In Search of Satisfaction
During the month of May 2007, Control Engineering magazine gave its print and online subscribers a chance to talk about satisfaction. Specifically, we asked readers to rate their satisfaction with vendors and their products in 12 categories: DCS software; networking hardware; industrial computers; single- and multi-loop controllers; embedded hardware; historian software; linear motors; process ...
During the month of May 2007, Control Engineering magazine gave its print and online subscribers a chance to talk about satisfaction. Specifically, we asked readers to rate their satisfaction with vendors and their products in 12 categories: DCS software; networking hardware; industrial computers; single- and multi-loop controllers; embedded hardware; historian software; linear motors; process analyzers; servo motors; alarm, annunciator, and message panels; DAQ hardware and software; and torque sensors and similar feedback devices.
We had two goals for this research, which was conducted by Reed Research Group: identify the key factors that drive customer satisfaction in the automation, instrumentation and controls marketplace, and identify vendors within product categories that are doing a particularly good job satisfying their customers. The research builds on similar studies we have conducted every year since 2004 (previous years covered other product categories and used slightly different methods).
The results give users some criteria for evaluating suppliers before or after a purchase, and give suppliers information for improving customer satisfaction. We broke out the results by industry so we could tell, for example, if engineers in petroleum refining are more or less satisfied than those in food and beverage manufacturing with the products they buy and the vendors they choose. We also broke out data by product category to learn if users of single- and multi-loop controllers are more or less satisfied than users of DAQ hardware and software.
Lastly, we used the research to develop a list of vendors who, according to our respondents, have a high percentage of satisfied customers for a given product category. (You can find them on page CS6 and identify them by the “Customer Satisfaction Award” logo in their ads.) Users and vendors also can find the full results of the research online.
The 2007 Customer Satisfaction survey asked respondents to choose up to three product categories in which to evaluate vendors. By the end of May, almost 600 of you had provided your opinions, creating a total of approximately 1,600 evaluations, according to Mark DiVito, research director. “Taken as a whole, 37.6% of respondents report being “very satisfied” with their vendors in the product categories studied,” said DiVito. “Another 55.8% said they were 'somewhat satisfied.' But individual results vary widely by industry.”
Users in the pulp and paper industry report the highest percentage of very satisfied users (52.4%), followed closely by users in the instrumentation, measurement and control systems industry (50.4%). Only 32.2% of users at utility companies, on the other hand, reported being very satisfied. Petroleum refining, plastics/rubber and primary metals also show a low level of customer satisfaction (26.9%, 26.7%, and 22.7%, respectively). The chart on this page shows results for other industries.
Components of satisfaction
In an effort to help raise the level of customer satisfaction in all industries, we also asked for more detail about 15 areas or activities that have been known to influence customer satisfaction. These components of satisfaction are: customer service, customer training, ease of installation, hardware repair services and/or software bug fixes, legacy product support, price, product availability, product design, quality of products and services, sales ordering process, sales staff knowledge and attitude, software upgrades, technical support services, value of products and services, and Website usefulness.
Not surprisingly, not all 15 areas equally influence overall satisfaction. “Survey results show six areas stand out as key drivers of satisfaction for our respondents,” says DiVito. “Customers care most about these high-impact areas, and a high satisfaction score for one of these can mean a high overall feeling of satisfaction with a vendor and its product.”
The top six drivers of satisfaction in our survey, and their percentage of “very satisfied” respondents, are: quality of products and services 50.7%, product design 40.7%, product availability 36.4%, customer service 33.9%, software upgrades 26.7%, and price 22.9%.
A little more than half of respondents were very satisfied with what they perceive as the quality of products and services they receive from the various manufacturers evaluated. However, only 22.9% were satisfied with the price they received. Customer service, product design, product availability, and software upgrades fell in between these two extremes in terms of affecting overall customer satisfaction. What this means is that users may want to look beyond price to evaluate customer service and software upgrade policies before they commit to simply a lowest-price purchase. Buying on price alone does not result in high satisfaction over the long term.
While these results may seem intuitive, it may be more interesting to look at the areas that have less influence on satisfaction. Value of products and services, ease of installation, and technical service support are slightly less important (resulting in 40.5%, 40.1% and 36.3% highly satisfied, respectively). “We consider these to have moderate impact on overall satisfaction,” said DiVito.
Areas with the least affect on satisfaction (and the percent of respondents who considered themselves highly satisfied overall) include: sales staff knowledge and attitude 36.5%, sales ordering process 31.5%, Website usefulness 30.2%, hardware repair services 27.2%, legacy product support 27.1% customer training 26.1%, and product group differences.
