Don’t Ask if You Can’t Act


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Despite the tendency of companies in every type of industry to seek customer feedback through seemingly customer-centric surveys, the state of the customer experience and of the relationship between companies and customers remains tenuous. Companies continually fail to understand the value and purpose of these surveys from the perspective of their customers, and in the absence of this understanding, companies fail to act and deliver the requisite changes that their customers have come to expect.

We recently released a study conducted with over 200 executives regarding the state of customer surveys. Overall, the results of the study indicate that companies demonstrate a gap between their intentions when designing surveys and their execution based on the results of customer surveys. Although the majority of the respondents (59%) claim to design the surveys with strategic intentions, only a minority of the respondents (23%) manage to obtain buy in for change. Only a minority of the respondents (45%) can translate the results into actions. The growth in the number of customer surveys being conducted does not seem to lead to greater actions as a result of company interaction with customers.

Results Highlights:

  • 77% of the participants find difficulty in obtaining buy-in for change
  • 71% of the participants state that there was very little survey follow up internally to change behavior in the organization
  • 69% of the participants struggle with people arguing with the validity of survey results
  • 52.3% of the participants design surveys to validate current performance
  • 54.6% of respondents indicated difficulty in linking the survey results to actions
  • 50.2% design their surveys to drive action
  • 42.3% of the participants state that surveys result in organization changes to drive competitive advantage

These results represents a sad state of affairs. But it does not have to be that way. Companies that design their customers surveys for actions, derive different results.

Successfully conducting a customer dialogue which leads to greater customer intimacy and ultimately competitive differentiation requires that companies take a fresh look at their survey programs. Customer surveys should not be treated as an obligation but rather as a strategic commitment with the proper intentions and appropriate resource allocations. Companies should launch customer surveys only when they are fully prepared to act on the insight provided by their customers. It is only with the appropriate intentions and resources that questions can be designed to drive meaningful insight that can guide execution. Here are the five steps to drive customer dialogue as a competitive advantage:

  1. Start with a Strategy – What is it that you want to achieve by obtaining your customers’ insight? What do you plan on doing with the results? By using these guiding questions, you can start to put a plan in place to help you envision customer surveys in the context of strategic intent and expected action.
  2. Create a Dialogue – After defining the strategic intentions and the expected actions, designing a questionnaire that seeks customer feedback becomes a natural follow up. Seek insight that can help you improve your performance, not ensure the status quo. Avoid questions that validate existing behavior and ask questions that may give you answers that hurt. It is those tough questions that will produce valuable information to help you innovate and improve. Allow customers to voice their own opinions and concerns and do not lead them to questions that only you care about. At the end of the day, it is all about the questions you ask.
  3. Design for Actions, Not Data – Ask questions that can provide you execution guidance and think about how you would execute in the event that you receive certain feedback. Yes or no questions will usually get you nowhere. They may affirm certain assumptions, but will generally not lead to change.
  4. Prioritize and Execute – Avoid over analyzing the results and prioritize what matters the most. Review the data with a goal of identifying a few meaningful changes that you can actually do something about. Consolidate the data with three to six objectives for change. Obtain executive commitment and allocate resources appropriately.
  5. Plan for change – Properly designed customers surveys will ultimately require changes in processes and policies. Do not be scared! This is a natural process for improvement. Incorporate a change management plan into your thinking and planning so that changes will be more quickly and painlessly embraced by employees. As part of your change management plan, do not forget to notify your partners in change – your customers.

Loyalty through Listing and Acting

Customer dialogue is a promise, not a sales pitch. Companies who understand this refrain from copying others and design surveys as part of a customer-centric strategy. These companies wish to leverage customer insight for innovation, change and ultimately to reach a competitive advantage. They wish to infuse their employees with customer-centric mentality that will be reflected in their attitude and behavior; and which ultimately will strengthen the relationship with their customers. These companies conduct customer dialogue on a basis of mutual respect and are therefore able to strengthen customer loyalty by demonstrating that they act on their customers’ insight. The pay back is significant not only in creating better products, services and experiences, but also by creating a differentiating relationship with customers. It is this commitment to listening that creates the loyalty.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.
How successful are your surveys? Do you design your surveys with strategic intentions? Do your surveys help you create buy-in for change?

Lior Arussy
One of the world’s authorities on customer experience, customer centricity, and transformation, Lior Arussy delivers results. His strategic framework converts organizations from product- to customer-centricity. It is drawn from his work with some of the world’s leading brands: Mercedes-Benz, Royal Caribbean, Delta Air Lines, MasterCard, Novo Nordisk, Walmart and more.Arussy is also the author of seven books, including Next Is Now (May 2018)


  1. Lior

    Great article this very much reflects our experience regarding customer feed back and satisfaction scores. My only question would be that your five steps start with a degree of assumption as to the customer’s opinion and where it is likely to most effect the organisation.

    Best regards

    Carl Lyon

    Chairman of the QoE
    Facilitated round table discussion groups, giving senior executives the opportunity to talk about the issues involved in delivering a quality customer experience. Providing an agenda free environment for frank exchange of views

  2. Carl,

    In light of the wasteful practice of asking customers without having any clear idea of what will be done with the results, I propose we start with a clear purpose. At least if companies link the surveys to a strategy there is a chance that they will take the whole exercise seriously and act on the findings.

    I do agree that as they mature in their approach to customers they will learn to listen and act without preconceived agendas and therefore be able to enjoy a far more diverse set of ideas and insights.

    Lior Arussy
    President, Strativity Group
    Author of Excellence Every Day (2008) and Passionate and Profitable (2005)

  3. Lior

    Absolutely agree with your comments on wasted opportunities, we come across them regularly. Especially when a survey raises issues that are outside the remit of the originator, this of course promotes a culture of only asking questions on areas you can control / improve. Your original article challenges the reader to ask the difficult question, in my opinion this should be directed only to senior executives. Who also assume responsibility for taking the appropriate actions? Having a target but very little power to influence the out come is the biggest source of work related stress in the UK and undermines so many well-intentioned customer focused initiatives.


    Chairman of the QoE
    Facilitated round table discussion groups, giving senior executives the opportunity to talk about the issues involved in delivering a quality customer experience. Providing an agenda free environment for frank exchange of views

  4. Every new strategy brings changes, so instead of simply starting with a strategy, it is more effective to start with a change initiative, and communicate the benefits of such change to all stakeholders to obtain buy-in. Any change should be well-planned ahead.

    Daryl Choy
    Make Little Things Count


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