Customer surveys are dead

Customer surveys used to be the name of the game in understanding the level of customer satisfaction and managing customer experience.  

20 or even 10 years ago, when a company wanted to understand their customers’ satisfaction, they typically initiated a process of regular customer surveys. While the surveys were often done annually, some relatively agile companies managed to do them biannually or even quarterly. The bigger the company and its clientele, the more complex the effort was. Luckily the world was (and is!) full of market research companies specializing in running such surveys and analyzing the results. It was slow and expensive process, and the customer insight organizations had to fight for their budgets regularly, but at least in some companies this provided the leadership some confidence, that they knew what their customers were thinking.

The world has changed, making most of the surveys obsolete

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Times have changed. In today’s digital world, if your customers are not receiving the level of service they expect, they switch service providers quickly. In some industries, if you let your customer down, they can buy the service anywhere in the world. The unhappy customer can also easily spread the word about the bad service or product. And the negative word of mouth spreads at lightning speed. If your company learns what the pains of your customers are only 3 months (or 12 months) after the fact, you have no chance of influencing them. If your customer is unhappy, most probably they have already left by the time you learn about their unhappiness.

While the digital world provides tools for customers to switch providers easily, it obviously provides the businesses a platform to utilize as well: a way to collect and process feedback any time, almost immediately after any transaction. This has led to a constant flow of customer satisfaction surveys. Not once per annum, quarter or month but all the time! For customers, this can sometimes be frustrating. Especially if the surveys are long and are received too often.

Still, customer feedback matters more than ever. How do you make it work?

  1. Make the feedback matter. You can do this by focusing on action. Your analytics and decision making mechanisms should be at least as robust as the surveying part. If you don’t plan to act on feedback, don’t trouble the customer by collecting it. Asking feedback is easy. Doing something meaningful with it - no so. The more elaborate digital survey tools make surveying as a continuous process easier and cheaper than earlier. However, they do not change the fact that most companies still don’t know what to do with the data they receive. Data doesn’t turn into insights, insights do not turn into actions. And constant surveying with very little action is the worst thing you can do for customer engagement.
  2. Don’t ask too much. In many cases a simple NPS questionnaire is enough. If the customers care about the service and have something to say, they are typically happy to answer a short questionnaire with two questions only. You can identify the key pain points analyzing the NPS free text feedback. And learn anything relevant about the respondent background by linking the NPS results in the behavioral data you collect in the background. If you really need to ask more, ask only after identifying the specific customer subset who has experienced the issue you are interested in.  
  3. Don’t ask too often. Prompt the question using smart sampling so that you bother a single customer only rarely. It is still possible to provide the customers a chance to give you feedback anytime they want.  

The time of traditional customer surveys is gone. But customer voice and customer feedback matter more than ever!