Evolving Customer Surveys Into Customer Stories


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I popped into my local supermarket today to pick up some essentials (nappies and alcohol if you are interested – only one of those is for me). As I queued for the pleasure of serving myself at a self-scan checkout, I looked around at the large number of other shoppers and starting asking myself some questions. What made me choose this supermarket? Was my motivation the same as all the other shoppers around me?

The truth is that every single customer in there has their own story to tell. We all have our own reasons we chose that store and why we chose the particular items in our basket. I chose nappies as I have young kids and I find they are more hygienic than letting them go to the toilet on the floor. I chose alcohol because I have young kids. Why I chose that particular store is probably a much longer and complex answer that involves things like social and economic reasons – to location and convenience etc.

The point is that each customer journey is its own unique story. From the supermarkets point of view when they look at the sales at the end of the day they will see my transaction amongst the thousands of others but they won’t know my story. Even if I got a prompt on my receipt to fill out a survey to enter a prize draw and I went and gave them an NPS rating, would they know any more about my customer story?

Why Are Stories Important?

Surveys and customer experience metrics will always have their place. Getting an overview of how your customers feel about you and top level figures to show how you are progressing can be incredibly useful. But if you really want to be a customer centric company you need to start going deeper than surveys and start collecting stories.

We retain stories far longer than data and have evolved to listen and learn from them. A Stanford research study showed that statistics alone have a retention rate of 5-10%, but when coupled with anecdotes, the retention rate rises to 65-70%.

If you are trying to make a case to a board, a manager or anyone else in order to gain funding for customer experience then try going beyond presenting data. Let your customers tell their stories. Customer feedback too often is viewed as a single rating or a one line testimonial. Help your customers tell their story to uncover the bigger picture and reveal deeper insights. You are asking every customer for feedback which can open your eyes on areas to improve and affirm areas that are strengths. But each of these feedbacks has a bigger story to tell so why not try to find out that story.

You might be aware of the famous quote from Henry Ford “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. This is often seen as a quote to inspire innovation and looking beyond the responses people give and understanding the motivation behind the answers. But was Ford actually asking the right question? Was he wrong to ignore his customers? Ford ended up losing market share over the next few years as competitors innovated while Ford stuck to what he believed the customers wanted.

Customer needs will inevitably change over time, which means your product will need to change too. There is no ultimate end goal. The end goal is evolution.

A customer journey, like a story, has a beginning, middle and end. Every customer is telling their own story as the experience is taking place and becomes the basis of their memory of their experience. If you are just measuring certain metrics at customer touchpoints, then you are potentially missing out on the underlying story of your company as experienced by your customer. Every customer is the star of their story and also has their own unique back story which they bring.

How To Collect Stories

It is all well and good saying you need to collect customer stories but how exactly can you do this? Traditional feedback and survey questions are designed to capture metrics but are limited when it comes to going beyond that. This is where you need to start innovating and looking at a new set of questions that will give the customer the tools to tell their story. Example questions might be:

· If you were to write a newspaper headline to summarise your experience what would it be?

· When you first started your customer journey, what were you looking to accomplish?

· What emotions did you feel throughout your interactions with our company?

· Who was the hero/ villain of your story?

· If you were CEO for a day, what would be the one thing you changed about our company?

· Its 20 years in the future, what do you hope our company will look like?

Go beyond your questions and make your whole survey more innovative. Try using non-traditional questions and offer non-traditional answers. Instead of rating a service agent from Very Helpful to Very Unhelpful you could offer Superman Helpful to Chocolate Fireguard helpful. Or try and move away from question grids altogether and go down a more open conversation route. Engage your customers in a conversation and you will find they are more willing to provide you with a deeper level of insight.

How To Use Stories

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” – Einstein.

Once you have implemented a strategy to start collecting customer’s stories you need to ensure you make use of them! You may be thinking all this means is that you are going to have a huge amount of unstructured data that you now need to read through to pick out the trends and insight. Well that no longer has to be the case. Text analytics software allows you to quickly and easily automate the process of picking out key trends, customer sentiment and categorising feedback into topics tailored for your business. You can also utilise anecdotes for customer testimonials or internal presentations to add some specific examples to back up your data trends.

It doesn’t just have to be your open text responses that tell the story either. Why not try to present data in a more interesting way. ‘60% of people are abandoning their basket online’ could become ‘Yesterday we had the equivalent of 600 people drive to our store, look around our products, select something and put it in their trolley, walk all the way to our checkout and then suddenly ditch the trolley, run out of the door without so much as a goodbye’. This creates a much more visual and compelling picture of what is happening but is simply a different way of presenting the same data.

Also try putting your stats into context. An NPS of 5 might not sound great, but if that was actually up from -15 last year and you have increased users by 20% and that equated to a profit increase of 15% then you are providing much more insight into how your audience is growing and changing and the impact that has on the bottom line.

Customer stories allow you to go beyond the headline metrics and get a better understanding of why the customers give this score and what that actually means in terms of the experience they are having. The better you understand the customer story the more chance you have of improving it leading to better scores, happier customers and ultimately improved profits.

To give you an idea of how we believe a customer story should look we have created an example for you with Wizu. We have used an scenario of an online fashion site surveying a customer in which it would automatically add customisation options based on the customer data. The survey is aiming to get a better understanding of the customer journey through an engaging conversation with a range of questions types.

Martin Powton
I have over 13 years' experience in digital marketing and am interested in all areas of marketing, customer experience and employee wellbeing.


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