The Difference Between Transactional Surveys and Relationship Surveys

There are many different ways to measure how successful your organization is at delivering a great customer experience. We talk about a lot of those ways regularly on our blog, like when we explained the six most popular customer service metrics and KPIs.

With all of the chatter about customer experience, it can sometimes be easy to gloss over some of the foundational elements that will enable you to deliver a great experience, such as learning how to effectively survey customers.

One often forgotten piece in creating a great survey strategy is remembering that there are two fundamentally different types of surveys: relationship surveys and transactional surveys. Each type is designed to measure something different, and just as you wouldn’t use a ruler to measure the height of the Eiffel Tower, you shouldn’t use a transactional survey to measure relational health (or vice-versa).

Let’s take a look at each type, when to use them, and how to implement them well.

Transactional surveys

Transactional surveys are designed to measure something about a specific interaction with a customer. Such interaction could, for example, be product delivery, a specific website interaction or customer support interaction (Generoe). Whether you realize it or not, you’re probably pretty familiar with transactional surveys. They often include questions like:

  • How would you rate your experience with our support team?

  • On a scale of 1-10, how happy were you with your purchasing experience?

  • How much do you agree with this question: It was easy for me to find what I was looking for?

Each of these examples is honing in on a specific interaction a customer had with your organization – a support call, a purchase, and so on. With transactional surveys, you’re attempting to understand how the customer feels about something that occurred at a specific point in time.

Strengths and weaknesses

Transactional surveys are excellent for providing you quick and actionable feedback on the specific interaction you’re surveying about. Ask one hundred customers what they think about your support team, and you’ll get a very clear view into the common trends they like and dislike.

However, transactional surveys can sometimes cause problems when they are used to try measuring the health of your customer relationships. One moment in time isn’t always indicative of the customer’s future behavior.

Does each touchpoint with a customer affect their overall relationship with you? Absolutely!

Is it possible that a truly terrible interaction with your brand could cause them to cancel your service? Of course.

Transactional surveys can help uncover areas for improvement and prevent awful customer experiences before they happen. However, beware of reading more into transactional survey results than is actually there.

Sometimes customers have a bad day. Sometimes your software has a major outage. And while these types of situations may result in negative survey results, they probably aren’t true reflections on your customers’ overall view of your brand and product.

Common ways to use transactional surveys

If you’re an astute observer, you may have noticed that the example questions above are representative of the two most common ways transactional surveys are used: measuring Customer Satisfaction and Customer Effort Score. These two metrics are popular across industries, and they are a great way to get started on implementing transactional surveys.

Relationship Surveys

Whereas transactional surveys measure specific customer interactions, relationship surveys attempt to measure the overall health of your relationship with your customers. They typically focus on quantifying things like customer loyalty or referral likelihood. Some examples of common relationship survey questions include:

  • How likely are you to maintain a relationship with [Company]?

  • On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to recommend [Company] to a friend or colleague?

  • Please rate your overall satisfaction with [X Brand]

These questions aim for a higher-level response than transactional surveys. While the last interaction a customer has with your brand will influence their overall satisfaction, the hope of relationship surveys is to get beyond each unique interaction and gauge their overall perception of you. You typically survey the entire customer base when conducting a relationship survey, whereas in transactional surveys you only survey a part of your customer base.

Strengths and weaknesses

As you would expect, a strength of relationship surveys is their ability to give you a big picture view of how your customers view your brand or product. Data like this can be very helpful for identifying at-risk customers or for quantifying how recent product changes or advertising have impacted your brand.

The biggest weakness of relationship surveys is that they can sometimes lack actionable data. The data they provide is very useful, but it often requires doing a deeper dive to uncover why certain segments of your customer base are happy or unhappy.

It may be helpful to think of relationship surveys like doing an annual wellness check-up with your doctor. Your wellness check is meant to help you uncover if something is moving in the wrong direction – such as your blood pressure suddenly being high – but it’s not going to tell you why your blood pressure has gone up. Additional tests and diagnostics with a specialist will help provide this information and help you understand what lifestyle changes you need to make in response.

Common ways to use relationship surveys

You’ll see relationship surveys showing up in a variety of ways, but there is one customer experience metric that dominates the relationship survey conversation: Net Promoter Score. Commonly referred to as NPS, this metric looks at the likelihood of a customer referring your product to their friends and colleagues.

A lot has been written about NPS over the years as it is widely used across many industries. If you’d like a way to get started, check out this complete guide to using and improving NPS.

Conclusion

There are a lot of factors to consider when you’re crafting a survey strategy. As we’ve seen, both relationship and transactional surveys serve very important purposes in shaping your customer experience.

A number of best practices apply across the board for both relationship and transactional surveys. In closing, we’ve summarized a few of these key best practices below:

  • Stay focused – Know what you’re trying to measure and don’t get distracted from it. It’s common to feel pressure to make surveys longer so that you can capture as much data as possible. That’s understandable, but longer surveys can also cause customers to get bored and drop off, leading to lower response rates. It’s generally better to keep surveys short and focused, and then follow up with customers if you need to gather more information in specific situations.

  • Beware of over-surveying – It’s easy to send out surveys, and that means it can be tempting to survey your customers nonstop. Resist this temptation. It’s probably okay to send out a transactional survey each time a customer contacts your support team, but other types of surveys – especially relationship surveys – should be sent out more sparingly.

  • Contextualize – Whenever possible, serve your surveys up to your customers through their preferred channel. That means if a customer contacts you via live chat, send them the survey through chat as soon as the conversation ends. If users regularly log in to your tool, consider serving them up a survey within your tool instead of emailing them.

Learning how to create effective customer surveys is a skill that will pay huge dividends in your attempts to create a better customer experience. For more tips and best practices, subscribe to the Lumoa Customer Experience blog.