a billboard reading "in design we trust" seen through a rain covered windshield
PHOTO: kaboompics

Can we talk? At the most basic level, these three words are the foundation for exceptional customer experience. A conversation with a customer provides insight, understanding and helps you create a roadmap for relevant change.

But most businesses don’t have the luxury of one-on-one interactions. Instead, they’re likely to hear what their customers are saying through the use of a feedback tool such as a customer survey.

And here’s where the conversation too often breaks down.

The Problem With Customer Surveys

When implemented correctly, customer surveys have many advantages. Well-designed surveys:

  • Provide digestible, quantitative data.
  • Uncover nuanced, qualitative insights.
  • Enable progress to be tracked over time.

But far too many companies generate junk data from irrelevant and poorly-designed surveys. They rush to create customer surveys without thinking through a thoughtful strategy.  

Companies assume they’re ready to launch their survey as soon as they piece together a few questions. But this grab-and-go approach should raise red flags. A rushed customer survey is likely to be plagued with biases and other flaws. Worse, these poorly-designed surveys waste everyone’s time.

Related Article: Not Another @#$&! Survey ...

The Most Common Survey Flaws

  • Sampling Issues: There are two main sampling issues — sample size error and sampling bias. Size error occurs when the sample is too small to fully reflect the target population. Sampling bias occurs when the populations surveyed are incorrect or incomplete. Both lead to misrepresentative results.
  • Response Bias: Even if your survey is distributed to a 100 percent unbiased and representative sample, the actual response population may not represent the target population. The most common instance of this is when highly-satisfied customers respond to surveys more than dissatisfied and neutral customers.
  • Wording and Execution Bias: One of the gravest problems in survey design is that the questions themselves bias the results. One example of this is writing leading questions that are designed to elicit a particular response. Asking: “How satisfied were you with the speed of our checkout?” is phrased in a way that assumes the customer is at least somewhat satisfied.
  • Rigged Process: Employees can skew their own survey results with self-administered survey selection, rigged research design or outright cheating. This happens for a variety of reasons but regardless, a gamed system fails to produce accurate data.
  • Survey Length: Many of the customer feedback surveys are just too long. A survey should certainly never take longer than the interaction itself. In fact, it should take less time. Designing a quality customer feedback survey is a process, requiring multiple edits to reach the best version. Throwing in every question is how not to design a survey. Think about what you want to know, and carefully craft your questions.
  • Irrelevant Questions: Many surveys ask questions that are important from a management standpoint, but don’t resonate with or make sense to customers. For example, “Rate your satisfaction with the employee’s knowledge of parts and products” without offering the N/A option. It’s likely that most shoppers didn’t ask a question of any associate and can’t accurately provide useful customer feedback.

Related Article: Drawing a Line Between VoC, Customer Experience and Customer Analytics

Customer Survey Solutions

Now that you know some of the problems that can occur, let’s move on to how you can design customer feedback surveys that yield valuable insights.

  1. Decide what information you really want from your survey.  Discuss which touchpoints your survey should address before you even start to write your questions.
  2. Stand back and take a comprehensive view of your survey.  Engage as many teams in your company and outsiders as you can to eliminate biases such as leading questions, forced wording and faulty scales.
  3. Show your customers you respect and value their time by designing a survey that asks clear and relevant questions and that states at the outset how long it will take. Embed logic in your survey so that it dynamically adjusts questions based on customers’ answers.  
  4. Ask for honest feedback, not just the positive feedback, e.g., “We’d like to know what you think about our service — the good, the bad and everything in between.” Or, “We’d like your feedback so that we know how to improve.”
  5. Test your survey. Take it and ask yourself these questions:
    • Is it easy to take?
    • Does it uncover actionable insights?
    • How does your survey compare with the ones your competitors use?
    • Will your survey engage your CEO with your customer listening program?

Follow the outline above and you’ll be on your way to customer surveys that provide accurate data that can lead to valuable insights and inform your business decisions. Now, how’s that for thoughtful and worthwhile?