In Indonesia, take customer satisfaction with a pinch of salt

Debnath Guharoy, Consultant

That leaders are elected to office by the people is a humbling fact that's often forgotten by the elected, as well as those who put them in power.

In Asia, certainly in Indonesia, leaders enjoy an unusual degree of almost unquestioned respect until they self-destruct. Or become insufferable.

A couple of months ago, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made a rather loud pronouncement. Indonesia was going to become the world's 5th largest economy by the year 2030, he said.

As targets go, this one is going to be a tall order, considering Indonesia's current position in world rankings.

How this proclamation was resonating across Indonesia was anybody's guess.

We decided to find out how the people felt and a total of 1,648 people across the country were interviewed.

The special poll was conducted in conjunction with Roy Morgan Single Source, the country's largest syndicated survey.

It sees more than 27,000 Indonesian respondents annually and is projected to reflect 90 percent of the population over the age of 14.

That is a universe of 140 million people.

And the results are updated every 90 days.

Not surprisingly, the country was almost split down the middle. Asked if they agreed with the statement, "the Indonesian economy is going to become the 5th largest economy in the world by 2030", 53 percent of the population said yes and the remaining 47 percent said no.

If this was an election promise, it would have helped the cause. Or would it?

Anybody who wonders how such a response is possible from such a large number of people needs to remember that optimism is intrinsic to Indonesian culture. "Belum" or "not yet" is often the instinctive response of even the aged spinster, when asked if she's married.

The companion characteristic to this boundless optimism is the gentle politeness of the Indonesian people. Criticism, even constructive criticism, is hard to come by.

So we've learnt to ask ancillary questions that go beyond the obvious and disarm the respondent.

There's a lesson here for businesses and corporations using customer satisfaction scores to keep a finger on the pulse of their product or service offerings.

Every quarter, our overall satisfaction scores for all of the leading banks in Indonesia run at levels much higher than their counterparts in neighboring Australia.

One in five people above the age of 14 have a bank account in Indonesia.

About 15 percent of them are dissatisfied with their bank and 85 percent are satisfied. Yet, when asked if they are planning to switch banks in the next 12 months, about 5.5 percent of the supposedly "satisfied" customers tell us they are planning to leave their main financial institution. They tell us why, too.

Put together, about 20 percent of bank customers are unhappy in Indonesia, not just the 15 percent who say they are not satisfied.

In other words, switching intentions are a more accurate depiction of the truth than satisfaction scores, in Indonesia. Global yardsticks often need local metrics.

The story is true of another service industry, cellular networks.

There, the satisfaction scores are even higher, with 93 percent of subscribers satisfied with the service provided by their current network.

Yet, when probed, almost 10 percent of them are planning to buy a "replacement SIM card". The analysts tell us why.

Churn is par for the course and it's important to know why people leave and equally important to know the people who are leaving as well as what will help bring them back.

Ask any successful airline, automaker or fast-food chain.

So if satisfaction is a measure that you use in Indonesia to drive your business forward, remember those ancillary questions that dissect the actions your customer is prone to take.

Then, if there is no bias or skew in the selected respondents, they can give you a statistically reliable answer.

You can then be confident of the decisions being taken. Or the things you say or the expectations you may realistically nurture.

Communicating the basis of goals set help enthuse the stakeholders to achieve them, collectively.

Periodic progress reports help with course corrections and build team spirit.

Truth has a way of coming out, if it isn't made readily available. Any seasoned politician will tell you that.

The writer can be contacted at
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