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Case Study: How an Established Service Firm Harnessed 'Voice of the Customer' to Revamp Its Image and Increase Sales

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Company: Hampton, Lenzini & Renwick Inc.
Location: Elgin, Illinois
Industry: Services (B2B)
Annual revenue: $6,000,000
Number of employees: 55

Quick read:

A civil engineering firm with a tremendous reputation faced a major challenge: It had grown its business by repeat business and referrals, and now some of its best clients were beginning to retire. The company was losing market share.

By implementing a "voice of the customer" survey and then creating marketing pieces using the words of satisfied customers, the company has given itself a more professional image. It has also increased the number of requests for proposals (RFPs) it attracts, as well as its success rate on those RFPs.

The challenge:


Hampton, Lenzini & Renwick Inc. (HLR) is a civil engineering firm with an established reputation in its market. It had many satisfied customers who were strong advocates of the firm, but the company had no structure in place to harness those advocates.

In recent years, the company had hit a plateau and had even begun to lose market share as many of its loyal, repeat clients began to retire. So last year, when David Hinkston was elected as new CEO and chairman, he knew HLR needed a new strategy that could quickly tap into its base of satisfied customers.

"To grow the firm and get it turned towards a more proactive approach to marketing, we needed to change our marketing philosophy. We needed solid background information," Hinkston said.

The campaign:

Hinkston brought in Robin Weidner, a local copywriter and consultant, to develop and analyze a customer satisfaction survey campaign.

The effort consisted of three steps.

Step 1. Create an extensive survey

That survey targeted three groups of people (about 30 in each group):

  1. Customers who were already loyal customers of HLR
  2. Customers who had worked with HLR before but who hadn't used its services in some time
  3. Contacts with whom HLR had a friendly relationship but who had never become paying customers

There were six to seven questions—different for each group—that focused on what HLR did well, and how it could improve. The questions included the following:

  • What differentiates HLR from other engineering consulting firms?
  • What would you like HLR to do in the future?
  • How often do you like to be contacted, and which what kind of information?
  • Why haven't you worked with HLR in the past?
  • What are your frustrations with engineering consultants in general?

For each survey returned, Weidner identified the question that was most promising in terms of getting a more detailed response, and then sent a follow-up question.

And she called everyone on the list who hadn't responded to the initial survey. Whenever possible, she interviewed them on the phone, asking the same questions that were on the survey (which often led to a deeper discussion that provided valuable information about HLR).

Step 2. Define "marketing pillars" based on survey results

With the resulting information, Weidner developed four marketing pillars that would be used in HLR's marketing materials. These were customer-driven ideas that the company would use to give consistency to their message in sales and marketing materials.

Then Weidner grouped responses from each survey under one of the pillars, and used them—word-for-word wherever possible—to create a marketing brochure.

Step 3. Ask for testimonials

Finally, Weidner asked customers for permission to use their words as testimonials

"We asked if we could use their quotes because they're very specific. It wasn't, 'We love HLR,'" she explained. "They talked about very specific benefits, and the brochure is nearly totally written in the voice of the customer."

Results:

One of the main benefits of the survey has been to change HLR's image and make it more distinctive in its purpose. HLR and its competitors had previously shared what sounded much like the same message. "What really surfaced was that one of HLR's biggest advantages was its sole focus on serving public agencies—communities, counties, IDOT [Illinois Department of Transportation] districts and municipalities—versus private developers," Weidner noted. "The brochure and other marketing materials now reflect that."

"We're changing our image from a small, niche engineering firm to a company that excels in large, complex projects," said Hinkston, who was surprised to learn through the survey that many clients didn't know the breadth of HLR's offerings. Now, the company is getting more work from existing clients—and more opportunities from clients with whom the firm had done only small jobs in the past.

HLR is being asked to respond to more RFPs than in the past, and it has a better success rate on those RFPs. "The work that we have on the books right now is about 10% to 12% higher than it was last year at this time," Hinkston said.

The company's image now is "more up to date," and the word-of-mouth feedback from clients has been that they were "very pleased to see us doing something like this," he said.

Lessons learned:

  • Be thorough when embarking on customer surveys. Not only did HLR's consultant call everyone who hadn't responded to the survey, she also followed up with additional questions for those that took the time for a detailed response.

  • Acknowledge your mistakes. Customers told the consultant that HLR's major advantage was its focus on serving public agencies versus private developers, but HLR's marketing materials didn't convey that, and had to be reworked with this focus.

    Moreover, the company should have been more proactive as soon as business began to slow.

    "We waited much too long (to do the customer surveys)," Hinkston said.

  • Be as specific as possible in marketing materials. In designing its new brochure, HLR listed specific benefits as described by customers. Rather than using testimonials that went with the common theme, "we love the company," the brochure is written in the voice of its customers.


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