Why Your Customer Surveys Just Aren’t Working

Customer surveys are one of the most commonly used arrows in a marketer’s quiver. What better way to get an idea of how your customers think than by asking them directly? While the basic idea is sound, the execution of customer surveys is often lacking.

What’s wrong with how we currently conduct these surveys? As Roberta Matuson pointed out in an article for Fast Company called “The Problem with Customer-Service Surveys,” companies don’t always do the best job with how they craft their customer surveys. For one, many of these surveys are extremely impersonal. Either you get an email or snail mail request to fill out a survey or a phone call from an automated surveyor. Additionally, companies often ask a host of relatively pointless questions that have little value at the end of the day. Matuson gives the example of questions about the appearance of her appliance repairman in the absence of even one question about her overall satisfaction.

Another problem is that there is a pretty low response rate for customer surveys. Constant Contact estimates that 10 – 20 percent is a common response rate. But, as the marketing company notes, this rate can vary widely depending on length, incentives and other factors. Who wants to spend fifteen minutes taking a survey? And what company can truly trust the results of a survey only taken by people it bribed with incentives?

Andy Taylor, CEO of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, may have a better idea. In her article, Matuson points to Taylor’s observation about customer surveys: Ask one good question. For Taylor, that question was whether or not the customer would refer the business to others. Taylor’s theory is that by concentrating on only those customers who give perhaps the greatest indicator of satisfaction – free and enthusiastic marketing – Enterprise is focusing on a key element of growth.

His idea isn’t so far out of line actually. In fact, what Taylor is doing is using the concept of net promoter score (NPS), a concept that has been successfully used by companies like American Express, Apple and Southwest Airlines. Developed by Fred Reichheld, Bain & Company and Satmetrix and covered in a 2003 Harvard Business Review article “The One Number You Need to Grow,” NPS has been shown to be highly correlated with customer loyalty.

Despite the potential value of NPS, however, companies obviously often need to gather additional insights and input from customers, or potential customers, to help guide their decision-making. The challenge is doing so in such a way that engages rather than enrages those asked to take your survey! Finding the right balance can be tricky. This blog post from SurveyMonkey charts the relationship between survey length and response rates, and it may provide some useful insights.

So the next time you create a survey, take a step back and a closer look at how you’re prioritizing and presenting your questions. Are you asking just what you really need to know? Are you asking questions that will generate feedback that you will act on? Or, could you get the most value from just asking that one, simple question: “Would you recommend…?”

Recommended Reading:

The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement

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