Customer Interaction: 7 Lessons for Lowe’s—Or Any Company That Sends Net Promoter Surveys

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Customer interaction is the lifeblood of any company. It includes associates answering customers’ questions, staff engaging with prospects at the conference booth, and onboarding new customers. In short, customer interaction extends throughout the entire customer journey. And it includes a company’s surveys!

A survey asks about a customer’s interactions, but it is also in itself an interaction. Many companies seem to have forgotten that fact, Lowe’s included.

And since the survey is a customer interaction, failing your customer satisfaction survey approach means you’ll likely leave your customer with a negative impression of your company.

It’s worth expanding on this point. If you ask for feedback, and the customer reciprocates, you have a complete interaction.

But how many tone-deaf customer feedback surveys do you receive in a month? I get quite a few.

It can be maddening for customers when they take the time to provide helpful feedback, only for the company to respond with zero acknowledgment or even just a “thank you.”

Particularly jarring is when a company sends a Net Promoter Survey when the Net Promoter question doesn’t apply to the situation—which is what Lowe’s did.

When companies ask nonsensical questions, they are saying loud and clear, “We don’t care what you have to say; we’re simply doing this survey because a higher-up at our company said we should. Box checked. We’re done.”

An interaction means two forces are in contact. When one participant is not listening or engaged, the interaction is still an interaction, but it’s a dissatisfying, asymmetrical exchange.  

Some Context: Upside-Down Soap

Here’s how I wound up getting the Net Promoter Survey from Lowe’s: I added a mop to my online cart. Then to reach the minimum purchase amount for free shipping, I added a few cleaning supplies to my order.

When the boxes arrived, while the mop was happily upright, the liquids were placed upside down in the second box.

Because they were upside down, one of the bottles leaked and soaked the cardboard packaging.

It wasn’t a huge deal, but I was naturally mildly irked. If this had happened to Lowe’s CEO, Marvin Ellison, he would have been irked too. It’s just human nature. No one wants to clean up someone else’s mess.

Then the Net Promoter Survey Arrived

Later that afternoon, the Lowe’s customer satisfaction survey arrived. I typically don’t take retailers’ surveys because I’ve come to expect inept survey design unless Interaction Metrics has written the survey.

My problem wasn’t worth calling their 1-800 number, but I did want to communicate it. Besides, the survey invite said, “Lowe’s is always listening to customers like you… and it will just take about 5 minutes.”

What followed was a 20-question survey about their delivery process.

How do you get 20 questions about delivery? Mostly by asking questions that don’t make sense or are too granular for how most customers think. Also, by asking questions that could be answered another way.

For example, here’s how they included the Net Promoter question:

“Based on your recent delivery experience at Lowe’s, how likely would you be to recommend Lowe’s to a friend or family member for their home improvement needs?”

Net Promoter? About delivery? Surely their data scientists know that the customer recommends Lowe’s because of the entire soup-to-nuts experience. Delivery is just one aspect of that experience. The complete experience includes location, pricing, inventory, ease of returns, and much more. Again, it’s the entire experience that leads a customer to recommend or NOT recommend Lowe’s. No one pauses their day to recommend Lowe’s to a family member based on Lowe’s delivery.

No-Reply Email Address

Like most surveys, this one came from a no-reply email address.

“This is an automatically generated email. Please do not “Reply” to this invitation.”

What’s the problem with a no-reply for a survey? Two things:

  • It sends a strong cue that Lowe’s doesn’t want to hear from its customers.
  • And second, occasionally, you will have a customer who is happy to provide feedback, but they don’t like the structured nature of surveys or have minimal time. Yet, they have something (positive or negative) that they want to say.
At Interaction Metrics, we send surveys from an address the customer can reply to. Then we compile that data for our clients. It’s valuable data, and the fact is that all feedback should be welcome, especially when you say that you are eager to listen to your customers.

Customer Interaction: 7 Survey Killers

Here are seven takeaways from the Lowe’s Net Promoter Survey that apply to thousands of companies, and perhaps yours too:

#1: Don’t make your customers do work for you.

One of the questions asked, “Have you recently received a Ship to Home order from Lowe’s that was delivered to you or someone in your household/business?”

Lowe’s should already know this information, which is why they’re sending the survey in the first place. And what’s with “Ship to Home order”? Write your questions the way people speak so that customers aren’t spending time figuring out what you’re asking.

#2: Don’t promise a short survey and then overload your customer with questions.

No one wants to answer twenty questions about their delivery experience. Delivery may be complicated from the warehouse’s perspective but not from the customer’s perspective. Your surveys should be appropriate to the customer’s touchpoint.

#3: Don’t ask irrelevant questions—because that WILL result in bogus data.

