Customer Death by Survey? Or Just Bad Surveys?

I recently wrote an article in RainToday called How To Annoy Your Client  Without Really Trying, about the excess of customer satisfaction metrics.

Wouldn’t you know it – someone disagreed with me! I know, hard to believe…

But in this case, the someone was pretty interesting and had some good points to make. So please meet Erich Dietz, of Mindshare Technologies.


Charlie: Erich, welcome. Let’s jump right in. Consumers are getting surveyed to death… but how can one argue that the solution is as simple as changing the survey script?

Erich: You’re 100% right that every time a consumer turns around they are getting hit with surveys – surveys from every business they have ever interacted with. It’s a painful exercise that feeds a market research propeller head in an ivory tower somewhere who never shares what he/she knows; that’s what the problem is.

Which means I also agree with you that the solution is not as simple as changing a survey script.

Charlie: Well, now we’re getting somewhere!

Erich: This is one of those cases where dirt-simple solutions just aren’t realistic. Businesses must change their mindset – from surveying customers to engaging them.

Engagement derives from demonstrating respect for the customer’s time, showing that feedback is actually being used, and using surveys as part of a meaningful, recurring dialogue.

Charlie: So, it’s one of those mindset things: back to ground zero.

Erich: Did you really think otherwise? Me neither.

Unfortunately there will always be businesses that survey in a customer-unfriendly way. But I don’t think anyone is seriously proposing legislation to regulate or ban bad surveying.

What’s important is not how bad most surveying is – what’s important is how a smart company can take advantage of that.  Let me suggest that if your business surveys the right way, then out of the 1,000 survey-invites the customer gets in a day, yours will be the one they elect to take. And that’s huge.

Charlie: That is pretty big, actually, and what you’re saying is the bad surveys actually make it easier for the really good ones to stand out.

So let’s jump to the question that begs: how does a business go about surveying the “right” way?

Erich: They increase their focus and commitment to structure, communication, and engagement. Let me start with structure.

Too many surveys are written for the surveyor; they end up long and rigid. Reduce the length of the surveys, focus more heavily on allowing customers to share their experiences, wants, interests, etc. in their own words.  This is a radical change from asking the customer to conform to their rating scales or menu choices on every data point.

Transactional surveys should be no more than 2 minutes, and should set accurate expectations with the invite (e.g. “please answer 4 brief questions”).

I strongly recommend that, wherever possible, businesses compensate customers for their time. Think about ways to compensate the survey customer that can actually drive incremental revenue back into the business.

Charlie: Cool! What about communication?

Erich: When did you last feel that your feedback went anywhere meaningful? Most businesses miss the simple layup – tell the customer when they make a change based on customer feedback!  You have to show customers you’re listening to – and acting on – the feedback they’ve spent their valuable time providing. Show them their time was not spent in vain.

Charlie: Common sense, even though it’s not common. Engagement?

Erich: Use surveys to enhance and deepen customer conversations. When a surveyed customer indicates service lapse, make sure the front line is empowered to follow up – personally.

Conversely, for those customers who indicated positive experiences – reach out, frequently, just to say thank you.

Charlie: Erich, those are eminently sound recommendations. If all survey designers took your advice – well, that’s an interesting thought-experiment. It occurs to me the effect would be massive. Thanks so much for taking time with us.

Erich: A pleasure, Charlie.


Trusted Professions

Consultants’ News and the Institute of Management Consultants USA report on a survey about how much clients trust consultants.

Say CN and IMC:

Survey results…reveal that the consulting profession is viewed as trustworthy. When respondents were asked to rank a list of 10 representative professions from most trustworthy to least trustworthy, they ranked consulting as the 5th most trustworthy profession, behind nurses, doctors, teachers and accountants. Rounding out the list of professions were sales representatives, corporate executives, attorneys, journalists and politicians.

Hmmm. If you’re ranked fifth out of ten, you’re “viewed as trustworthy.” Presumably, sixth place gets you “untrustworthy.” There but for grace of sales representatives and journalists…

Want to know why nurses consistently rank #1 on these kinds of lists? Meet the President of the American Nursing Association. She could sell me a used car. Why? Because she virtually bleeds low self-orientation. You’d have a hard time finding less than six degrees of separation between her and anyone with a selfish bone in their body.

Similar results come from an Australian survey of trusted professions done annually since 1970. Tops are nurses, pharmacists and doctors; the bottom four—numbers 26 – 29—are various salespersons. Just above them, at 24 and 25 (out of 29) are TV reporters and newspaper journalists.

In Australia, unlike the CN poll, politicians barely outrank journalists. Pretty scary, for both countries, if you ask me.

In neighboring New Zealand, the top three trusted professions are fire fighters, ambulance officers, and—you guessed it—nurses. The bottom three (of 30) are psychics, car salesmen, and politicians. Wow—below psychics.

Edelman’s Trust Barometer , in 2006, reported:

Global opinion leaders say their most credible source of information about a company is now “a person like me,” which has risen dramatically to surpass doctors and academic experts for the first time, according to the seventh annual Edelman Trust Barometer, a survey of nearly 2,000 opinion leaders in 11 countries. In the U.S., trust in “a person like me” increased from 20% in 2003 to 68% today. Opinion leaders also consider rank-and-file employees more credible spokespersons than corporate CEOs (42% vs. 28% in the U.S.).

In 2004, the Public Broadcasting System was “the most trusted institution on a list of nationally known organizations in the country…” Hey, I’m a fan too. But shouldn’t the most trusted institution tell us who was second, how many there were, and who was in last place? Come on PBS, dish a little—you’ve got your credibility to defend here!

In India, media is the most trusted institution. In the Ukraine—at least in 2004—it’s the church.

While polling about trust in Serbia, there were problems:

"Concerning trust in Milosevic", Bogosavljevic continues, "it is notable that many people simply didn’t want to answer questions about him. For years ordinary people were taught that Milosevic was the greatest, and now they are told that they are supposed to be against him. Many of them simply can’t do this, so their response is simply to say ‘I don’t know’ or refuse to answer."

What’s it all mean?

Sometimes trust stays the same for a long time—part of our trust for nurses is that we’ve always trusted nurses. When trust changes rapidly, it can be disorienting to us.

There are few surprises in surveys—they almost always “make sense” when we hear results.

Most of all, trust touches our lives broadly—people, professions, and institutions are only a handful of arenas in which trust plays out in our lives. It’s neither simple, nor one-dimensional. And it’s all very human.