Data doesn’t show emotion. Customer surveys do.

Nov 2, 2020 9:00:00 AM

Let’s start with an all-too-common scenario: Customers rank our company’s new product a 9 out of 10 overall. The executives are hurriedly bringing out the champagne. Exciting! But… wait a minute. Customers are increasingly complaining on Twitter, and returns are quickly skyrocketing. That doesn’t line up with our survey results. What happened? What went wrong? 

Scanning through the corporate Twitter feed, we’re seeing a whole litany of complaints about features that were dropped. The product manager wanted to get the product to market quickly and thought customers wouldn’t care about the old features given all the great new ones. Looks like that was a bad assumption! Why are we just now learning this, though, since we surveyed every customer immediately following their purchase?

Take a deeper look at the survey. The first question was whether they liked the new features. Yep, 9.4 on a 10 point scale--great. Next, we asked customers if we made it easy for them to purchase the product. High score again - 9.6/10! And the last question was whether or not they follow us on social media. Most do. So, where is the problem? 

Well, uh-oh. We learned what they DID like about the product but failed to give them an opportunity to tell us what they DIDN’T like, nor the option to list any problems. 

Done right, customer surveys can be a powerful tool for any business. Done poorly, you get a skewed or misleading view of your product or service. The following tips will help you design a proper survey that gives quantifiable feedback.

Define your goals.

Begin with the end in mind. What will you do with the results you get from your surveys? You’ll want to have a feedback mechanism to let the product team know of product issues. If there are service complaints, ensure the support team is informed. Delivery problems? Bring in the operations team.

Before getting started, it’s critically important to work with your leadership team to get their buy-in and their commitment to address (or empower you to address) significant or common issues that surface. Otherwise, you may face challenges in effecting change, no matter what the survey results show. And if you ask customers for feedback and unearth problems that you do nothing about, it’s a pretty good bet they will be more frustrated than if you never reached out to them. 

Research what questions you’ll want to ask and peruse a few best practice suggestions to ensure you meet the goals you’ve defined. 

Make it timely.

HubSpot advises companies to send surveys immediately following an interaction with customer support and/or soon after a purchase is made. Makes sense to me. More than once I’ve received a survey literally weeks after interacting with a company. What was my experience? I don’t remember. Perhaps I could have provided a suggestion or two had it been timely. Weeks later, it’s irrelevant--I’m not going to respond unless my experience was truly horrible or totally outstanding.  

Keep it short. 

Having been in the customer service solutions business for a couple of decades, I know the importance of customer feedback. So, when a company offers me the opportunity to take a survey, I generally do it. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say I start taking the survey. When it’s concise and easy, I finish it. But when the survey goes on and on with no end in sight, I bail, like most of you. Never-ending surveys create what CX expert and keynote speaker Shep Hyken calls “Survey Fatigue.” Even Shep doesn’t finish the ones that chew up tremendous amounts of time. Keep your surveys short!

But what if…?

Q: What if there are lots of things you want to ask and need to know? 

A: Keep it short. 

Q: What if you’re getting suggestions from a whole host of leaders? 

A: Keep it short. 

Q: What if you want to drill down on some customer responses within the survey? 

A: Keep it short. 

Boil it down to a few essential questions, or you’ll get answers to NONE of the questions on your nice long list. This leads me to the next tip.

Convey the time commitment. 

If it’s a web-based response, show a progress bar. For voice surveys, let them know how many questions there are in advance and/or how long it will take. Assess the results as you go. As you’re analyzing survey completion rates, evaluate how many respondents who start the survey actually complete it, and at what point people abandon. If you’re seeing a big inflection point of drop-offs on page three, shorten your survey to two pages. 

Identify your target audience.

Who will you survey? Align your survey with the business goals you defined above. You may want to start small, assess the results, then expand your footprint to a broader audience.

Last month in the customer service online forum CX Accelerator, one participant talked about his customer selection process for surveys. I asked, “Why not survey every customer?” His response: “Because we don’t have the bandwidth to reply to everyone.” 

Do we really need to reply in all instances? If the customer indicates a problem, a response is certainly warranted, especially in scenarios like these:

  • Have you fixed the problem? Let the customer know.
  • Is there a fix underway? Tell them when to expect it and how they’ll know when it’s ready.
  • No fix to the problem? Ask what you can do to make the customer happy. Then go do it.


Ideally, it’s a good idea to respond to every customer you’ve surveyed; let them know you received their feedback and are appreciative they took time to do so. 

Make it open-ended.

Free-form responses will give you SO much more information than you will get with questions that are yes-no or scale of 1-10, so try to include at least one unconstrained opportunity for customers to respond. This is where customer emotion comes through loud and clear. 

Remember, it’s also a bigger time commitment to sort through free-form answers, so be prepared. Be sure your contact center provider enables you to use sentiment analysis, so you can quickly identify--and respond to--customers who aren’t happy. 

Do it again.

Surveys are simply a touch point, not once-and-done. We shouldn’t make the assumption that if our customers are happy today, they’ll still be happy tomorrow. Stay informed about customer satisfaction with periodic surveys, timed to align with specific points in the customer’s journey. Is someone’s policy up for renewal in two months? Check in to see if that customer has questions (or would like to talk to a rep about options). Have other customers made follow-up purchases? Find out if they like what they bought. 

Nothing makes customers more content than knowing your company cares about their satisfaction and feeling confident you will address any issues they tell you about. Surveys are just the tool to help you do that.


Written by Edify

Learn more here.