For example, one of the survey pages asked me a list of eight questions, two of which were completely unrelated to my shopping experience. However, the survey would not allow me to proceed to the next page without answering those two questions. So, I just filled in completely random answers! Irrelevant questions result in junk data.

survey showing required questions

The irrelevant questions also made me wonder whether the survey used a weighting factor for its questions. Perhaps there was an algorithm weighting the answers in the background, but it appeared that all questions were weighted equally, which would result in inaccurate data.

#4: Make sure your questions follow logically.

After giving scores of 1 and 2 for some of my ranking questions, the survey followed with a text box where I could explain my delivery problem—the whole reason I had taken the survey.

“If you could make one improvement to the Lowe’s Delivery service, what would it be?”

Why ask a customer an upbeat question when they have clearly indicated they were unhappy with aspects of the experience?

Why not instead use logic to write a meaningful question based on the customer’s previous feedback? A more appropriate prompt would be:

“Apparently, something went wrong. Please tell us more.”

In answer to their perky question, I wrote:

To package liquid items upright so that they don’t leak and make a big mess.”

At last, the survey was finished. “Thank you! Your feedback is invaluable to us!” the survey read.

But every other aspect of the survey told me that my feedback was clearly not valued.

#5: The survey is just the beginning. It’s the complete interaction that matters.

If you open communication channels with your customers, you must respond to their feedback! A lack of follow-up is almost worse than failing to seek customer feedback in the first place.

This is a point Rob Markey, co-inventor of the Net Promoter Score, made in our recent roundtable on Net Promoter for B2B companies, and it’s one of the major ways I see companies fail their customers.

When customers take the time to write honest feedback, don’t leave the problem unresolved.

Lowe’s could write an email saying, “I am so sorry that happened to you. We will make sure our packagers do better next time. Meanwhile, here’s a Gift Certificate for $10 in hopes you’ll try us again.”

Or Lowe’s could find out which bottle leaked and say, “Let’s make it right; you’ll get a replacement item shortly.”

But it’s been well over a week since I took the Lowe’s survey, and since I haven’t heard a word back, other factors being equal, I’ll probably try Home Depot the next time I need to order products online.

#6: Don’t misuse the Net Promoter Survey.

“Based on your recent delivery experience at Lowe’s how likely would you be to recommend Lowe’s to a friend or family member for their home improvement needs?”

As mentioned above, customers recommend a brand based on their entire experience, but even if you did ask about the whole experience, the Net Promoter question is a bit of a stretch.

After all, do real people have conversations where they recommend national chain hardware stores to each other? I doubt it. The Net Promoter Score Survey was never intended to be used for every survey and situation. By the way, a Net Promoter Survey differs from a Net Promoter Strategy. Clearly, Lowe’s could use some strategy!

#7: Lastly, to repeat, don’t send your survey from a no-reply email.

If you claim like Lowe’s does to be “always listening” to your customers, then give them an easy way to email you, other than responding in full to a 20-question survey. Customers aren’t dumb; they can tell when you want to hear from them and when you’re just pretending to.

Software Providers VS. CX Practitioners

Lowe’s sent its survey with Medallia, a multi-billion dollar software company. As with so many companies, Lowe’s could likely benefit from more than just a software solution.

Many companies assume that paying for survey software means they will get well-crafted surveys. But software companies are not Customer Experience Analysts, nor should they be. There is simply no reason for a software provider to think about your survey critically.

Frankly, in the case of Lowe’s’ survey, ChatGPT could have probably produced a more relevant, personalized, and logical survey.

Surveys for an Elevated Customer Interaction

The best way to write surveys is to focus your questions and keep them snappy and relevant. We’d be happy to write a good survey for Lowe’s. Marvin Ellison, if you’re listening, here are just a few ideas about the kinds of questions that would improve your survey:

  • “Did Lowe’s deliver when they said they would?”
  • “Do you also buy from Home Depot [or another competitor]?”
  • If yes, pipe the competitor’s name in and ask, “If both stores were equal distance from you, where would you prefer to shop?”

Every Customer Interaction Matters—Even the Survey

The fact is that a handful of meaningful questions would have resulted in better customer experience data for Lowe’s.

If you do surveys simply to tell your boss you checked it off your list, then keep sending wordy, illogical questionnaires.

But if you do surveys because you genuinely want to know how your customers feel, then it’s time to rethink your methods.

Whatever questions you have for your customers, please start with your customers in mind. And pay careful attention to the interaction. Every customer interaction has the potential to elevate or be transcendent in some way. Again, your survey is a customer interaction; treat it like one.

To discuss how you can craft better surveys, get in touch.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Martha Brooke
Martha Brooke, CCXP + Six Sigma Black Belt is Interaction Metrics’ Chief Customer Experience Analyst. Interaction Metrics offers workshops, customer service evaluations, and the widest range of surveys. Want some ideas for how to take your surveys to the next level? Contact us here.

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