Even With a Culture of Listening – You Still Need Surveys


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I have been keeping tabs on the Clarabridge Customer Connections conference in Florida via Twitter. Clarabridge is a vendor in the analytics world and one of the vendors I follow. There have been some interesting tidbits that have come across my activity stream about the role and need of analytics going forward, how to better use data, what is Big Data and why it matters. Some good stuff indeed.

Then, I see this tweet from Seth Grimes come across my stream.

First, let me absolve Seth of any crimes – he is merely reporting the content being presented – my rant is not against him (whom I respect and whose work is very grounded when it comes to analytics and sentiment analysis — if you don’t follow him on Twitter or his blog, you should).

How can anyone even conceive not asking the client?

Direct questioning of the client is a sine-qua-non requirement of any listening program.

There is no possible way that any organization, under any circumstances can get sufficient data and knowledge about the customer needs, wants, and desires simply by “listening”. Sure, the unstructured feedback you can get from listening is more likely to have truthful statements than poorly done surveys, and the volume of unstructured feedback collected in a listening program can be 20x to 100x the volume to structured feedback collected in surveys – but there is no comparison between one and the other. We tried this before, where CRM and the operational and transactional data it produces was going to generate a “360-degree” view of the customer – that ended up being more like a “220-ish-degree” view of the customer since we were missing both the attitudinal and sentimental aspects of them, both provided by surveys.

Listening and Surveys have a place in a well executed Feedback Management initiative.

If you want to understand why your customer did something, or how they feel about it you must ask them. Was the experience effective? Did we do a good job? Can we do something better?

I can see the thought process behind this: if something was wrong, the customer will find a way to express themselves in other channels and we will capture that in our listening program. Possible, but not always likely. Not to mention that you would then never find out what you did right (maybe what you did exceptionally well, but not what you did just right – which is about 70%+ of the interactions.

There are three problems with that thought process:

  1. Your listening program may not capture that specific piece of information
  2. The customer may not be interested in using the channels you listen on
  3. The customer may not be inclined to share their thoughts in public

How do you bypass those problems? Ask them.

Would you rely on a listening program to know what is going on with your kids? What they like and dislike? Would you rely on a listening program to find out why your spouse is unhappy? (Editor’s Note: experience speaking, don’t try that one – back to the regularly scheduled post).

The bottom line: relying entirely on your listening program may capture the feedback from the client, but without the surveys to corroborate you are just likely to end up “greasing squeeky wheels”, not solving root causes of problems. You must query customers directly to find out what is going on, there is no substitute for it. No matter how good your company may be at analytics or how much you have improved your listening skills.

Do yourself a favor and have a listening program in place. Make it one portion of a well executed Feedback Management program that includes both structured and unstructured feedback.

You will thank me later.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Esteban Kolsky
ThinkJar, LLC
Esteban Kolsky is the founder of CRM intelligence & strategy where he works with vendors to create go-to market strategies for Customer Service and CRM and with end-users leveraging his results-driven, dynamic Customer Experience Management methodology to earn and retain loyal customers. Previously he was a well-known Gartner analyst and created a strategic consulting practice at eVergance.


  1. Esteban,
    I appreciate your “listening” in, so to speak, at the Clarabridge C3 conference last week via Twitter. It was a great event – we had close to 300 people attending this year (100% growth in attendance over last year) and the sessions, as well as the informal discussions, networking, and relationship building that occurred between attendees was valuable and very well received by all
    It’s interesting that you cite in your blog the importance of framing customer feedback through contextual insights that come from survey questions, additional sources of insight, etc, vs. relying on free form insights from a single source, like Twitter. We agree – the single twitter post you cite from @sethgrimes does not provide the fuller context of requirements that many participants and speakers suggested were critical to establishing successful listening programs. Our opening keynoter, Rory Sutherland, spoke passionately about the 4 E’s essential to establishing context aware marketing and listening programs – Experience, Exchange, Everywhere, Evangelism – and made it clear that content from many sources, and programs that establish a culture of asking questions and listening to answers is key to success. In an executive panel that I moderated a number of executives from USAA, BE Aerospace, and others agreed that text provides key insights, but how the text is gathered, and contextual details also gathered alongside the text (survey framing, point in time, location, experience attribute information) is critical to aligning the text insights to a business drivers and business outcome. Finally, there was good discussion between survey and market research partners Valtera, Confirmit, Vovici, and others on the need for good survey methodology as a linchpin of good listening programs.
    Interestingly, several attendees did note that increasing use of text analytics in survey and listening programs has allowed changes in survey methodology – namely that surveys can be shorter, can ask more open ended questions, and can be augmented with data from additional sources of insight, obviating the need to ask dozens or even hundreds of questions as many had done before. Text Analytics is having an impact on survey methodology, to be sure. But you’d be comforted to hear that the prevailing sentiment at the show was not for doing away with surveys. Not even close.
    As always, I enjoy your provocative blogs and posts. Let’s make sure to stay in touch.
    Sid Banerjee
    CEO, Clarabridge


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