Are customer surveys useless?

There is no doubt that automation saves time and money; it improves efficiencies and very often eliminates human error. But what happens to companies when they try to automate all of their customer interactions in an attempt to cut costs but still give the appearance of caring?

In other words, what bad business decision-making drives otherwise well-meaning, customer-centric companies to send out post service customer service questionnaires and then fail to act on the feedback they get, or even to acknowledge them?

Over the past few weeks I had eight such questionnaires, each asking me to rate the quality of the service I had received and the level of satisfaction (if any) I experienced in dealing with the company. Six of these questionnaires allowed me to express a personal opinion or make a comment.

For all eight I purposefully rated their service extremely poor and the experience totally unacceptable. For the six that allowed for comment I actually wrote the following: “Why do you send these questionnaires out when you have no intention of following up on them, or doing anything about the comments and ratings. If I am wrong please call or email me”. I included my contact details.

As of today’s date—some five weeks after the last of these questionnaires—I have yet to get a response. With the exception of one provider, I have not even had an automated email acknowledging my comments. And the automated response promised me some action within 24 to 48 hours. That was 600 hours ago (as of writing).

What does all of this have to do with selling?

Companies who send out these customer satisfaction questionnaires don’t seem to realise the risk and/or reward they face. In selling, there is the well-known rationale that it is five times cheaper to sell to current customers, and it is well accepted that the best prospects for new business are those you get through referrals. Sending out these questionnaires and then doing nothing about the comments alienates a current customer, making it hardly likely that they will return and do business in the future. And not following up on customer comments means that the disappointed customer is going to be aware of, and more sensitive to, the poor service—something they are likely to communicate to others.

Can these questionnaires be turned into powerful sales aids? Absolutely.

If the questionnaires or surveys are merely window dressing, as part of a PR campaign with no substance, the company will soon find itself losing, rather than gaining support.

But for those companies who are genuinely interested in their customers, here are some tips for how to mine their current customer base of customer survey questionnaires.

An effective sales strategy is key

Everything starts with an effective, focused sales strategy that ensures follow-ups and genuine customer-care is inherent in the fabric of the organisation’s culture. That requires a sales mission that clearly outlines the purpose, value and standards expected from all customer facing personnel—not only sales.

Next, ensure that there is a system that rapidly delivers returned questionnaires to salespeople. While customer service staff are really good at addressing concerns, issues and enquiries, the stratagem here is to use these questionnaires for additional business opportunities—that’s the domain of salespeople.

Make sure your salespeople are trained to follow up. Handling disappointed customers and solving their concerns, or soliciting referrals from satisfied customers are skills that are learned, not simply picked up through experience.

Empower your salespeople to address customer concerns. Giving salespeople the ability to redress the issues customers express in their returned questionnaires is the most effective demonstration that the company really cares. And it tells salespeople that the company trusts and values them.

When these simple activities are consistently performed, the customer surveys have far more value than simply public relations tools and feel-good exercises—they generate real business opportunities.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett is the founder and chief executive of the innovative and forward thinking sales advisory and education firm, Barrett and the online sales education and resource platform Striving to develop and deliver better sales standards and strategies to help people and businesses sell better, Sue is a sales philosopher, strategist, speaker, trainer, writer, adviser and selling better activist.


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5 years ago

Hi, Glad to have read this article and note it conflates customer experience surveys (where the client can match the answers with the customers)
and marketing research surveys (where there is no matching of people who
complete the survey with any other records, so the answers are in complete
anonymity and confidence), or rather makes no distinction between the two.
As a market researcher who guarantees anonymity of response to anyone who completes our surveys, and cannot provide a link between the respondent and the client’s database (as doing so destroys the guaranteed anonymity), my question is whether the surveys reported here were undertaken as marketing research (in which case the lack of response is proper) or as customer experience surveys (in which
case the non-response is appalling). We do make the anonymity and non-identification clear in our survey invitations, but perhaps people just don’t “get” that, or perhaps the survey invitations the author received have not made clear what sort of survey they are and so what response, if any, “should” be expected.
The concern is not because the author appears not to know the differences between customer experience and marketing research surveys, but because the marketing
research industry has not made the distinction clear so customers know what to
expect when asked to complete one or other type of survey.
This is an issue the industry generally, and individual surveyors specifically, need to
make clear the type of survey they are asking people to complete, and to make
that known on widespread basis, so people are clear whether they will get a response or not to comments in their post-activity customer surveys.

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