Optimizing your customer relationship survey


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Companies use customer relationship surveys to understand and improve the health of the customer relationship. Customers are asked to provide ratings about their overall experience with and loyalty towards the company/brand. These customer feedback data are analyzed to help companies diagnose problem areas that, when addressed, will increase customer loyalty, driving business growth. Even though the customer relationship survey is only one component of a customer feedback program, it oftentimes provides the main data collection source of many businesses’ customer experience management (CEM) programs. Consequently, creating an effective customer relationship survey is critical to the program’s success.

EFM bloggers have provided great advice about creating effective survey programs. For example, Vovici and Satmetrix examine the components of the survey process in “The Silver Bullet to Survey Success” and “Customer Survey Design and NPS Measures, respectively. Allegiance examines the survey invitation in “The Invitation is Everything: Creating a Powerful Survey Invitation.

The Optimal Customer Relationship Survey

Below are my thoughts on developing customer relationship surveys. These guidelines are based on my 20+ years of experience conducting these types of surveys for many enterprise companies. To see the guidelines in action, I have developed a standardized customer relationship survey, the Customer Relationship Diagnostic (CRD), a business intelligence solution to help companies measure, improve and valuate the health of the customer relationship.

When creating/editing your customer relationship survey, you need to consider both analytic (e.g., empirical/psychometric) and practical (e.g., survey length) issues to maximize the value you receive from the survey. Generally speaking, the optimal customer relationship survey can be divided into four (4) sections, each with its specific questions. These survey sections are:

  • Customer Loyalty
  • Customer Experience
  • Competitive Benchmark
  • Additional Questions (e.g., open-ended, demographics, targeted)

1. Customer Loyalty

When selecting your customer loyalty questions, consider your business growth strategy and current business environment. Do you have a high defection rate? Do you want to increase average revenue per customer? Customer loyalty behaviors come in a variety of different forms (recommendations, satisfaction, continued patronage, increase purchases, share of wallet). Each type of loyalty is responsible for different types of business growth.

Think about how your customers show their loyalty and include corresponding questions that ask about their likelihood of engaging in those loyalty behaviors. Relying only on a single loyalty question will result in missed opportunities to grow your business in multiple ways. Including specific loyalty questions will help you better pinpoint a solution to optimize different types of customer loyalty. Including a “likelihood to quit” question and a “likelihood to buy different” question can help you understand why customer are leaving and identify ways to increase customers’ purchasing behavior, respectively.

As a starting point, consider including a loyalty question for each of the three general types of loyalty behaviors: retention, advocacy and purchasing (see the RAPID loyalty). Sample loyalty questions for each type of loyalty are:

  • likelihood to switch providers (retention)
  • likelihood to renew service contract (retention)
  • likelihood to recommend (advocacy)
  • overall satisfaction (advocacy)
  • likelihood to purchase different solutions from (purchasing)
  • likelihood to expand use of products throughout company (purchasing)

Including different measures of customer loyalty allows you to valuate the health of the customer relationship. By linking financial data to different types of loyalty behaviors, you will be able to estimate revenue growth through new (through recommendation) and existing customers (through up/cross-selling) and revenue loss due to customer churn. Additionally, you will be able to understand the Return on Investment of improvement programs.

2. Customer Experience

This area of the survey is the meat of most customer relationship surveys. The customer experience is the customer’s perception of, and attitude about, specific areas (customer experience dimensions) of your company/brand. Customer experience questions asks the customers to rate various customer touchpoints. There are different schools of thought regarding the specificity and number of customer experience questions to include in a customer relationship survey. I have seen customer relationship surveys that have as little as five (5) customer experience questions and other surveys that have 50+ customer experience questions. While multiple questions will improve reliability of measurement, long surveys result in lower response rates.

In my experience, only a handful of customer experience questions (around 5 to 7 items) capture the majority of information you need to understand drivers of customer loyalty. While some industries might have their own unique general customer experience questions, there are general customer experience questions that apply to most industries. Here are a few examples:

  • Ease of doing business
  • Sales / Account Management
  • Product Quality
  • Service Quality
  • Technical Support
  • Communications from the Company
  • Future Product/Company Direction

One of my clients has a customer relationship survey with 41 customer experience questions: seven general customer experience questions (similar to the ones above) and 34 more specific questions (e.g., reliability, ease of use) for some of the general areas (e.g., product quality). Regression analysis showed that the seven general customer experience questions explained 85% of the variance in customer loyalty (measured by overall sat, recommend and buy again). The remaining 34 questions only explained an additional 3% of the variance above and beyond what the seven general customer experience questions explained. This finding is not unique to this client; I find this pattern of results for all of the customer relationship surveys I have conducted.

Specific questions do not add any predictive power to understanding factors that impact customer loyalty. People’s memories are fallible. Given the non-trivial time between customer relationship surveys, customers may be simply unable to make distinctions across specific customer experience questions.

3. Competitive Benchmark

Competitive benchmarking is a useful way to help you understand where you fit in the mix of competitors and help you improve your marketing, sales and service efforts. While some companies use third party vendors to collect information about competitors, companies can use their own customer relationship survey to help them know how they compare to the competition. Survey respondents simply compare your company to a comparison group (e.g., your competitors or industry leader). The comparative response options and specific scale values allow your customers to provide valuable benchmark information about your company and your competitors. Sample competitive benchmark questions are:

  • How do our products compare with the alternatives?
  • What best describes our performance compared to the competitors you use?
  • How does services compare to other suppliers?

I developed a competitive analytics solution called the Customer Perception of Percentile Rank (C-PeRk) that allows companies to determine where they rank against the competition. Similar to typical benchmark results, the C-PeRk score reflects your percentile rank in your industry (possible scores range from 0% (worst) to 100% (best)). Because the C-PeRk score is based on your current customers, you can use it to help you understand how your industry ranking impacts customer loyalty. You can use this metric in driver analysis, segmentation analysis

4. Additional Questions

Companies may have a need to ask additional questions. These questions, driven by specific business needs, can include demographic questions, open-ended questions, and targeted questions.

Some companies do not need to ask any demographic questions as these data are housed in the CRM system and are automatically linked up to customers’ survey responses. When you do not have easy access to this type of information, ask a few key questions about your customers. These questions will help you segment your customers to help you understand different constituencies. Typical questions in B2B relationship surveys include:

  • Time as a customer
  • Job function (e.g., Marketing, Sales, IT, Service)
  • Job level (executive, director, manager, individual contributor)
  • Level of influence in purchasing decisions of solutions (Primary decision maker, Decision influencer, No influence)

Include one or two open-ended questions that allow respondents to provide additional feedback in their own words. Depending on how the questions are phrased, customers’ remarks can provide additional insight about the health of the customer relationship. Text analytics help you understand both the primary content of words as well as the sentiment behind them. To understand potential improvement areas, a question I commonly use is:

  • If you were in charge of , what improvements, if any, would you make?

Customer relationship surveys can be used to collect feedback about specific topics that are of interest to executive management. Give careful consideration about asking additional questions. As with any survey question, you must know exactly how the data from the questions will be used to improve customer loyalty. Some popular topics of interest include 1) measuring perceived benefits of solutions, 2) measuring perceived value and 3) measuring customer engagement (that’ll be a future post). Some sample questions are:

  • How much improvement did you experience in productivity due to solutions?
  • Satisfaction with price of the solution given the value received


Customer relationship surveys deliver business intelligence that help companies improve the customer experience and increase customer loyalty. An effective survey will include questions that measure 1) different types of customer loyalty, 2) general measures of the customer experience and 3) competitive benchmarks.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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