The Black Hole of Customer Surveys

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Surveying has gotten out of hand. Any time people fly, stay at a hotel, shop, bank, call customer service, use a Web site, visit a hospital, or even go out to eat, they are asked to complete a survey. Asking for feedback is great, but only if the information is going to be used to fix or change something. However, this is not the case for a surprisingly (and disappointingly) large number of organizations. Too many companies seem to think that asking customers or prospects for their input is enough. Well, it isn't. Companies should immediately stop any surveying program where the survey itself is the only associated action item.

Surveying Without Change Is a Waste of Time

Surveying customers for their opinions about products and services should be a high-value activity for the organization and customer. This can be achieved if there is a surveying or voice-of-the-customer (VoC) strategy supported by processes and systems that convert feedback into action items on a timely basis. Unfortunately, too many companies are surveying in the hope of receiving high rankings to use for marketing purposes, not to identify the underlying issues negatively affecting their customers, brand, and bottom line.

There is also a misconception about how to perform surveys. There are many who believe that asking one question—such as are you "likely to recommend" a company—is a great indicator of customer satisfaction. This is certainly a useful question, particularly if the people being surveyed are happy with a company's products and services. However, when dissatisfaction is high, this question does nothing to identify the underlying reasons, which means that a company does not know what to fix.

But it gets worse. Some companies send out short surveys with two to three questions, and then kick off longer questionnaires to customers/prospects who express dissatisfaction in the initial survey. These companies clearly believe that their customers/prospects have nothing better to do than respond to surveys. In the name of measuring the voice of the customer, too many companies have lost sight of what is important, namely putting the customer first.

It's essential to survey customers, but rationality must prevail. When a company sends out a short survey and instructs respondents that complaints should not be put in the survey because they won't be read, there is something wrong. Any company that uses these surveying practices needs to rethink its approach.

Surveying Best Practices

Surveying is an essential business function. Even with all of the outstanding new analytics applications on the market, the best way to determine if a customer is satisfied with your products or services is to ask. If you're going to survey your customers and prospects, please do it right, as every company that does it wrong discourages customers from providing needed feedback. Here are a few best practices for building an effective surveying program that generates useful, timely, and actionable results that can help enhance customer satisfaction while improving the bottom line:

1. Build a company-wide surveying or VoC strategy so that customers are surveyed on a periodic basis, but not more than once every six months. (It's fine to use a variety of survey tools, but make sure that each customer receives one no more frequently than every six months.)

2. Share survey results with all relevant departments within a company.

3. Survey customers/prospects as close to an event as possible.

4. Allow customers to provide free-form responses to a survey.

5. Analyze all survey results.

6. Apply findings on a timely basis; research all issues identified by customers/prospects, and fix them.

Final Thoughts

It's essential to find out how customers and prospects feel about a business, be it a large enterprise, airline, doctor, or restaurant. Customers/prospects are generally willing to provide feedback, but only if they think it's going to be used. Any company that is not planning on applying the findings, and plans to survey only in the hope of earning bragging rights, should definitely rethink its approach.


Donna Fluss (donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com) is founder and president of DMG Consulting, a provider of contact center and analytics research, marketing analysis, and consulting.


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