Surveys: Know What Your Customers Are Good For—and What They’re NOT!


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Customer feedback surveys don’t have to be bad. But they often are.

Case in point: I recently took a survey that began with this question:

Please rate the balance of graphics and text on

What insights did the company hope to gain here? If a large number of respondents answered “Poor,” what would that mean? Provide more graphics? More text? And where?

Questions like this confuse and irritate customers—worse yet, they result in junk information. Junk in. Junk out.

But the deeper problem here is that this company is asking customers to weigh in on something they shouldn’t be. As I often say, “your customers are not your analysts.” Customers don’t know what your sales and brand objectives are. Leave questions about visual weighting to designers and researchers who conduct controlled user experience testing.

Here’s something else I often say (because it’s an axiom of social science research): “what customers say they like is not necessarily what they really like. And what they say they do is often nothing like what they truly do.” Customer: “I watch PBS.” In-Home Ethnographer: “Customer watches cartoons non-stop.”

Ponder this before conducting your next customer feedback survey: Customers are not as interested in you as you are. This means do NOT ask your customers to solve your artistic, brand, or any other kind of problem. Instead ask: “who else might you buy goods/services from in the future?” Or, “how happy were you with a particular transaction?”

These are customer-centric questions. They are straightforward and relate to customers’ specific experiences. When customer-centric questions are combined with all the principles of good customer feedback research, you’ll achieve accurate, actionable information. Good info in. Good info out.


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