The future of surveys? Maybe no surveys at all


Share on LinkedIn

scan0002Ending the tale of being rear-ended, I found another great lesson. Geico took care of my car, having ABRA Auto Body put on a brand-new bumper. As I checked out, ABRA gave me a document to “help” me fill out my survey. Yes, they told me exactly how I should fill out my questions!

Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise me. We’ve all heard of car salespeople, retail employees and restaurant staff who game the system. But to actually create a document telling me how to fill out the scores was a new one!

Now combine gaming with survey fatigue. So many of us are becoming customer-obsessed, that we each send out more and more surveys. Each individual survey isn’t bad, but I can no longer go through a day without at least one survey request. Our local paper had a great column talking about the survey experience here.

Maybe it’s time to start thinking about the post-survey world.  What would you do if you could never use a 10-point scale again?

Surveys let us easily compare locations, times and types of customers. We can see how the Young and Healthy are doing in Cambridge versus Chicago, and see whether Beloit’s new staff is increasing engagement over time. But we also know that only a small segment of our customers are actually filling them out – and we hope against hope that those who fill it out are representative. As response levels drop, it’s time for a new plan.

That’s why the future of surveys will be completely open-ended. Tell us about your experience. What went well, and what didn’t?

Doing this will of course require text (or possibly speech) analytics to categorize the responses and provide actionable results. And it appears I’m not the only one thinking that way, with Qualtrics releasing a new VOC solution incorporating text analytics, and Wednesday’s announcement of the merger between Maritz and Allegiance that will also feature text analytics as just one piece of their offerings. I’m sure there there are countless others.

But you don’t have to look to the future to find the potential behind text analytics. There’s this great article on Jiffy Lube. Ignore the title, because the text of the article tells you that NPS didn’t help the system – it was text analytics that made the difference. My favorite quote is, “Stores where just 1% more customers mentioned “ease” had an average $14,000 higher annual revenue than stores where it was mentioned less often.”

That’s the future of surveys. Ignore NPS, Customer Effort, and all the rest. And just let our customers tell us what they’re thinking.  We may not be there today – but it will happen.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jim Tincher
Jim sees the world in a special way: through the eyes of customers. This lifelong passion for CX, and a thirst for knowledge, led him to found his customer experience consulting firm, Heart of the Customer (HoC). HoC sets the bar for best practices and are emulated throughout the industry. He is the author of Do B2B Better and co-author of How Hard Is It to Be Your Customer?, and he also writes Heart of the Customer’s popular CX blog.


  1. I find myself agreeing with chunks of your post (especially the “Ignore NPS, Customer Effort” part), It’s the ‘Maybe’ in your post title that keeps the door open for objective and actionable research design. Any research approach can be gamed. Any research approach can boil the ocean, including the nice-to-know as well as the must-know content, and making for respondent fatigue. Smart, progressive, and disciplined companies don’t do either one of these. They design research for actionable, granular insights and learning, so that they can make the best use of scarce development and marketing resources.

    These companies take a different research path. First, as shared with you, there are contemporary and real-world frameworks, such as advocacy and brand passion, that provide real guidance These frameworks, proven for over a decade, don’t have the conceptual and analytical limitations of NPS, CES, and ACSI. Next, as we’ve seen over the past several years, clearly text analytics and sentiment analysis have provided an incremental, and valuable, depth of research insight.

    So, from my perspective at least, the ‘Maybe’ in your title doesn’t mean that we analysts will be nihilistic and anarchic about transactional and long-term value studies, but that we will continue to see intelligent, thoughtful evolution and hybridization in customer experience and strategic customer relationship research design. As Mark Twain once said, and which is a characterization of how survey research might disappear altogether: “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

  2. I’ve personally been “gamed” on every survey request made in the past few weeks. I guess the good news is that companies are focused on improving service, and are trying to motivate their people to deliver a great experience.

    But begging for scores is not a positive experience at the end of an otherwise good experience. And it undoubtedly skews the scores, making analysis and action problematic.

    I think surveys will around for a very long time, but their execution needs to change to get better data. If business leaders want to trust the scores as reflecting reality, that is. Sadly, I think many if not most will give themselves a high five after hitting an NPS target, not caring exactly how it was achieved. The score is the goal, not real improvement.

    In my recent survey, I found about 80% of companies using surveys, with NPS, CSAT and CES the top 3 metrics used (in some combination, typically). This was not a differentiator between “leaders” and “laggards.” Basically, surveying has gone mainstream.

    Leaders, though, make much more aggressive use of alternate sources. Text and social media are used about 2/3 of the time, while laggards use these sources <50% of the time.

    I think social and text comments are more likely to be authentic. While they don't lend themselves to calculating feel-good score like NPS, with the right analytics they can be used to find loyalty drivers and issues needing action.

    Jim, thanks for sharing the Jiffy Lube article, which illustrates this trend perfectly.

  3. Michael and Bob,

    Thanks for building on my thoughts. Yes, realistically surveys won’t be going away anytime too soon (Michael, I’m still picturing a long and healthy career for you and your fellows!).

    And Bob, I love your analysis on how surveys are used by everyone, but leaders surround surveys with more than just NPS scores, etc., instead using more open-ended sources to provide context and a reality check.

    That’s what’s so exciting about being in customer experience. Ten years from now such tools as social media analysis and text analytics will be commonplace. But now they’re still avant garde for many.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here