Transactional and relationship surveys: They’re different

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“Well, it’s because they’re different.”

The not-deliberately snarky, yet somewhat oversimplified tautological response was understandably not satisfying for the support business leader who’d asked me why I thought NPS would be different for the different lines of business his organization supported.  But in the end, it’s no more complicated than that.  Forget that I was, without it occurring to me, loosely quoting Vanilla Ice, but sometimes it’s hard for us in the context of the business we think we already understand to see the forest for the trees.

In my defense, the Customer profiles were different, the products in the different lines of business were tremendously different, and even the people they had supporting the two products were different, and located in different contact centers.

This occurred to me the other day when I was reading through some discussions regarding two approaches in the VoC world:  Transactional versus Relationship surveys.

I’ll state right up front that it needn’t be one or the other here, and both are important perspectives.  The conversation wasn’t around which one should we use, or which one is better, but rather the understandably curious question:  Why are they different?  Why are the results different?  And to that, I’ll fall back on that old standard:  Because they’re different.

Mostly that’s because transactional and relationship surveys are designed to be different, because they’re made for different purposes.  Transactional surveys are built with the more narrow focus on specific incidents and interactions:  You buy something, you get a survey (think of the car salesman imploring you to ‘give me a ten’ on your forthcoming survey); You call in for tech support, you get a survey.  They’re incidental and unplanned.  Relationship surveys, on the other hand, are usually routine, and not focused on any one interaction.  You could say, the relationship survey is a more general indication of loyalty, as it concentrates its queries more on your Customer’s overall impression of your brand than on any one interaction or touchpoint.  That’s not to say that an overall brand impression isn’t impacted by cumulative transactional impressions, but that’s the point:  Transactional surveys measure your transactions, and Relationship surveys measure your relationship.  (See what I did there?)

Anyway, I think it’s a more robust (and useful) discussion not to dwell on the differences in the survey types but rather to investigate the different reasons why we use each.  Digging in there deeper will offer better insights into why asking ‘why are they different?’ isn’t really even pertinent.  Why, after all, do apples and oranges taste different?

The main purpose (if you’re doing it right) for conducting transactional surveys is to improve your processes and your team members’ performance with your Customers.  When we gather transactional insights from our survey data, we’re looking for specific places and ways in which we’re falling short of our brand promise to our Customers.  Sometimes that’s a surly contact center agent, sometimes it’s a flaw in our processes, procedures, or systems.  But either way, the spirit and purpose of gathering those insights should be to get better at what we do.  (I bang the drum about the ‘getting better’ part being more important than the ‘score’ part enough in other places.)  You could say, it’s operational and tactical in nature.

The relationship survey, on the other hand, has a different purpose altogether.  While it can play a somewhat transactional role for those directly involved in the relationship (say, an account team for a B2B situation) and help them understand how to better serve their Customer, here it’d likely end up being more operational than tactical anyway.  These insights may be helpful for the account manager, but not necessarily immediately actionable for (for example) the front-line contact center worker.  But aside from that, the relationship survey will give leadership a better impression of how things are going strategically with fewer actionable insights to be gained.  That’s not to say in any way that it’s not useful to conduct relationship surveys; just that they’re different.  For B2B relationships it can signal accounts that need particular attention and differentiate at-risk Customers.  And while in B2C instances, the results are usually harder to act on (because they don’t necessarily finger specific incidents that went wrong), with the proper ethnographic filters, they can offer leadership (again, at a strategic level) insights into market trends and potential pitfalls.

You can think of it nautically:  The transactional surveys give the sailors clarity on whether the engine is properly operating; the relationship surveys give the helmsman the indication that he’s on the right course.

The difference between the scores of your transactional and relationship surveys, may well be an interesting (your mileage may vary there) academic exercise.  But they’re different because they’re different by design.*  Concentrating too much on that difference misses the point and diverts efforts from using them each for their specified purpose.  Don’t let’s waste our energies on useless questions when the opportunities for betterment are staring us right in the face.

 

*They’re often different impressions from different perspectives anyway:  For instance, in B2B circumstances, it’s often that transactional surveys are filled out by end-users of your product or service (the worker bees who work for your Customer) but relationship surveys are filled out by decision-makers (those who are responsible for reviewing performance and rewarding future contracts to either you or your competitors).  While the former likely is most concerned with ease-of-use, the latter is likely alone in the concern over price.  Ideally, those decision-makers take into account the experiences of end-users when it comes to gauging your relationship…but do you think that’s always the case?

(Originally Published 20201008)

– LtCol Nicholas Zeisler, CCXP, LSSBB, CSM

– Principal, Zeisler Consulting

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