Survey Fatigue: Let’s Take the Onus off of Customers

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Surveys used to be cool. At least I think they were. Back in the late 1930s, our founder was among the first to go door to door asking people for input. I bet at first it was appealing: Someone shows up with a clipboard and a smile and you're happy to spend a few friendly moments answering questions. But door-to-door surveys wore out their welcome, and roving researchers became viewed as intrusive. Much the same happened with telephone surveys: Once the novelty wore off, they came to always seem ill-timed and annoying.

And then came a promising development—Web-based surveys. You could respond to them in your own time and say as much or as little as you wanted. Yet now we're deluged with them, with companies asking our opinions of the car we rented, the hotel where we stayed, the clothing we purchased, and so much more.


At the root of survey fatigue is the simple fact that companies are putting the burden on customers to provide direction on the best ways to serve them. I don't doubt it's with good intentions, and for many years it made complete sense: If we wanted to understand the viewpoint of customers, the most logical thing to do was to ask them, right?

But as the technology landscape has changed, customer expectations have grown. Among the findings in Walker Information's recent Customers 2020 study, customers want a personalized experience, and they expect companies to anticipate their current and future needs.

We can no longer put the onus on customers to give us all the answers. Customer-focused leaders must find new ways to understand customers and optimize their experiences.


I'm not suggesting surveys never be used. We just need to be smarter about them. They need to be shorter, more targeted, better designed surveys that invite feedback that is truly relevant.

More important, we need to go beyond surveys and incorporate additional methods to get to know our customers and anticipate their needs. Fortunately, there are many methods to embrace—some new and some that have been around for decades:

  • Online communities. Tap into the conversations your customers are having as they discuss their needs and challenges. If you don't have one, get one started.
  • Online panels. Ask customers to sit on a virtual panel and provide opinions when asked. Those who opt in are typically more engaged and a great source of insights.
  • Advisory boards. Recruit a group of customers to routinely get together and serve on a customer advisory board. Customers will frequently jump at the chance to be involved in your company's strategy and planning.
  • Ethnographic research. You can learn a lot by simply observing customers as they interact with your solutions. This is a surprisingly simple approach that often leads to unexpected discoveries.
  • Customer-facing employees. Your account managers and service reps instinctively know customers' likes and dislikes. Capitalize on their knowledge.
  • Internal metrics. There's no shortage of customer data in most companies. Monitor behavioral data, purchase patterns, service records, quality metrics, and more to learn how your customers interact with your company.
  • Advanced analytics. More customer data requires you to improve the way you analyze that data. Use text analytics, predictive analytics, and other methods to anticipate your customers' wants and needs.
  • Journey mapping. Gather a cross-functional group within your company to conduct a journey mapping session. It's an excellent way to identify key customer experiences to leverage as well as those that require attention.

While it's not necessary to use all of these methods, I do recommend a balanced approach to gathering customer intelligence. Most important: All these methods place much less of a burden on the customer. It's time for companies to figure out how best to understand and serve customers without weighing them down in the process.

Patrick Gibbons is a principal at Walker, a leading customer experience consulting firm. You can read his blog at http://blog.walkerinfo.com/blog/engaging-the-­enterprise. He can be reached at pgibbons@walkerinfo.com.

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