Poorly constructed or poorly executed surveys can do more harm than good with the customer relationship. Here are pitfalls to avoid.

by Robert Azman
Date Published May 24, 2023 - Last Updated February 20, 2024

This article first appeared in ICMI, a partner publication.

Seeking the voice of the customer is an admirable objective. The voice of the customer is frequently identified as a requirement in establishing your customer experience strategy, improving processes, introducing new products, identifying the need for new services, and staying in tune with the ongoing changes in your marketplace. Without customer input, organizations can frequently make decisions that adversely affect their experience strategy and their overall profitability.

In today’s environment, surveys seem to be everywhere. We are sent a survey after nearly every transaction. The mix of transaction and relationship surveys has at times become indistinguishable to customers. Organizations want to know the customer’s overall satisfaction with their products and services while desperately trying to achieve some nebulous overall score so they can tie it to leadership performance or tout it to investors.

This may seem strange coming from someone who is a strong advocate for listening to the voice of the customer, but I think we are headed for a revolt if we continue down this path with transactional surveys.

However, we do need to know the satisfaction and loyalty of our customers so that we develop the right products, deliver effective services, fix poor quality, and fend off our competition.

As you think about collecting data through transactional surveys, here are seven mistakes to avoid:

Sending a survey after every interaction

If I’m a frequent customer, I will find it annoying and counterproductive to get the same survey from you. Unless I’m particularly unhappy, I may simply delete it and thereby impact response rates. Having tools to monitor the number of surveys sent to customers is important.

Surveying too quickly

Often surveys arrive shortly after a transaction has been completed. There are pitfalls to this strategy. Has the product arrived yet? Has the customer used it enough to know if it’s satisfactory and meets their requirements? Is there an option to provide feedback after several months of use?

Pleading for 5’s

Automobile dealerships are notorious for asking, begging, and even pressuring customers to give them all 5’s or else! After I once gave a 4 on one question at a dealership, the service adviser confronted me because they were upset with my 4. Dealers are incented in several ways based on survey results. Biased surveys are indeed useless.

Claiming 30 seconds and taking 15 minutes

It’s important to honestly convey to customers how long it will take to complete a survey. Having a customer answer one question that leads to more is also unacceptable and can ruin the meaningfulness of the survey. Instead, customers will become frustrated and quit the survey before completion.

Lack of follow through on low scores

If you are going to survey customers, then you need a process in place to handle the negative survey. Even if your survey is anonymous, it’s important to give customers the option to be contacted by a company representative to address a low rating.

Poor survey structure

You’ve done all the work to prepare the survey and begin the process of collecting data and then you fail to execute the proper survey structure. It’s important to test and verify links within an email survey to ensure they are working properly. Also, use customer-oriented language, not internal corporate jargon. And lastly, be specific so the customer knows which transaction you’re surveying.

Lack of a closed loop system

If you’re going to survey, then know what you are going to do with the data. Establish a closed loop system for surveying. This entails accurate, unbiased collection of data, analysis of the data, reporting of results, and action planning to improve based on what you’re hearing from the voice of the customer (VOC). Surveying shouldn’t be a feel-good exercise in your company – it needs to be taken seriously by every person to truly make the voice of the customer alive in your organization.

One of the best transaction surveys I’ve encountered is from Delta Airlines. Their after-call survey asks, “If you owned a customer service company, would you hire the agent you just spoke to?” It’s a great example of a brief, one-question survey using a 5-point scale that provides meaningful results for the organization and the employee.

Surveying customers doesn’t need to be an expensive, resource-consuming adventure. Organizations of any size can survey using well established practices and existing survey frameworks to obtain the all-important voice of the customer.

Bob Azman is Founder and CXO of Innovative CX Solutions, LLC a Customer Experience Consulting firm specializing in CX Design and Execution, Sales and Service Experience Design, Customer Service, Supply Chain and Operations Management and Talent Development.  He is a Past Chairman of the Board of the Customer Experience Professional Association (CXPA.org).  He is a Certified Customer Experience Professional. Bob has a wealth of diverse, global operations and leadership experience as an executive at organizations such as Carlson Wagonlit Travel, Thomson Reuters, Ceridian, and Deluxe Corporation. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management’s Supply Chain and Operations Management department and at the Rutgers University School of Business Executive Education programs. He earned both his MBA and bachelor’s degrees from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.  

Tag(s): supportworld, support models, technology

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