Blog, News & Announcements

Customer Satisfaction Surveys Are No Longer Relevant (Pt. 1)

Posted on October 20th, 2011

How many times a week do you get this email? “Thank you for working with [Name of Company]. Will you please take a few minutes to give us feedback by filling out this short survey?”


My personal e-mail inbox currently holds requests for survey feedback from more than 10 companies. Apple’s in there, a hotel, two retailers, a car company, a couple of conferences, a credit-card company, etc. The only reason they’re still there is because I was waiting until I wrote this blog post to delete them. I suspect that is much longer than most people wait.

From a customer perspective, I simply don’t have time to fill out a survey. Even if I love the company, even if I want to give great feedback, I’m simply too busy to take the time.

In the last 6 months I almost completed 2 surveys. 1 was from Google. They offered to give me $20 of adwords credit for filling out their survey. Ok – an incentive, and something I can use. I gave in. More than 10 minutes into the survey I wasn’t even half way through. I decided they could keep the credit and I stopped.

The other company was one I was upset with. A few minutes in and only half way through their survey I realized I could get a much better response by simply broadcasting my displeasure with them down my social networks. I did that instead. And yes, I got a response.

So basically, under no circumstance am I willing to fill out a survey. Are you any different?

no more surveys

But what’s a company to do? It’s imperative that you somehow measure customer happiness and overall engagement. Further, you need a way to measure how each of your employees is doing in terms of delivering that service.

Surveys have become the default way most companies gather feedback these days. Customer survey response rates are a simple test of measuring customer engagement and satisfaction. However, the standard survey you periodically send out is no longer relevant. Here’s why surveys fail.

Most customers have the same negative reaction I do when they see a survey request. The reasons include:

1) They take too much time! If customers were certain that every survey would be quick and easy, they *might* fill it out. But even the ones that claim to “only take a few minutes” or only be “a few questions” most often prove to be untrue. Most surveys typically require 10 or even 20 minutes to complete — who has that kind of time to spare? And that’s if your customers are happy or at least satisfied with your service. If customers are unhappy, most of them will just walk away and never say anything. If you could glean even the slightest bit of information from their bad experience and why they’re unhappy, you could at least make an effort to salvage the relationship.

2) Surveys often mix transaction questions with content or relational questions. Most surveys will ask a mix of questions about the brand, the product, and the person with which the customer interacted. The worst is when surveys are a thinly veiled attempt at selling additional products/services. If the surveys were instant and singularly focused they would be easier and quicker to complete.

3) Lack of follow up. When I used to think surveys had value I would actually expect some kind of follow up when I left negative feedback or gave a suggestion. I can’t think of a single time when that happened. Why? Most likely because the survey responses just go to ‘the void’ – the big empty space filled with good intentions but that requires time, planning and analysis to turn in to something tangible. I now know the data collected by these companies is mostly aggregated and difficult to act upon. It’s purpose is for senior management or board meetings to have topics of discussion – not following up with me, a single customer. This level of follow up is almost impossible because most surveys aren’t designed for transactional improvements.

4) No anonymity. Anonymous surveys let customers honestly say what they’re feeling without any risk of damaging their relationship with your brand. With the ability for data to be so easily tracked, stored and accessed now, customers have no assurance that the service they receive won’t continue to decline if they give negative feedback. Having the option to leave anonymous feedback gives your customers a greater sense of security.

5) No learning from the feedback. If customers knew their time investment would help the employees or the company improve its service to them, they’d be more cooperative and engaged. Suppose the employees your customers interact with could actually hear what your customers have to say in real time, in a way that would help them learn and improve? Suppose senior managers weighed customer input and took immediate and appropriate action, even if they decided not to follow customer advice exactly? If customers truly believed all that was happening, they’d be more willing to fill out a brief survey.

In our next post (pt. 2 in this series) we’ll cover best practices for improving customer loyalty and engagement without periodically sending out lengthy surveys. But in the meantime, what about you? As a customer, what are some reasons you do or don’t fill out surveys?


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