Expert advice on how to conduct a customer satisfaction survey. Learn about innovative new ways to conduct customer satisfaction surveys and also some cautions and important things to know about customer satisfaction surveys.
How to conduct customer satisfaction surveys
Who to ask about customer satisfaction
You should be conducting customer research among your customers. Are you collecting customer email addresses, cell phone numbers, mailing address? Those are the best ways to reach someone to conduct customer satisfaction research.
When conducting customer satisfaction surveys, you want to contact:
Enough customers so that the results of your customer satisfaction survey will be a statistically valid assessment. That should be 100 to 200 customers, not five or ten. You also need a random sample of customers during a specific day or week OR all customers after a purchase.
You may also want to conduct what’s called “lost business research” among customers that are no longer doing business with you. Those survey questions and results should be separated from ongoing customer satisfaction research.
When to conduct customer satisfaction surveys
- Immediately after a purchase to understand satisfaction with the purchase process.
- After the “learning to use” stage for a product or service when the customer is able to more realistically evaluate their customer satisfaction.
- After what you think has been a resolved customer service issue (to see if everything is really o.k.).
Know this: Don’t send a customer satisfaction survey to someone who has complained within the last month: that may make them madder. If they’ve complained, they want someone to contact them to hear them out and resolve their issue. They don’t want to complete a customer satisfaction survey.
What to ask in customer satisfaction surveys
Power Questions to ask to assess customer satisfaction. From our experience, these are the “power questions” to ask:
Has the (product/service/company) met your expectations?
Don’t know yet
Would you buy (product/service name) again?
Too early to tell
Have you recommended (product/service/company) to anyone else?
Yes (if yes, what did you say?)
Any advice for us? (enough space to write)
Would you like us to contact you about what you’ve shared?
Know this: If someone is really satisfied, they will buy again and tell someone else and spread positive word-of-mouth. Many companies ask, “Would you recommend…” but that’s hypothetical and an easier way to get someone to say “yes” which inflates a company’s understanding of customer satisfaction. A more true measure is “Have you recommended?”
Top reasons customers never return to give you repeat business:
1. They have a bad experience
2. They don’t feel special, important, valued
3. They are not encouraged (reminded) to return or buy again
4. They bought on a price off deal and don’t see the value of the full price product/service
Most questions asked on customer satisfaction surveys are generally a way to evaluate the customer service but don’t correlate to customer satisfaction. These are typical questions asked on customer satisfaction surveys:
- How would you rate the overall service? (excellent, good, fair, poor)
- Did the service arrive on or before the quoted time?
- Was the phone answered in a timely manner?
- Appearance of the service vehicle?
- Appearance of the service vehicle driver?
- Knew how to service your vehicle correctly?
- And so on…
Do you see how questions like these don’t help really assess someone’s satisfaction and advocacy? It’s the equivalent of going on a date with someone and then being asked how courteous and nicely dressed they were. That doesn’t get to the bottom line: Would you go out with the person again? What would you tell someone about the person?
Don’t send an email with a customer satisfaction survey to a customer with a subject line like “American Express needs your feedback.” There’s NO benefit to the customer! It’s all about what American Express needs.
You might want to separately measure the sales experience
In a survey of more than 5,000 business customers, we found that of all of the possible factors that could drive customer loyalty — including brand, product and service quality, and price-to-value ratio — by far the biggest driver is something most companies don’t even think about: the sales experience, accounting for 53% of the overall total.
“Customer loyalty, it turns out, is more a function of how you sell than what you sell. Specifically, customers reward suppliers who “offer unique and valuable perspectives on the market” and “educate them on new issues and outcomes.”
–Harvard Business Review
Innovative ways to gather customer satisfaction
There are some really innovative and clever ways to assess customer satisfaction. Each market research firm typically has their own proprietary methods for conducting customer satisfaction.
Instead of asking (boring) survey questions that look like a SAT test, you could be asking customers how they feel by choosing a picture or asking them to create a collage or having them play a game. Then your customer satisfaction survey might actually be something your customers would find fun to participate in!
How to gather customer satisfaction information
Email with a link to an online survey form on the web is the least intrusive way to get information from people and to gather and report results. But many younger people don’t use email along with other types of customers so that can alter results. People may also not feel their responses are anonymous. You can overcome this by using an online email survey company/service where all responses will go to them and remain anonymous unless the person chooses to share their name and contact information with their answers.
Text messages can work well for certain groups of people (like teens and college students) or you can make phone calls yourself or hire someone to make the calls. Some people prefer to talk to people on the phone vs. completing a survey another way. If you have a customer’s cell phone number (and feel it won’t negatively impact their customer satisfaction if you call them on their cell phone,) that’s generally the best way to reach someone live. People aren’t going to call back if you leave a message on their office or home voice mail or answering service so you’ll need to make a lot of calls to reach enough people for a survey to be worthwhile.
Customer satisfaction surveys are sometimes still conducted through the mail with a letter or postcard with paid business reply postage paid. These tend to be put aside and not acted for some customers this is their preferred way to interact with you for this.
You can also post a survey on your website but don’t use this to assess overall customer satisfaction because you’ll get a skewed response of people who are frustrated or fans of your website.
TIP: Including a $1 bill, a coupon for coffee or some small relevant item (like a dentist giving a toothbrush) will increase response rates for your customer satisfaction survey. Don’t give items with your logo on them. Why? If someone’s not satisfied, they won’t want your key chain, magnet or hat. And you want those things going to your most satisfied customers who do refer business to you. They are giving you their time to complete the survey so give them something of value to them.
