' email survey results to be fed
directly and automatically into the database.

However, instead of mourning the extra work transferring the data
by hand entails, Kearns sees it as a valuable opportunity. He
explains, "I'm glad this requires human intervention. We
actually have to look at comments. The greatest aid to our
business is our rapid response when the e-comments come in.
Anything below an eight in any category gets plucked first and
somebody's on the phone with that client in hopefully 30 minutes
asking, 'What do we need to do?' We make sure we write up a job
order and that gets accomplished that evening and then somebody
follows up the next morning to make sure it got done."

In order to get the best responses, Kearns only emails out
surveys in the "interior days of the week" and never Mondays when
clients are busy with other things or Fridays when they might be


Kearns' team has retained a stunning 99% of clients
over the past three years despite heavy competition. He
gives the monthly survey and rapid responses a great deal of
credit for this accomplishment.

Since offering the email option six months ago, 35% of Kearns'
clients have requested to be surveyed via email exclusively and
an additional 25% have asked for a combination of email and
telephone surveying. People who prefer faxed surveys are now
"dwindling down to less than 10% of the client base."

Kearns says his goal is to get an 85% response rate from clients
each month, so far the emailed surveys have been achieving that
with some help from telephoned reminders to clients who do not
mind them.


View a sample of Kearns' monthly survey (it is the same every

BrontoMail, Inc. the company Kearns uses to create and send his
emailed surveys

Jani-King Raleigh Durham
See Also:

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