Our Thoughts

Top 5 reasons customer surveys fail

28th November 2017

For over 20 years we’ve been helping our clients understand their customers. We’ve seen organisations do amazing work with the insight we give them, radically improving the customer experience, and reaping the rewards of winning the trust and loyalty of their customers. We’ve also seen surveys which have failed, resulting in little or no lasting change. What makes the difference? In this post I’ve highlighted the top 5 reasons customer surveys fail, and ways to avoid those traps.


Scoring too high


A customer survey fails when it doesn’t result in any improvement to customer experience. How do we know if customers are happier? We need a consistent headline measure which we can watch trend upwards as changes are made. Counterintuitively, for your starting point you want the lowest score you can get. A tough measure will motivate change and give you room to grow. Soft measures (e.g. percent satisfied on a five point verbal scale) lead to organisations stagnating with mediocre performance that they reassure themselves is good. Satisfaction Index or NPS are effective headline measures precisely because you need to be consistently excellent to achieve a high score.


Get yourself a tough measure, or you risk living in a fool’s paradise.


Using a relationship survey to drive action


Customer satisfaction surveys are almost always interesting, but interesting isn’t enough. They need to inform concrete action plans in order to lead to consistent improvements in performance. A relationship satisfaction survey, based on a random dip from all of your customers, is a wonderful academic exercise. What it doesn't do is give you clear links to internal processes, people, and the specific frontline events which create a good or bad customer experience.


To get actionable detail, you need event-driven surveys close to important touchpoints.


Using transactional surveys to plan strategy


On the other hand, if you only use event-driven surveys you can lose sight of what the relationship looks like from the customer’s point of view. You can invest as much as you like in optimising the touchpoints that are easy to collect feedback on; but if customers value something you’ve neglected to measure then you may well be kidding yourself.


To understand customers’ long-term loyalty attitude, and the behaviours that result from it, you need a strategic relationship survey.


Failing to engage staff with the results


Getting concrete, actionable, conclusions from your customer insight is only the start of the battle. You need to engage the attention of your colleagues, persuade them of the process and behavioural changes you want to make, and then keep the focus while changes are made and new habits embedded. That’s why storytelling is becoming such an important part of customer experience research, helping to bring customers to life within the business.


Use storytelling techniques to show your colleagues not just what needs to change, but how and why.


Not talking to customers about actions


Even when you’ve done all that, you may find that customer satisfaction scores (particularly in the strategic survey) can be very slow to change. It takes time for customers to notice change, and even longer for them to believe those improvements will last. You can help by clearly communicating the actions you’ve taken, and making sure that they know those changes are a result of feedback from customers.

“Closing the loop” with communication is a key part of managing customer perceptions, and making sure they notice your improvements.

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