How to follow-up after someone has completed a customer satisfaction survey
If someone has chosen to share their name on a customer satisfaction survey, reply back to them to thank them for their input with a personal note that addresses their specific feedback. They’ve done you a huge FAVOR to give you this input and if they’ve chosen to include their name, they want to be known and contacted. They may be testing to see if anyone reads and cares about what they have to say.
If they are very satisfied and referring/recommending, thank them! These people are the ones who should be given logo wear (hats, shirts, pens, coffee mugs, etc.).
If they raise complaints, address those politely and quickly.
Now use what you’ve learned to improve customer satisfaction and create “brand fans”
Share the customer satisfaction findings among your company and work together on an action plan for continuous improvement. People do what they are measured on and rewarded for. Are you recognizing and rewarding the people who are delivering great customer satisfaction? Are you monitoring and setting up a way to change the behaviors (or fire) the people who are hurting your customer satisfaction?
Cautions and things to know about customer satisfaction surveys…
1. Most people don’t complete customer satisfaction surveys. Why?
- There is no benefit to a person for filling one out.
- They don’t care that much about the company/brand.
- They have an “it’s ok” attitude about the company/brand.
- They believe their input won’t be read, acknowledged or acted upon.
- The survey looks like it will take too much time (more than 5 minutes.)
- They are BORING to complete.
2. The people who do complete customer satisfaction surveys are often at the extreme ends of the satisfaction spectrum.
- Fans – people who are very satisfied.
- Adversaries – people who have had very bad customer and product experiences and want to vent. Some of these people will be impossible to keep satisfied and/or cost you too much money/time/hassle to do so. You may want to identify and fire (if possible) these difficult and unprofitable customers.
From our experience: There’s a third group that also will complete customer satisfaction surveys: reasonable people who want/need/hope the company will improve.
Know this: Someone who “likes” your Facebook company page may not be a satisfied customer or a “brand fan.” They may be someone who wants a deal or special price or they may be your competitor.
3. Most customer satisfaction surveys are too long and ask questions that the company will never choose to act on.
Aim for a survey where answers to every question will be acted on. Remove questions that are “nice to know.” Aim for a survey that takes a customer five minutes or less to complete.
4. Most companies never respond to customer satisfaction surveys.
Comments from customer fans get read at meetings to employees. And people who have had bad customer experiences who include their name don’t get called to apologize and talk with the customer about what will be done to fix that in the future.
Know this: If someone puts their name, phone number or email address on the survey, they want you to contact them. If they’re sharing how much they love the product or service or company, is that acknowledged? You want to reward that!
If they are sharing a problem, are they contacted by phone or email (whichever contact information they have shared) by someone in authority at the company to thank them and listen to their concerns. And to ask what can be done to rectify the situation. Doing this will improve customer satisfaction and loyalty.
5. Many surveys are biased because customers are not allowed to be anonymous.
Most people don’t want to directly tell anyone bad news. If a sales rep, customer service person or the business owner asks the customer satisfaction questions, don’t count on getting honest answers.
6. Most companies ask customer satisfaction too infrequently.
They ask about customer satisfaction immediately after a purchase. That’s useful to understand the customer’s satisfaction with the purchase process and experience but it’s not helpful to understand their actual product/service satisfaction because they’ve just purchased. It’s the equivalent of asking a newlywed their marital satisfaction.
It’s important to collect customer satisfaction at different times during the product/service lifecycle.
7. It can take someone calling for eight hours to get one interview completed with a business executive.
For instance, you sell to IT executives and want to know their satisfaction with the new software they just purchased from your company. Those people are in meetings and doing work all day long and when they get a free minute and actually answer their phone or get to their email why are they going to prioritize answering a customer satisfaction survey?
The same thing applies to consumers. They get home from work and want to relax or spend time with their family or they’re busy with chores and other responsibilities. They are doing you a FAVOR to complete a customer satisfaction survey.
8. Many customer satisfaction surveys don’t explain the “why” behind someone’s scores.
So then the company knows the customer is very unsatisfied or very satisfied and they don’t understand why. Without understanding the “why” how can you know what to keep doing? what to stop doing? what to change?
9. “Forced customer loyalty” doesn’t equal customer satisfaction.
Many people keep buying a product/service but aren’t really satisfied with it. They keep buying/using a product or service because of another reason (airline miles, too much hassle to change phone companies, company has set a standard that Microsoft is what everyone will use, Mom only lets us get that kind of cereal, most people are on Facebook so I use it too, she was better than the other candidates running for office…). You get the idea.
A lot of forced loyalty has to do with high “switching costs” (hassle factor to change) or because someone else makes the ultimate buying decision.
10. There needs to be an option other than yes or no.
If you were asking someone a question, they might answer “I don’t remember” or “I don’t know”. In most customer satisfaction surveys, that’s not an option.
Think of political elections and all the talk about “undecided voters”. That’s the case with a lot of people about customer satisfaction and answering if they’d buy a product/service again. Maybe they haven’t used it long enough to know how the company will treat them if something goes wrong.
Customer loyalty is a lot like friendships. Your best friends have been tested and have remained loyal. They’ve been through hard times with you. Those hard times determine who are “fair weather friends” and who are true friends. A similar thing applies to customer loyalty and satisfaction.
11. Most companies miss an opportunity to learn more from customers by using open box questions.
Most customer satisfaction surveys look like forms with a lot of checkboxes and scales (excellent, good, fair and poor). They don’t include an area where a person can answer an open-ended question like “What would you like us to know and do differently?” These answers are often most insightful and actionable.
Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers in Harvard Business Review recommends instead, “To really win their loyalty, forget bells and whistles and just solve their problems.”