Perfect Your Customer Surveys

Last Updated Oct 8, 2008 12:24 PM EDT

  • Perfect Your Customer SurveysThe Find: You need to know what your customers think of your product, but that doesn't mean getting this information with a survey is easy; in fact, one expert likens interpreting survey results to reading chicken entrails, but he also offers suggestions to get the most out of customer feedback.
  • The Source: A post by Guy Kawasaki outlining the insights of Dave Wanetick, managing director of IncreMental Advantage on the American Express Open Forum blog.
The Takeaway: The Open Forum blog may be directed at small business owners, but the problems Wanetick outlines with customer surveys apply no matter the size of your company. Among the many issues that plague such surveys is the ability for one word to sway an answer. Wanetick gives an example of two alternative wordings for the same question and their substantially different answers:
Lawyer to Witness: How fast was the car traveling before it ran into a telephone pole?
Witness: Forty-five miles per hour.
Lawyer to Witness: How fast was the car traveling before it smashed into the telephone pole?
Witness: Sixty-five miles per hour.
Easily influenced respondents aren't the only trouble, however. Wanetick notes that "many survey respondents... are self-selecting, which skews the results" and that "sometimes asking the same people the same question at different times of the day--for example, before or after a meal--will yield different responses." Variable, easily swayed, what other adjectives does Wanetick apply to customers? How about lazy and prickly:
Customers do not want spend time answering surveys. Completing a survey that takes longer than the delivery of the service in question is annoying. The mere act of sending a customer a survey can so greatly annoy some people that it tarnishes the company's brand. Thus, customers often race through surveys to get them over with, and their haphazard responses are a precursor to the collateral damage that will result from relying on such information.... Excessive soliciting of feedback will inevitably result in criticism.
What's worse customers who respond to surveys may become irate if they feel their advice was not heeded, and companies who actually do change their businesses based on surveys should note that "critical and demanding suggestions are likely to come from customers who offer the company diminishing prospects for profitable returns."

So what does work? Keep it simple and succinct. Wanetick "cites Loyalty Rules! author, Frederick Reichheld's, idea that one can distill customer satisfaction surveys down to one question: 'Would you recommend our service to your friends and colleagues?'"

The Question: True or false: customer surveys at my company are generally pretty useless?

(Image of customer survey by Goldilocks, CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.