The problem with customer surveys

Categories Branding, Customer Experience, Digital marketing, Everything0 Comments

A couple of weeks ago, I was running late for work. As the morning was not bad enough I realised I was getting my periods and therefore needed to buy some tampons mucho presto. So, I ran into my favourite pharmacy/drugstore near work to get some. Easy.

I have been a good customer of this company. To be perfectly honest, this is the only company with which I have a loyalty card that I actually use. (This is probably another topic for another day). I shop in this store more regularly than anywhere else, and by now, they probably know everything about my beauty rituals and health in general. And somehow I am fine with it, I get discounts for my birthday and that’s ok.

But, on this particular day, not only did the polite cashier assistant asked me if my details had changed once again (guess what, I don’t move house every week), but they also asked me to complete a customer feedback directly on the payment terminal. I could literally not proceed with my purchase without having to interact with it (be it to refuse to answer). And that was it. The step to far. I just wanted to buy tampons, in all dignity, in all anonymity. I had nothing to report about my experience in the shop, nor should I have had to do so.

As a marketer, customer feedback is a big part of what we do. There is nothing more important that our customers, and in the past decades the industry has moved away from a brand-centric approach towards a customer-centric approach. There is nothing more powerful than direct feedback, nor something more dreadful than bad customer experience. I get it.

But the problem, you see, is when this feedback has become more important than the customer itself. My poor experience actually started in front of the customer feedback survey – ironic. I, like many other people, have this weird unease in front of sales people. And here I am standing in front of this person, feeling all unhappy because I have to fill a feedback survey when I just wanted to make my purchase and go to work. Worst, I had to decline doing so, and then feel evermore guilty that I did not fulfil my duty as a good customer.

The problem is NPS

Have you ever been asked “how likely you would be to recommend a brand or a service to your friend“? This is commonly referred as tracking the Net Promoter Score, or NPS (here’s a cute video about what it is) and is widely used as a customer experience metric. That’s exactly what I was asked on this day.

One of the problems in this situation was that the score itself is quite irrelevant, unless it is used to inform future decisions, and more importantly unless you can follow-up with quantitative questions to better understand the factors of dissatisfaction behind your unhappy customers. You can imagine how likely I would I have liked to stay for a chat with the cashier…

Another problem here, beside me working in the industry and therefore not wanting to play along, it that I felt forced to answer. I declined to answer mainly as a form of protest, but you can bet that I would have otherwise clicked any other number on the card terminal just to be done with it. It would have been absolutely meaningless.

I am going to assume (and hope), that because this is a large company, there might be other motives to implementing this very unsatisfactory customer satisfaction survey; but this raised alarm bells in my head for when smaller companies feel like they have to implement it too – because that’s what everyone else does.

A better way to look at customer feedback

We live in a world where a lot of marketing blogs are a replica of each other (article for another day), and I guess if something is repeated enough time then, that must mean it is correct right?

In this case, it is and it isn’t. Customer satisfaction is important, but there is a big step between collecting the data and doing something about it. If a survey is implemented without a clear idea of 1) who is going to look at it, 2) when it is going to be looked at, 3) how the data is going to be used and 4) how you are going to act on the feedback, then you have just created a nuisance for people that are already interacting with your brand.

We are all ourselves customers of other brands, and have all experienced the unpleasant situation I described earlier in a way or another. This is a good starting point to implement a better approach to customer feedback. Ask yourself how you would react if you were you own customer. It’s not rigorous data-based evidence (you are a very small data pool…), but a bit of common sense can go a long way to make sure you are a nice company to interact with.

In conclusion

Life should not be a long succession of customer surveys.

But, also, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions to our customers. More often than not they will gladly offer feedback (especially if they are unhappy or if you have great incentives attached). By being aware of the data that you already collect and then purposefully designing surveys and feedback situations that will fit with your customers, you can achieve much more meaningful results in the long term.

Side note: Randy has a very good sketch about this – I would encourage anyone to go and see him/them (?) for further marketing insight.

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