Do your surveys create dissatisfaction?


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Customer surveys are a staple of the customer experience process and the most commonly-used way of measuring the customer experience. You would expect therefore that the application of the technique would by now be pretty slick. Unfortunately, that all too often is not the case. Rather than measure satisfaction, the majority of surveys turn what should be a positive, brand-affirming experience into a cause for dissatisfaction that leads to lost business.

There are five primary reasons surveys create dissatisfaction.

The survey black hole
How many times have you completed a survey and wondered what happened to the results? Were you interested? Yes. You provided feedback because you expected, or at least hoped, your comments would make things better for someone else if not for you. Don’t hold your breath waiting. Most companies fail to give those providing feedback any response. It’s all right for you to spend your time providing the feedback but they don’t have the time to respond. Some may contact you if you are dissatisfied but even those are a small minority. This is despite the evidence that when customer issues are acknowledged and preferably addressed, they take a more positive view of the company.

Lack of follow-up is the biggest single driver of falling response rates. Customers stop filling in surveys because they see no evidence of being heard; in their eyes it is a futile exercise. Even companies where action is taken, there is often no communication with customers. Unless they experience the same issue and happen to spot the change, they have no idea if their feedback was heard and acted on.

There are many ways companies can and should tell customers what is happening. As a minimum, contact every dissatisfied customer, preferably by phone, to apologise, understand, and agree an action. 

Summarise the aggregate results of surveys and the improvement actions taken and let every customer know, even those who have not completed a survey. If surveys have raised issues that cannot be immediately addressed, be honest and explain why. There are many ways to communicate this information: include it in newsletters, send an email, put posters in stores, create a ‘You said: we did’ web page and refresh it each month/quarter.

Before you dismiss this as too expensive, do the math. If you did contact them, how would that affect their buying and word of mouth? According to one poll, a typical American spends $12.50 each week or $1,200 per year on fast food. How many customers would have to defect to make this a worthwhile investment?

Remember, an effective feedback process is a dialogue, not a monologue!

Irrelevant and lazy content
I saw a survey earlier this month from a restaurant. Before they asked me what I felt about the meal and the service, the survey quizzed me about what location I had visited, what time and day, and how much I spent. All this is information they know. They took my booking, my order, and I paid but they were too lazy to use this and instead decided I had the time to check my diary and notes.

Good companies use what they know about the interaction to personalise every survey showing that the company is interested in my feedback. They use it to drive the the specific content of the survey rather than present questions that have no relationship with what I experienced. Not only do they benefit from improved response rates that personalisation engenders, they are equipped better to take action. They will know which products, stores, or staff are the source of most problems and thus be better equipped to drive improvements, which in turn should drive more business.

Lazy content extends to the use of generic or template based survey questions. Forget survey methodologies; the only questions that count are those that test what matters most to the customer. If you cannot explain how each question relates to what customers have expressly said is important, delete it.  Surveys are not about producing scores. The only valid purpose of any customer experience survey is to drive improvements in the factors that matter most to the customer.

Themes over brands
Any marketer or entrepreneur worth their salt knows that branding matters. That’s why companies invest thousands of dollars in branding covering websites, collateral, and events. They invest time and money buying names and URLs to match. They know that continually reinforcing a brand matters.

Why then are so many surveys issued with “Spring Mint” or some other generic theme dreamed up by someone with no connection with your brand. Why do survey URLs direct customers to “” or “powered by surveysupplier”? Where is the brand consistency in that? If your brand matters, it should be accurately reflected in every aspect of your surveys: design, color palette, fonts, style of language, and URLs. Remember, surveys are not just measuring the experience, they are part of it. As such, the same branding rules and care should be applied. Good branding will also help improve response rates.

Right hand, meet left hand
All feedback that is professionally presented and linked to action is good: right? Wrong! Remember, feedback is part of the experience and has therefore to be designed into the customer lifecycle in a way that provides a positive experience. Imagine how customers feel if they receive three surveys in a week, all asking about different aspects of their relationship, or even worse, the same aspects. This is not as uncommon as it sounds, particularly in large, multi-product companies.

The customer rightly wonders if different parts of the company talk to each other or have any idea what the other parts are doing. This is yet another example of inside-out, company first-customer second thinking and another reason response rates are falling.

Good feedback programs remove over-surveying by planning from the customer-in. They use the customer journey to identify what feedback to collect, when and from whom. They build in business rules that track survey participation and suppress surveys where necessary to meet these rules. The really clever companies embed the feedback points into their wider customer communication plans.

Our way or no way
Today’s customer wants to use different ways to communicate with a company according to time of day, location, and whim. Providing feedback is no different except that companies rarely provide the choice customers want. The result is lost opportunities to gather feedback and lower response rates. This lack of channel choice is again the result of inside-out, not outside-in thinking. Surveys are often deployed in ways that are cheap and easy for the company; that’s why email predominates.

The same survey should be available in all channels that the customer uses to communicate at that stage of the lifecycle and all the data should go into the same dataset. What’s more, the process of presenting the survey should be automated, removing cost and time and freeing up both to understand and act on the results.

“Mobile-first” is increasingly the mantra, recognising the growing use of the smartphone and tablet as a vehicle for both inbound and outbound communication. There is no doubt that mobile is increasingly important and has to be provided by default, but that should not be an excuse for mobile-only communication; that is just as restrictive for customer choice. The key is device independence. Feedback should be provided across several channels and work equally well on all.

The real reason: lip-service not leadership
If these problems exist it is because no one in the company takes ownership of feedback in a meaningful way. If feedback is to be a positive experience for the customer and an effective driver of change for the business, it has to be backed by leadership. Someone (and it doesn’t have to be the CEO), has to take control of the problem and through force of will and quality of ideas and execution, drive a coherent approach to feedback.

The most likely candidates are the Chief Customer/Experience Officer or the Chief Marketing Officer, increasingly the latter. They have the breadth of organisational scope, the expertise, the know-how to build a business case that will persuade others, and hopefully, the vision to build a coherent program. That does not exclude others from taking on the role; leaders often nominate themselves.

Are you ready to step up to the challenge?

David Jackson
David is CEO of TheCustomer.Co, advising senior executives on building customer focused companies. Before starting TheCustomer.Co, David founded and was CEO of Clicktools, the global leader in feedback software integrated with CRM. He sold the business in 2014. David is a recognised expert in the area of customer focused organisations.


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