The products covered in our survey are very diverse, with only some, for example, requiring a long sales cycle and extensive sales staff knowledge to choose and configure. The “Customer satisfaction by product category” chart shows how the six primary drivers of satisfaction change by product purchased.
For example, overall satisfaction with historian software was 28.9% (compared to 37.6% overall). According to DiVito, this difference was mainly driven by lower performance across five of six high impact areas: Quality of products and services, customer service overall, price, software upgrades, and product design were all notably lower versus overall averages. Overall satisfaction for industrial computers was 29.5%—from lower performance in the areas of quality of products and services, price, and product design. Users of industrial computers, linear motors and servo motors showed statistically lower satisfaction than overall.
The highest rate of satisfaction for quality of products and services (62.3%) was reported by users of process analyzers. This was one of six categories with half or more of respondents highly satisfied with product quality. Networking hardware was the leader for product availability, with 45.3% highly satisfied, as well as product design (51.6% highly satisfied). Vendors of DAQ hardware and software can say 32.1% of respondents are highly satisfied with software upgrades, the highest rate for that measure.
Response rates varied by product category. Those with the largest response rates were DAQ hardware and software (281 responses), servo motors (270 responses), and industrial computers (171 responses). Categories with the fewest responses include historian software (41 responses), embedded hardware (59 responses), and torque sensors (66 responses). Satisfaction ratings for categories with low rates of response are statistically valid, but low response rates may result in skewed vendor satisfaction ratings, simply because of too few data points, said DiVito.
Advice to vendors
From a vendor standpoint, while items with lower satisfaction levels on low impact areas do not necessarily have to be fixed immediately, they do need to be monitored. Pay particular attention to areas that can create friction and create negative impressions about your company. These items, while not critical, can have a halo effect and negatively impact even positive ratings over the course of time.
Vendors can use the research results as one indication of where to focus improvement efforts, said DiVito. Areas with high impact and low satisfaction results should be addressed first. “Fix these areas first—price, software upgrades and customer service—because they have the greatest opportunity to impact customer experiences,” he said.
DiVito said areas with high impact and high satisfaction ratings should be viewed as leverage opportunities to differentiate against competition. Areas with low impact and low satisfaction ratings should be monitored.
*Small sample size
Instrumentation, measurement, control systems
Other manufacturing processes
Engine, turbine, mechanical
Other transportation equipment manufacturing
Industrial, commercial, agricultural, other machinery
Other electronic products, equipment
Computers, communication equipment
Scientific, research services
Information, data processing, software services
System engineering, integration, architectural services
Alarm, annunciator, message panels
DAQ hardware, software
Torque sensors, other feedback devices
Source : Control Engineering
Number of responses
Percent 'very satisfied' overall
High impact areas
Quality of products and services
Source : Control Engineering
1. Alarm, annunciator, message panels (156 responses)
2. DAQ hardware, software (281 responses)
3. DCS software (111 responses)
Emerson Process Management
4. Linear motors, related controls (83 responses)
5. Embedded hardware (59 responses)
6. Process analyzers (106 responses)
Emerson Process Management (Rosemount)
7. Industrial computers (173 responses)
8. Servo motors (270 responses)
Bosch Rexroth (Indramat)
9. Single-, multi-loop controllers (119 responses)
Emerson Process Management
10. Networking hardware (158 responses)
Hirschmann Network Systems
Belden Wire & Cable
Renee Robbins, editorial director of Control Engineering, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Satisfaction with instrumentation
The 2007 edition of the customer satisfaction survey sponsored by the Measurement, Control & Automation Association (MCAA), released in February, provides its own data on the satisfaction of buyers, users and distributors of instrumentation. PeriscopeIQ, a Bethlehem, PA, market research consultant, surveyed more than 3,600 customers in this fourth annual survey for MCAA.
On a five point scale from excellent to poor, the survey revealed that MCAA member companies are very good or excellent in the areas of quality of products (81% of respondents), value of products and services (74%), and product design (76%). MCAA companies had slightly lower rates of satisfaction for services, including customer service (69% choosing very good or excellent), technical support (68%), availability of spare parts (54%), repairs (50%) and customer training (51%).
“From an overall perspective, 66% of customers found the reputations of MCAA member companies to be very good or excellent,” said MCAA executive director, Cynthia Esher. “They rated these companies very good or excellent 71% of the time and over 95% would be somewhat or very likely to recommend them, and somewhat or very likely to purchase from them again in the future.”
MCAA is the national trade association for manufacturers and distributors of instrumentation, systems and software used in industrial process control and factory automation worldwide. For a list of member companies or more information on the survey, visit