When to stop surveying customers

When was the last time your team learned something really valuable from a customer-satisfaction survey program? 

Having had research experience on both the academic and private-sector sides, I try to pay attention to those customer-satisfaction surveys in the marketplace. From what I’m seeing, many organizations need to reconsider what they are doing.  

Just as there really is such a thing as bad publicity, and just as you actually can over-communicate, it is indeed possible to have too much information coming from your customers (if that information is devoid of meaning). 

Lately, I have seen four categories of customer survey programs that could even be doing more long-term harm than good: 

  • Surveys that are just designed to sell customers more stuff. Whether it’s a coupon for my next visit or a one-in-a-zillion chance to win the monthly drawing, many of us customers understand that the real point for you is to manage demand and stock your email database.
     
  • Surveys that are for the benefit of someone other than customers. “Please remember to put my name, Tawny, on the survey for helping you out today. My name is Tawny by the way.” This actually happens.
     
  • Surveys that read like they came from Marketing. “We truly care about your customer experience and want to make sure we delight you with service that earns your long-term loyalty.” That actually happened to me, too.
     
  • Programs that are designed to reward…the sponsor! Apparently car dealerships get brownie points from the manufacturer for scoring SuperExcellent 5s on customer surveys. When you post giant signs in your dealership that show the survey and have red arrows pointing to the SuperExcellent 5 box, however, many of us feel less like valued customers and more like pawns you are using to score that trip to Hawaii. 

The customer relationship is akin to an evolving dance, yet not one where your organization gets to lead all the time. Successful companies can be good followers. Outstanding ones can even anticipate customers’ next moves. Too many organizations have forgotten how to dance. 

If any of these scenarios describe your organization, then this researcher and marketer suggests you give the survey program a rest. Seriously, have a seat. 

A customer-satisfaction research program that has drifted from its original intent or is poorly executed probably does more harm than good. Your management, product, sales and service teams can all be led into a false sense of security. You can spend money and time yet still miss the opportunity to learn anything new about customers. 

Don’t step out onto the dance floor if you’re going to embarrass yourself, watch yourself in the mirror or step on customers’ toes. 

When enough organizations come to that same conclusion, there will be an added benefit for consumers everywhere: surveys might begin to look like surveys again.  

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