Some people say that customer surveys are dead, they’re wrong and here’s why


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I recently saw the headline of an article on called: The Deadzone: Why customer surveys are dead. Having a keen interest in customer service and experience, I was intrigued by the headline so I headed over to take a closer look.

In the article, the Chief Marketing Officer of Clarabridge, Susan Ganeshan, argues that:

Companies know that surveys were effective in the past, and so they adopted this CX strategy online expecting similar results. In the age of instant gratification, though, people are no longer willing to “just take a moment” to fill out a survey.

She goes on to support her statement by quoting Forrester saying that:

response rates are as low as 2% and rarely ever reach 20% anymore.

That’s pretty damning evidence on the effectiveness of customer surveys.

However, whilst the article raised some interesting questions it also made me wonder how it is that some companies still achieve much, much more with their customer feedback surveys and much higher response rates.

Personally, I don’t agree that surveys are dead. In fact, I think that they are very much alive. Yes, there is probably quite a lot of survey ‘fatigue’ amongst many customers but there are also some other underlying causes that explain the poor performance of many customer surveys.

Here are three big reasons why customer feedback survey approaches don’t deliver the returns that companies want and some examples of firms that doing things differently and seeing the benefits:

  1. Most surveys are too long Troy Thompson, in an article on Tnooz, recounts a story of a time that he received a survey following a visit to Disney World. Now, Disney are traditionally seen as a leader in the customer service world, but on receiving the survey and starting to respond, Troy gave up answering questions after he got to 30 questions. 30 questions! However, in the same article, he contrasted that with a simple survey email that he received from TimeShel, an an iOS photo printing service, who sent him a simple survey email that asked: “Hey, Troy, you backed us on Kickstarter when we first started. We just want to see how it’s going. Do you have any ideas for improving TimeShel?” Given the nature and style of that email, Troy went on to spend 10 mins writing back to Timeshel telling them “Hey, yeah, here is what I like. Here’s what I don’t like. Here’s what I wish you guys could do.”
  2. Most surveys aren’t acted upon Principality Building Society, a Welsh building society, is using customer feedback as one of the main levers to help them build a more responsive and customer focused organisation. To do that they are empowering their front-line employees to ask for feedback and improvement suggestions immediately following a service interaction. Doing this has allowed them to achieve around 50% response rates on their customer surveys. However, they haven’t stopped there and have built a system where they can review and act very quickly upon customer feedback and suggestions. Damian Thompson, Director of Distribution at Principality Building Society, explains how this was worked, in practice, through a story of one customer that came into a branch with her elderly mother. When asked for feedback she told them that none of the chairs in their branches had holds or arms on them that her mother could use to help her get up out of the chair (her mother has bad knees). As a result of that feedback and it being shared around the organisation, Principality decided to put one chair with arms in every interview room across its branch network and that suggestion was agreed and implemented overnight following the customer’s feedback.
  3. Most surveys are disembodied from the experience Facing an average of a 10% failure rate for appointments for their service engineers, Virgin Media in the UK implemented a system to help them limit this failure rate by communicating with their customers in the run up to appointments to make sure that they didn’t forget about the appointment (this is one of the main causes of appointment failure). This approach is working very well. However, on the back of this they have also built a Voice of the Customer programme, where following every appointment they send a message to each customer to gauge their satisfaction etc. When they first started doing this, they expected a response rate of around 10%. But, unlike other surveys which can take days or weeks to be sent out to a customer, they have found that surveying their customers ‘in the moment’ has allowed them to achieve response rates of between 50% and 75% as well as a huge amount of verbatim feedback. Moreover, given that, on average, something goes wrong with 3-5% of all appointments that also gives them great insight into what goes wrong, when it goes wrong but also gives them an opportunity to solve any problem very quickly.

These examples show that surveys aren’t dead and can be very powerful when done well. They also show that lazy and selfish thinking on the part of companies is the real problem i.e. designing surveys for their own benefit, to fit into their own processes and for their own convenience.

If you ask customers, many of them do want to give feedback, particularly to the firms that they like. But, the challenge is that they want to do it in an easy and timely fashion and in a way that works for them and allows them to tell you what matters to them.

So, if you want to ask for customer feedback and you want to give yourself a good chance to receiving of receiving useful and actionable feedback that also  impresses your customers then get out of their way and let them speak. But, do it simply, do it promptly, do it freely and make sure that you act on it quickly.

This post was originally published on my column here.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


  1. I do agree that most surveys are too long. I bet if there were no more than 5 questions the response rate would be greater. But to shorten the survey the business must not expect it to be the “catch-all” to determine the ills or breath of the total experience across each and every aspect of the business.

    Make it easy for me to shop and I will, time and time again. Make it easy for me to fill out a brief survey and I will, time and time again.

