Do You Really Want the Truth? Why 5-Question Customer Feedback Surveys Are Bogus

The truth about today's customer satisfaction surveys and how you can get better feedback. From Safeway to Sprint, it seems like every business I frequent lately is asking for feedback. I’ve received text messages, circled smiley faces on my receipts, voicemails, and verbal requests while in the checkout line—all attempts to convince me to rate my customer experience and provide feedback. As a marketing professional, I appreciate the effort to collect customer feedback. But as a consumer—and an educated businesswoman—I can’t help but wonder if they really want my feedback. Why? Because, on multiple occasions, I’ve received comments like the following: “We’re looking for a rating of 5 or else we won’t know if you submit feedback,” or “The only rating that makes a difference for us is a 5.” These comments alarm me for two reasons:

  1. On a scale of 0 to 5 with 5 being the best, I’m confused as to why these employees (and companies) would only focus on ‘5’ ratings. Shouldn’t such businesses want to know more about the 0-4 ratings and how they can improve their service and/or product? As cliché as it sounds, most of us tend to learn more from negative feedback than positive feedback. Don’t get me wrong. We all need compliments and positive reinforcement from time to time. But, if our customers are only communicating with us when we exceed their expectations, how will we ever understand how to remedy practices that only rank sub-par?
  2. Answering five measly questions on the quality of service and ranking them on a scale of 0 to 5 is absolutely bogus. What smart business professional is creating these ridiculous surveys? One of the first marketing classes I ever took focused on the importance of asking a variety of open-ended and yes/no (or rating) questions in customer surveys to gather the most insightful feedback possible. While I understand the importance of brevity in today’s oversaturated communication world, what is really the point of a vague five-question survey? In my opinion, these companies issue such surveys only to “pat themselves on the back” and make completely superfluous marketing pitches like “95% of our consumers agree that we exceed their expectations.”

As I step down off my soapbox of self-proclaimed survey wisdom, I would be amiss to not offer a few tips on how to truly capture customer feedback. So rather than fall into the fog of five-question surveys, jump on the reality-check train and be prepared for the honest truth with these tips:

  • Make questions fun and don’t be afraid to mix in a little humor. Let’s face it; surveys are boring (for the one filling it out). So sprinkle in some fun—you’ll get an even better insight about your company (or whatever you are surveying about). Here are a few examples:
    1. How could we have made your experience better than taking out the garbage? Don’t hold back … although we likely won’t fly you to Maui.
    2. How was your experience with our staff?
      • They were more annoying than barking Chihuahuas at 4 a.m.
      • You invited them to Thanksgiving dinner.
      • You will seek out his/her line next time you’re in the store.
      • You suggest we invest in more customer service training for our employees.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Yep. Those questions that require more than a yes/no or rating response. People love to talk—especially if it is about themselves. Get them going with questions that make their consumer experience with your product, employees, and/or organization more personal. Here is an example:
    1. What about shopping at our store went better than you expected?
    2. What about your experience made you frustrated?
  • Whenever possible, ask for feedback in person. Text messages and online surveys are great, but you’ll get so much more information by talking with customers as they exit your store or by randomly calling every so often to check in and see how their experience is going. Have you ever been to a restaurant and have had a manager stop by to see how everything tastes? He’s looking for feedback.
  • Make it worth your customers’ time. You are asking your customers to take time out of their day to help you out. Unless they are over-the-top fans of your business (or you), they will likely need more incentive than just knowing that they may help you improve your customer service or product. A free dessert or a $10 coupon might be more valuable than you think.
  • Reward as well as improve. It’s easy to reprimand employees who get bad reviews from customers. But just as you look to find weaknesses in your service line and improve customer service, so too should you identify the employees who deserve to be recognized and rewarded. My husband works in IT support and is routinely evaluated by clients. From new running shoes to cash, he’s enjoyed rewards along the way for exceeding expectations. Even a $25 gift card goes a long way in saying, “Keep up the great work.”
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