Why We Shouldn’t Blame Surveys for Survey Fatigue

By Erich Dietz

While growing up on Long Island, I had the pleasure of playing golf with a diverse cast of colorful characters who were chock-full of whacky wit and practical proverbs. One afternoon, after watching me shank twenty balls and verbally assault my clubs for their errant execution, one of these gents looked at me and said, “Hey kid… it’s not the violin; it’s the violinist.”

Less eloquently said, it wasn’t my clubs’ fault that I waved good-bye to $60 in balls that day; it was my fault.

I flash back to that statement every time I hear VoC (voice of the customer) industry pundits and practitioners debating survey fatigue and toxicity. I absolutely agree that there is an issue with surveys today. However, the root of this issue is not the survey tool or the act of surveying; it’s surveying customers in extremely customer-unfriendly ways. Here are some examples:

  • Providing a five- to seven-minute survey about a two-minute transaction
  • Surveys that address issues important to the company but not asking what’s important to the customer
  • Asking clients to rate a phone conversation from the previous week, expecting them to accurately recall transaction details

Ironically, an increasing number of companies are touting how customer-friendly their purchase and service processes are. They’ve made it easy to buy, self-serve, and get help, but good luck if you want to give feedback. I firmly believe that if more companies surveyed in customer-friendly ways, we would not be seeing most of the public backlash that is bubbling up.

The trick to a successful VoC program is not getting a customer to give feedback once – anyone can do that. The trick is creating a feedback program that inspires more customers to give more feedback more often. Here are some basic tactics for surveying well and creating an ongoing dialog with customers that doesn’t leave them annoyed by your feedback program.

Offer Customers Something for Their Time Wherever Possible and Appropriate: Asking a customer to complete a survey is asking for their time, arguably the most precious, non-replenishable resource known to man. If you are going to ask customers for something that valuable, the least you can do is strive to find a way to compensate them other than the typical “thanks.” I understand the argument about incentives potentially biasing data, but I don’t fully agree with it, especially when it comes to transactional feedback. If the goal is to create an ongoing, candid dialogue with more customers, you won’t get there just by asking nicely.

Make the Survey Process Easy: If a customer is on the phone, allow them to continue their phone experience. If they are interacting with your brand online, allow them to extend that online experience. The goal is to make it simple for a customer to say “yes” or “no” to a feedback opportunity and then make it even easier for them to provide feedback after they say “yes.”

Keep It Brief: Remember the non-replenishable resource I mentioned earlier, called “time?” One of the easiest ways to show a customer you don’t care about them and their time is to make them suffer through an obnoxiously long survey. Do not subject customers to a survey that clearly places the interests of a market research group or executives ahead of theirs.

Here are two simple rules to keep in mind:

1) Post-call IVR surveys should be around two minutes long.

2) Post-interaction email and online surveys should be around three minutes long.

It’s that simple. Following these guidelines, businesses will get higher quality data. Do you honestly think customers are truly engaged four minutes into a transactional survey? Even if they answer the red herring questions correctly, I suspect they are only partially engaged by that point.

Less Quantitative, More Qualitative: Let the customer tell their story in their own words as opposed to a litany of ratings and multiple-choice answers that a statistician is going to use to try to derive their experience. Years ago, the technology that helped businesses quickly distill insights from massive amounts of unstructured data only worked well in science fiction. That’s no longer the case. Speech and text analytics applications are now delivering on that promise. Businesses can deploy shorter, more customer-friendly surveys that ultimately deliver much richer feedback to all levels of an organization, especially those interacting with frontline staff.

Tell Customers When You Act on Their Feedback: This is perhaps the simplest of all and the most frequently overlooked tactic. If you make changes based on feedback, publicly celebrate those changes with customers. Show them that you are listening to – and more importantly – acting on the feedback they spent their time providing. Let them know that their time was not wasted.

Respond Immediately to Poor Experiences: When your brand falls short – and it will happen – make it right with your customers. Get back to them quickly. Seek to better understand their dissatisfaction, apologize, and do your best to remedy the situation. Use your feedback program to show customers, on an individual level, how much you value their feedback. If a service lapse recovery process is executed properly, positive word of mouth will spread quickly.

These are my two cents – or perhaps just the ramblings of a frustrated consumer and VoC practitioner. Take them or leave them. However, if you do use my ideas to execute a proper VoC effort, I promise you that it will pay your business back a lot more than two cents.

Erich Dietz is VP of business solutions at Mindshare Technologies.

[From Connection Magazine September 2012]

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