  2. Great points, Adrian. I would add to your list of survey sins:

    Most surveys are boring. Customers today do not live their lives in a sterile, research world; they live in a sensory stimulating world with Disney, over-the-top Super Bowl half-time shows, and “come watch this” ads on TV and the Internet. Making surveys sound like someone’s school research project does not compel a respondent to want to invest in a survey experience. Does the survey educate, entertain, intrigue, etc. Where is the WIIFM benefit to the respondent?

    Most surveys don’t read the way normal people talk when evaluating an experience to a friend: “Please rate your recent honeymoon in Hawaii–completely satisfied, somewhat satisfied, neutral, somewhat dissatisfied, completely dissatisfied. What box do I check if it was totally awesome?

    Most surveys seem to be biased toward a grade for the service provider rather than feedback that drives improvement. When research shows less than 5% of survey respondents learn anything about how their feedback triggered change, it signals to them a self-serving motive and not a customer-centric one!

  3. There’s another big reason surveys tend to be less effective. It has to do with discipline. In my customer experience consulting and research work, I’m often called upon to evaluate earlier, antecedent studies and their results. What I’ve most typically found is that, in addition to being overly long, they are poorly designed, both with respect to defined objectives and to the flow and construction of the questions themselves.

    Too many researchers fall to the pressure of marketing, service, operations and other executives to ‘boil the ocean’ in these research studies, rather than push to make certain that the information being collected are must-haves relative to objectives. Worse, these studies are frequently ill-defined at the beginning, with minimally stated business outcome objectives, and this also drives the above problems.

  4. The costs for producing and administering surveys has dropped, which has democratized them. With a keyboard and a connection, anyone can conduct a survey. Not long ago, surveys required much more effort and demanded semantic precision. More care was given to the analysis. To me, “dead” seems unnecessarily shrill. Naturally, there will often be cases where surveys are done wrong. That doesn’t mean that as a research tool they not useful.

    Obituaries of this nature are rampant in the biz dev blogosphere. “BANT is dead” (677 results); “Cold calling is dead” (12,300 results); “content marketing is dead” (35,300 results); “transactional selling is dead” (2,200 results) . . . I’ll stop here.

    For me, the “dead” pronouncements are self-serving, and for that reason, they ring hollow. As Chicken Little proved, there are limits to how many times you can say “the sky is falling!” before people stop paying attention.

  5. Thanks for that Adrian, as someone who’s led research teams (together with data & analytics), I wholeheartedly agree. Surveys & qualitative research still have their place, although too many are designed & executed poorly.

    The other gap I’d call out is not bringing together what you learn from feedback with what you see in behavioural data. Too few firms converge this evidence intelligently. Done well, that process can lead you to deeper insights and an understanding of how best to take remedial action.

  6. Surveys are far from dead, but my research finds “leader” organizations are investing much more heavily in non-survey approaches like analyzing behavior and mining unstructured and unsolicited feedback in social media, phone recordings, and email.

    A very high percentage (80% or more) of companies are doing some form of surveying (relationship and transaction surveys). I doubt that will change, but I do think that survey design will change to be shorter and easier to complete on mobile devices.

  7. In a related blog from a couple of weeks ago, I stated “As a group, CX researchers have often been labeled as risk-averse, even complacent, when considering augmentation or replacement with more real-world, more contemporary, and more actionable metrics such as customer advocacy. Though the Temkin Group’s recent study identified a modest rise in CX metrics competency and maturity between 2014 and 2015 (and, given that any improvement is better than a decline), most (around 85%) of the programs have been identified as “weak” to “moderate”. I’d respectfully submit that, in 2016, and irrespective of industry, that’s not nearly good enough; and these kinds of results portend real contribution and role challenges for the profession.”

    Inability to define tight, actionable insight objectives, ongoing survey design and length issues, failure to appropriately incorporate emotional experience elements, as well as clumsy formatting for mobile questionnaire versions, all contribute to the issues described in this blog. Over the past few years, there has been a dramatic increase in use of content evaluation techniques such as text analysis and sentiment assessment; however, for this material to be used optimally, it must be melded with, and evaluated relative to, quantitative dimensional survey findings.

  8. Great article Adrian – and I could not agree with you more. In my opinion, too many organisations have taken customer feedback for granted for too long – and still are. They do not see the gathering of feedback as an experience in its own right – as a result, the irony is that the feedback experience is extremely poor – the majority of the time – for many reasons that you state.

    Surveys are most definitely not dead – they just need to evolve and be considered as a critical touchpoint in the end to end customer journey. Anyone involved in either designing, deploying or using the output of customer feedback mechanisms MUST ensure that their organisations understand they cannot ever afford to let their mechanisms die – but it is timely to suggest that a review of how customer feedback is being captured and used is long overdue!! Failure to act – continuing to take customer goodwill at giving feedback for granted is what ultimately could be fatal.

  9. Great article Adrian,

    Customer feedback is very important, these days many business are not paying attention to the customers. Taking customer feedback not only will help the customer but also the organization, by that we can improve the business strategy and add will be good interaction with the customer and customer will also feel very valuable.
    In today’s era where competition is so high its very difficult to retain customer so we should give preference to them.


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