The folly of getting customer feedback through automated surveys


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I have been an Orange customer for many years and have several usable phones lying around. This week I decided to let my wife have one of my newer phones so that she can access email on the go. So I rang Orange to get the phone unlocked. Call me naive but I did not expect any problems given that the phone is over 2 years old and Orange has made a significant amount of money from me.

The Orange customer services agent (CSA) told me that it would cost £20.00 to get the phone unlocked. When I asked why given that Orange had more than recovered any phone subsidy. She simply told me that it was company policy. To which I simply said “thank you, I’ll see if I can get it unlocked elsewhere” and hung up.

Then I got an automated SMS based survey to complete. Allow me to share that with you because it illustrates the folly of getting customer feedback through automated surveys. He goes:

Orange: “Thanks for calling Orange at……We’d love your feedback to help improve our service. It’s only 4 questions and it’s free to take part. Just reply YES”

Me: “YES”

Orange: “Firstly, on a scale of 0-10 where 0 is not at all and 10 is a great deal, how much did the customer service representative you spoke to care about your query?”

Me: My first reaction was how the heck do I know! Do you think I can read minds? So I simply texted “5? to represent I do not know and this is a daft question.

Orange: “Thanks. Was your contact or query resolved? (text yes/no)”

Me: How do I answer that one. Yes, I got an answer. But no, I did not get the answer that I was expecting. No, I did not feel that Orange treated me right as a loyal customer. So I ended up texting “No”

Orange: “Are you confident that the representative will resolve your query? (yes/no)”

Me: “No”

Orange: “On a scale of 0-10 where 0 is not at all likely and 10 is very likely, how likely are you to recommend Orange to a friend or a colleague?”

Me: “0?

Orange: “Finally, you could the representative you spoke to have improved the service you received when you contacted Orange?”

Me: “She can’t. Orange policy is preventing her from helping me out”

Orange: “As a treat for completing this survey you are now eligible for £100 off Orange Home Broadband! To redeem call 08000790035 – Orange”

Me: at this point I simply laughed at the absurdity of my ‘treat’!

My take on this

If you want to learn about your customers and cultivate emotional bonds then it pays to have an empathic human being conduct that survey. Here is a great example. If such a human being had contacted me it is possible that the gulf between me and Orange would be a non-existent and I would be an advocate. Orange would have given me the ‘treat’ I rang up for (unlock my phone) rather than push a marketing message (Orange Broadband) at me and call it a ‘treat’. In fact it is this automated ‘treat’ that has left me more distant from Orange then the call centre representative – she was simply doing her job.

The purpose of the Orange survey (and many others like it) is to assess and control the performance of call centre agents. But how exactly do you figure out whether the issue is with the policies and practices that the call centre agents have to follow or with the call centre agents themselves? I am not a happy customer yet I am clear that is not the fault of the call centre agent. My unhappiness is with the fact that I have been an Orange customer for nearly ten years and still got treated like a number. Why should this matter to Orange? Because I will be moving my entire family of Orange. And I will do my best to get one of Orange’s VIP customers to move as well.A

Automated customer surveys really cannot capture the rich nuances that customers have to share. If you take a look at my interaction you will find that I struggled to answer some of the questions and in the end simply made things up. The danger is that business decisions might be made from ambiguous answers like the ones that I gave. The richer, deeper, insight is simply not understood and therefore cannot be acted upon.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maz Iqbal
Experienced management consultant and customer strategist who has been grappling with 'customer-centric business' since early 1999.


  1. The problem with such surveys is that they are focused on the organisation’s direct interests – in this case, as Maz Iqbal notes, it is about controlling the call centre agents. Instead, to be of any value, customer satisfaction surveys need to adopt the customer’s perspective and focus on makes the customer happy. The results of this survey are meaningless (or even misleading), as far as customer satisfaction is concerned. It must be a problem with mobile operators, though, as I had a similarly frustrating experience with another carrier:

    There is hope, though – and Suzanne from Sky’s example is a great one.


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