In my work as a customer and market research consultant, I was often asked by clients whether I had any ideas or hypotheses for what might underlie a sudden drop in customer satisfaction scores. Coming from a background in employee research I would often simply ask if they had talked to their customer facing employees. Usually, they had spoken with a manger or supervisor, but very rarely had they spoken to any of their frontline employees. I would also ask whether they had any current employee survey results - mostly resulting in a resounding "we haven't thought about that!".
This has always surprised me because a considerable amount of research has shown that employee engagement itself can be a predictor of customer satisfaction, but employee perceptions of customer related issues can be a even better predictors. In a sense this is just a simple form of crowd-sourcing or, as we prefer to call it 'People Intelligence'. Your people are working within your systems, culture and workplace everyday and many of them interact directly with your customers. Why not ask them some relevant questions?
I was working with a large telco provider once, who had uncovered some dramatic drops in customer satisfaction, causing them to lose customers, but occurring in just a few call centers. Because this was happening so quickly they didn't have time to commission some further customer research, they needed to resolve the situation right away. As it turns out, they had recently conducted an employee survey with us and had asked employees specific questions about their customer service environment and, about other workplace enablers–thankfully the results were quite recent.
When we looked at the employee data for these particular call centres relative to the others and saw substantially lower perceived autonomy in two centres and also results suggesting non-availability of a suitably authorised manager in one centre. We were able to validate the findings by speaking with employees and, the company was able to quickly put measures in place to address these issues. As a result customer satisfaction was quickly improved without the need to conduct further customer research beyond the standard monthly tracking that was already taking place.
Treat your people as a source of intelligence and you will often get intelligent solutions from them.