The Three Rules for Effective Customer Surveys

Michael Gentle

This week I bring you a thought-provoking Guest Post from Michael Gentle, Author, Speaker and Friend.

How often do you answer customer surveys requesting feedback on using a product or service? Based on the personal effort and/or the intrusion factor associated with most surveys, the answer is probably “not very often”.

When you do accept to answer a survey, it’s probably in one of the following cases:

  • Your customer experience was so bad – or so good – that you went out of your way to make your feelings known, regardless of the effort involved.
  • Your customer experience (good, bad or indifferent) didn’t really move you enough to warrant any feedback, but because the survey was short, unintrusive and timely, you just went ahead and answered it.

You don’t need to go to business school to figure this out. And yet, most of the people who design and implement surveys regularly flout these elementary rules. They forget that at the end of the day, survey respondents have deadlines to meet, trains to catch and personal lives to manage, and that replying to a survey is probably near or at the bottom of their list of priorities.


The Three Golden Rules

If companies are serious about getting feedback from as many customers as possible, I’d recommend the following three golden rules:

  1. Keep it short, with 3-5 questions maximum. The top three questions should be about the overall customer experience, followed by a rating of the product or the service, and finally the staff or people factor.
  2. Limit the intrusion. People might be well disposed to answering surveys, but not if they feel it intrudes on their time. For example, a restaurant survey that comes with the bill or check is not intrusive; stopping you on your way out the door to get some quick feedback is. Phone surveys are probably the worst culprit when it comes to intrusion.
  3. Make it timely. Borrowing from the term Point of Sale (POS), you want to make it as close as possible to the Point of Experience (POE). Not surprisingly, what little motivation you might have to answer a survey will probably have evaporated 24 hrs later.


Some Typical Examples

Here are some bad and good surveys that I’ve personally experienced:

  • Whenever I pick up my car (part of the Volkswagen group) after a service, I get surveyed either by mail or phone. The survey weighs in at 4 pages! I only ever answer the first question about my overall experience (usually very good) and then scrawl a note saying the survey is too long. Ditto when I talk to the person over the phone.
  • Cabin crew on Air France long-haul flights regularly h and out surveys to some passengers. Not only are they very detailed (a couple of pages), there is no reward offered to fill them in – not even some bonus miles. Personally, I simply refuse to provide free feedback to an airline that is unwilling to offer even a token reward for going beyond the 3-5 question golden rule. As an aside, I have yet to see an airline with flight surveys built into the individual passenger entertainment systems. What a waste of a golden opportunity for timely POE feedback, with minimal effort and intrusion on a 10-hour flight!  (Apparently Delta Airlines is trying, as related by a passenger in a recent article, Delta’s Inflight Survey – great idea, failed execution.)
  • I filled in a survey from Amazon last week for a recent book purchase. Not surprisingly, Amazon “gets it”: not only did the email survey have only four questions, it also had them in the body of the email, so I could see straight away that answering it would be a doddle. Virtually all other email surveys I receive require me to click on a link that takes me to some detailed survey website – which I exit immediately if the survey is not wrapped up on one screen.

So next time you receive yet another survey that expects you to put your life on hold for ten minutes, just groan – and hit the cancel or delete button.

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One thought on “The Three Rules for Effective Customer Surveys

  1. Thanks for agreeing to support C3Centricity with this great post Michael. It is certainly personal and provocative, so I hope we get a lot of reactions from the readers here. 

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