Customer Experience News & Trends

5 reasons customer surveys fail — and what you need to do now

Nearly everyone surveys customers. Who does it effectively is another story altogether.

Getting feedback and measuring customer satisfaction can help organizations improve the customer experience, foster better relationships and increase sales. But most companies don’t realize those results because they get tripped up in survey pitfalls.

Here are the top five customer satisfaction survey challenges revealed in a recent survey by ICMI and Zendesk:

1. Getting an acceptable response

You craft the perfect survey and are ready to act on what customers say. Then barely no one says anything. Most customer surveys have a response rate between 5% and 10%. That’s not a good representation of any customer base, and an even worse representation of what customers really think.

To get a larger response, try these tips:

  • Shorten the survey. One study shows a direct correlation between the number of questions and survey abandonment — the more questions, the more abandonment. Keep it to fewer than 10 questions.
  • Drop the text box. Open space, where customers are asked to write a few words, kills interest. Keep one at the end, where you invite them to add comments, and make the rest of the survey a rating scale.
  • Add surveys to the sales process. Have salespeople explain that an important part of the relationship is candid feedback and that they can expect surveys that will help them get better service and experiences.

2. Designing effective surveys

Survey responses are only as effective as the questions that are asked. Ask meaningful questions, get meaningful, useful answers. Yet, many companies struggle with getting the design right. Why? The biggest problems usually arise from concentration on the execution more than the preparation.

These four tips from survey giant SurveyMonkey will help:

  • Define objectives. Figure out the decision or decisions you’ll make after the survey to determine the questions you need to ask.
  • Work backwards. Determine the information you need to gather from the survey to make decisions.
  • Don’t lead them. Make sure you’re not asking leading questions, such as “Experts say customers should comparison shop. Do you comparison shop?” A non-leading probe would be more like this: “I comparison shop …” with a choice of “never,” “seldom,” “sometimes,” “often” and “always.”
  • Do a test. Send your survey to friends and colleagues for a test run. They’ll help make sure your questions and response options are easy to understand.

3. Pinpointing trends and problems

Surveying customers is a good idea. Incorporating other, less formal feedback into the survey process, is the better idea. Most companies gauge customer satisfaction, watching it (hopefully) rise up the scale. But just knowing customers are happier — or less satisfied — doesn’t paint the full picture.

To get a better view of smaller trends — the kind that lead to major shifts in satisfaction — combine formal feedback with online, candid feedback. One customer complaint in social media often leads to other customers talking and/or griping of the same or similar situations. That’s a problem to act on and include in formal data.

Also, try to use sales data along with customer feedback. Customers often say one thing and act differently. Satisfaction with a product or service on paper is one thing. Increased or decreased sales on the same product speaks louder.

4. Identifying what needs fast action

Companies often do regular customer surveys, but don’t look at the feedback and respond as regularly. Often, unless it’s the job of a person or department to analyze feedback and look for issues, follow up doesn’t happen soon enough. And that’s how dissatisfied customers fall through the cracks.

Highly dissatisfied customers respond to surveys. It’s a plea for help — they’re giving the company one last chance to redeem itself.

To increase the odds you respond to customers who need immediate attention, it’s important to build red flags into your feedback system. Online surveys can include alerts when keywords — such as “angry,” “upset,” “unfair,” and “unhappy” — are entered. Then, empowered employees should make personal calls immediately to try to rectify problems.

5. Implementing improvements

Most organizations go into customer satisfaction surveys with the best intentions: Find out what customers like and don’t like, then do more of what they like and less of what they don’t like. But once they gather and analyze the feedback, they lose steam. Or run out of resources to implement changes. Or find the changes are more complicated than they anticipated.

The worst part: Companies seldom tell customers what they’ve done with the survey results. Whether you can take immediate action or not, customers need to know that their time will benefit them eventually.

To help increase the likelihood you can implement customer-focused changes after a survey:

  • Narrow the field. Focus on one issue in a survey so you can get as much feedback as possible in that area. Then, you’ll have targeted data on that one area and resources won’t have to be spread too thinly when it’s time to make changes.
  • Know what you can do ahead of time. Explore the possibilities for change before you ask questions. That way, you’ll know if you’ll have the time and resources to make things happen after you get customers’ opinions.
  • Follow up. Customers will continue to give feedback and buy if you tell them why you wanted their feedback, what you’ll do with it and the positive changes they can expect.

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