As a small business owner, you’re probably concerned about what your customers think of you, and many of you have done, or would like to do, customer surveys. A buddy of mine, Dave Wanetick, shared some interesting thoughts about customer surveys. He is the managing director of IncreMental Advantage.
Accurate reads on customer thoughts are nearly impossible. Responses can be swayed by just one word or even the order in which the questions are asked. Some have compared trying to read customer sentiments to the soothsayers of yesteryear who tried to divine meaning from chicken entrails. Consider how one word conjures up drastically different recollections in this real-world exchange:
Lawyer to Witness: How fast was the car traveling before it ran into a telephone pole?
Witness: Forty-five miles per hour.
Lawyer to Witness: How fast was the car traveling before it smashed into the telephone pole?
Witness: Sixty-five miles per hour.
Depending on who is responding to the survey and in what setting, the results can change. Many survey respondents, for example, are self-selecting, which skews the results. Sometimes asking the same people the same question at different times of the day—for example, before or after a meal—will yield different responses.
Customers do not want spend time answering surveys. Completing a survey that takes longer than the delivery of the service in question is annoying. The mere act of sending a customer a survey can so greatly annoy some people that it tarnishes the company’s brand. Thus, customers often race through surveys to get them over with, and their haphazard responses are a precursor to the collateral damage that will result from relying on such information.
Excessive soliciting of feedback will inevitably result in criticism. Unwarranted criticism is most likely to be evoked when people believe that their ability to criticize is a sign of their intelligence. A serious problem arises when this criticism shakes the employees’ confidence. This criticism can demotivate sales people and render them less effective.
Some customers are not worth having. The peril in soliciting extensive feedback is that the most critical and demanding suggestions are likely to come from customers who offer the company diminishing prospects for profitable returns.
Customers who are only moderately disappointed with a company may become irate when their concerns are not addressed. Thus, companies that rely on extensive surveys are faced with a dilemma: either bend to the customers’ wishes or suffer their wrath when failing to do so.
According to Dave, some of the most revealing customer surveys can be quite simple. Dave cites Fred Reichheld’s idea that one can distill customer satisfaction surveys down to one question:
“Would you recommend our service to your friends and colleagues?”
This is a powerful question because it gauges whether or not customers like your product enough to put their own reputations on the line with their friends and colleagues.