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Survey says…what? Why customer surveys may not be the best approach

Posted by Ed Shepherdson on May 30, 2012

Customer Experience management is all the buzz now a days. The good news is that companies seem to be more and more genuine about paying attention to their clients’ needs. But are they taking the right approach of measuring their experiences through surveys?

In the late 90’s, the internet started to change the way people serviced their customers via self service portals and websites. Companies began to realize that their customers want to service themselves – on their time – they didn’t want to wait in phone queues to talk to people who sometimes didn’t have the answer. While online self-service sites gave clients the ability to service themselves quickly and on their schedule, the one thing that went missing was the feedback mechanism.

When people were talking to you on the phone you could very quickly tell whether they were happy or not. With online customer self-service, companies have less of a personal relationship with their customers. Thus the dawn of the whole market for customer surveys. Yes surveys have been around a long time, but their importance was certainly heightened by the internet revolution.

Customer surveys haven’t really changed much in the past dozen or so years. They might have improved in the psychology of how questions are asked and answered, but the 1-5 scale, 1-9 scale, top box, high, low, medium and so on, are all still there. Today, companies have now expanded the use of the survey to try and capture more and more information about that customer who is interacting with them from various channels and likely has an opinion about their experience.

My big question is, are surveys still the right way to collect information about a client’s interactions with your company? My concern is that surveys might no longer be objective – in fact I think if we study them closely they are worded and structured to favor a positive outcome for the vendor (that’s why they get compensated on these results). When I ran a global support organization we used a 7 point scale – 4 & 5 were neutral because we only measured top box scores which was 6 & 7. I imagine there are thousands of these survey’s out there structured the same way doing the same thing: 6 & 7 are good, 1 & 2 are bad.

What if the new style of customer survey was a text box with an explanation to tell us about their overall experience? Maybe they liked part of the experience but not another part. With this information captured, and using text analytics tools, we could understand the theme of the customer comments as well as the sentiment and take that even a step further and correlated it with certain product releases customer locations, and more.

For example, a survey from your favorite rental car company consists of 20 questions:

1) On a 1-5 scale rank the following:
a. How was your reservation experience?
b. Was the agent professional?
c. Were you greeted by an agent?
d. Was your car clean?
e. Etc, Etc

2) Or, you could say in a text box:
a. When I arrived last night at 12:30am because my flight was delayed your agent had everything ready for me when I came to the counter, thanks
b. When I arrived last night at 12:30am because my flight was delayed, I had to bang on the counter to get an agent to come to the front, I was tired and it took another 10 minutes to get my car.

As you can see, I can very well predict what the answers would be to the 20 questions from the two statements in section 2.

Your customers have so many touch points with your company today – so how do you decide which ones to survey? Giving every customer who interacts with your company the opportunity to leave their comments about their experience will give you a very rounded view of your business. And with that information captured, you can really drive your business forward.

Something to think about perhaps?


Comments

  • Sam Klaidman
    Posted on May 31, 2012

    I think that either/or is not the best approach but instead use a combination of both types of questions. For example, JetBlue asks the “NPS question” and then follows up with a text box and either:
    1) Thank you for your 10 now please tell us what we have to do in the future to keep you feeling that way (or something like that) or
    2) Thank you for your response. Please tell us what we should do so you can have a better experience on your next flight or
    3) Thank you …. Please tell us what went wrong on this trip so we can fix it.

  • Ed Shepherdson
    Posted on June 1, 2012

    Hi Sam, good points regarding connecting the structured part of the survey to soliciting unstructured feedback that would provide more details as to what was meant by the ranking. Harvesting insight from the unstructured comments over time could help establish a baseline ranking for a particular type of comment. Thanks for the feedback.


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