The Hidden Flaw in Your Customer Survey Program


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Here’s a little trivia in honor of the upcoming July 4th weekend. Why is July 4th America’s independence day?

Some people believe it’s when the Continental Congress voted for independence. But, that actually happened on July 2.

Ok, so you might remember July 4th as the day the Declaration of Independence was signed. There’s a famous painting by John Trumbull depicting the event that hangs in the U.S. Capital and is on the back of the $2 bill. 

Sorry. It wasn’t signed on the 4th. Most delegates didn’t sign it until August 2, 1776.

July 4th, 1776 was the date that the Continental Congress voted to approve the Declaration of Independence. Cue fireworks.

Don’t feel bad if you didn’t remember that. According to the New England Historical Society, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin all later wrote letters where they mis-remembered signing the Declaration on July 4th.

The point is our memories aren’t great.

If the founding fathers who wrote (and edited) our country’s most famous document can’t remember when they signed it, can we really expect customers to accurately remember their last interaction with your business?

This is a big flaw in your survey program. 

Memories Are Faulty

Surveys don’t really ask customers to rate your product, service, or business. What they actually do is ask your customers to rate their recollection of your product, service, or business.

This is significant because our memories are notoriously faulty.

Several studies have been conducted proving that people consistently misremember significant events, like how they learned about the attacks on 9/11 or the Challenger disaster. (A terrific article in Scientific American sums it up.)

Your customer’s recent transaction is probably nowhere near as impactful as one of the major news stories of a generation. Or, the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

This means your customers may mis-remember details. A really emotional customer (very happy or very frustrated) might exaggerate some of the facts and not even realize it.

What Customers Do Remember

So, what do customers actually remember? There are three significant moments:

  1. The first impression
  2. The last impression
  3. The peak impression

The first and last impressions seem simple enough: what happens first and what happens last. The peak is the part of the experience that’s the most unusual or different than expected.

Here’s an more in-depth explanation.

The trick is most customer experiences are unremarkable. Think about your last trip to the grocery store, the bank, the dry cleaners, or the gas station. What was your experience like the last time you ate out? Ordered online? Stopped at your local coffee shop?

Many of these experiences are routine. And, so long as they remain relatively routine, they don’t show up as much of a blip on our radar.

It’s only when something unusual happens that the memory stands out. But, that memory can quickly get distorted. A customer might say, “We ALWAYS get slow service here,” when the reality is they had one experience that was painfully slow.

What You Can Do About It

Just because your survey is flawed doesn’t mean it’s worthless. Here are a few things you can do to make that survey useful.

#1 Survey sooner. Transactional surveys should be offered as soon after the experience as possible. Immediately is best. The longer you wait, the foggier your customer’s memory will get.

#2 Survey for perception, not facts. Try to avoid using your survey to collect factual data you can get somewhere else. For example, a survey that connects directly to a specific transaction will eliminate the need to ask a customer for the date, time, and location where they did business with you. Focus your survey instead on learning your customers’ perceptions, which thanks to our faulty memories, tend to endure regardless of the facts.

#3 Trust no one. Never jump to conclusions or make sweeping changes based on one survey response. Think like a detective who is trying to build a case. The survey might be one clue, but your case gets stronger the more clues or pieces of evidence you have. Find multiple sources of data. Go to the source of the problem to see what’s really happening. 

You can learn more about customer service surveys from this training video on You’ll need a Lynda account to access the full course, but you can get a 10-day trial account that will give you access to the entire library.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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