Customer surveys rarely the answer when it comes to getting decent feedback, expert says

SMEs are being encouraged to think twice before seeking customer feedback in the form of a survey, after retail consultant Michael Baker said such surveys are based on an “absurd” premise.

According to Baker, who heads up Baker Consulting, good retailers don’t conduct customer surveys because they are “well plugged into what is happening in every aspect of their business”.

In an article for The Sydney Morning Herald, Baker said customer feedback should consist of healthy in-store conversion rates, returning customers, growing sales and increased profitability.

“Customer feedback surveys have, of course, become easy to put out there because of inexpensive survey software and widespread use of the internet,” Baker said.

“Yet the idea of seeking customer feedback via these surveys is based on a fundamentally absurd premise: that it is the responsibility of the customer to help the company run its own business.”

Baker said the rise of electronic consumer feedback surveys hasn’t helped the situation.

“By making the research process so cheap and easy, these feedback surveys have become ubiquitous, rote, demanding, frequently irritating and almost always worthless,” he said.

“Why worthless? First, because the respondents are going to be biased in numerous ways; for example, toward those who have had a bad experience and want to vent.”

“Second, for economic reasons. When consumer research is free or very cheap it is more likely to be used at times when it isn’t really needed.”

“This leads to formulaic questions and, worse, to the company not really listening to the answers.”

Fellow retail expert Brian Walker, managing director of The Retail Doctor Group, has also raised doubts about the value of surveys, not only in relation to customers but retail in general.

“When you look at these surveys, you can’t help but wonder if [the respondents] were asked to reflect on what is positive [in addition to the negative],” Walker told StartupSmart in May.

“You get the answers to the questions you ask.”

Baker believes some companies are well justified in asking for feedback from their customers, particularly if they are planning to change something about a product or how it is sold.

“If you do decide to use an electronic feedback survey, make the survey really short and make sure the respondent is rewarded appropriately for his time,” he said.

“Remember, he or she is not your employee.”

This article first appeared on StartupSmart.


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