4 Ways to Make Your Customer Satisfaction Surveys Actionable

"Please tell us how we did."

A question like that can roll the eyes of even your company's biggest fan.

For years, customer satisfaction (CSAT) surveys have been the bread-and-butter strategy for getting feedback.

But the big question is, are these surveys useful?

Many companies are frustrated by their surveys, in large part because they don't know how to derive consistently actionable insights from the feedback they collect. Thousands of responses go into a database, emerging only as a graph that nobody wants to admit doesn't drive any change.

Understanding customer feedback is crucial to your company's success. And even if you've collected mountains of data you're eager to act on, you could very easily be missing the most important question of all:

"Would you accept a call from a company representative?"

Surveys can provide great feedback about how customers felt about an interaction, but most surveys struggle to answer the more important question of exactly why they felt that way. Without following up directly with customers, you're missing the opportunity to understand the drivers behind the score—the drivers that lead to actionable feedback. By prompting customers to speak with your team, you're encouraging real-life interactions and a chance to learn from your happiest and unhappiest customers on what can be applied broadly and what issues must change.

Following up on a survey is one of the easiest and most straightforward ways to transform your raw data into valuable insights you can act on. Below are four tips to get you started.

1. Always follow up when possible. Following up with every customer is obviously ideal—though 100 percent follow-up is an unrealistic standard. So figure out the level of follow-up your team is capable of and determine which customers to prioritize, using satisfaction scores and other criteria. If you're using a Net Promoter Score (NPS), this may mean starting with customers in the 0-4 range.

A great way to improve your follow-up rate is to ask for permission in the survey itself. Any individual who took the time to complete your survey and is willing to take a call is somebody you want to talk to and learn from.

2. Focus on unhappy customers first and acknowledge their perspective. For bandwidth reasons, many companies focus on unhappy customers first in order to get to the root of their failings. In The Effortless Experience, Nick Toman and Rick Delisi argue that the most important thing you can do is to prevent "frustration and delay." Reaching out to a group of unhappy campers can deliver outsized returns if you can learn from them and stop future customers from experiencing the same frustration. Acknowledge their perspective and listen to what they have to say. Probe for the root cause of dissatisfaction and find an appropriate solution. Sometimes simply offering a sincere apology will suffice. In other instances, additional action may be needed.

If a team has time, talking to your happiest customers can also be valuable as it allows you to understand how to scale their positive experiences to your overall customer base.

3. Create actionable feedback. Whenever you conduct customer outreach, leave the conversation knowing what can be done to improve future interactions and find a way to share that insight. The only thing worse than survey results going into a black hole is live customer feedback going unused. If you can, tie the whole process back to your operating environment (e.g., Salesforce) so that the full feedback loop—from interaction to survey to feedback—is captured in one spot and can be shared with others seamlessly.

4. Designate an outreach lead. Supervisors are the ideal front line for customer calls because they are directly responsible for implementing feedback. While the majority of follow-up should happen as close to the end representative as your organization allows, there’s real value in having senior managers take a turn as well. Not only does it build real “customer first” cred with the team, but it offers everyone invaluable insight into where the organization needs to focus.

Customer satisfaction surveys are an amazing tool, but like most tools, they're only as good as how you make use of them. You’ll never know the answer to questions you don’t ask, and not even the best survey can replace hearing the answer directly from the customer's mouth. Ask for permission to follow up—and then follow through. It will move your feedback survey from a frustrating graph of meaningless data to a source of real insight, one that could help lower customer acquisition costs in the long term.

Jeff Coleman is the director of customer success and services at SurveyMonkey. Coleman focuses on Survey Monkey's enterprise business, where he leads customer success and helps companies maximize the value of their surveys.


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