Customer Surveys are Worthless

question_mark“Sir, have you any thoughts on the subject of Customer surveys?” I asked, kicking off another discussion with The Effective Detective.

“Watson, have you ever known me to not have a thought on any subject? But, before I respond, I am curious what dragged this question to the forefront of your mind?” The Detective answered my question with two of his own.

I decided to give him an answer to both, even though I suspected the first question had been rhetorical.

“I admit sir, to have never found a subject that you did not have a definitive opinion on. As to what made this question come to mind I have received several different surveys, from various sources, each with what seems to be a different goal in mind which piqued my curiosity.”

“Thank you Watson. If you were merely following the herd and asking about one of those customer satisfaction surveys, our conversation would have been over quickly, since I believe such things are fluff, provide no truly meaningful information  are hardly worth the effort and do nothing to truly engage your customers, and of course have nothing to do with prospects. However, I am curious as to what these different goals you mentioned might be,” The Detective responded, ignoring my initial jab and focusing only on the real question at hand.

“Before you proceed, sir, I must ask, you don’t see a use for customer satisfaction surveys?” I asked, my curiosity now piqued in a different direction.

“There are exceptions to every rule Watson, but what I have generally seen are self-serving and largely meaningless questions such as ‘How would you rate your experience?’ These kind of questions require totally subjective answers that mean absolutely nothing. What would be far more useful would be questions that are related to metrics that the business is trying to measure. ‘How quickly were you greeted?’ with a range of times – since most won’t remember exactly or have been timing with a stop-watch.

“Unfortunately, most companies don’t really want to know what their customers think – especially about their product or service. They are afraid that the answers might require them to rethink their practices. So they ask questions that result in platitudes, or simply nonsense, just so they can say they listen to their customers.

“Most importantly they do not provide useful data to segment the audience so that marketing can be targeted. They are designed to be feel good exercises for the company.

“Now tell me more about this other kind of survey you saw, if you please Watson,” The Detective sat back and waited.

“It had very specific questions, sir. It was more of a research survey. The sender was looking for information that might be used to create a new program, or to update an existing program. It was relatively short, under ten questions. For about half the questions one was given specific choices , the other half were free-form – one entered text,” I explained.

The Detective listened, interested, then responded.

“Sounds more reasonable than most. I personally would prefer less free-form answers – they are difficult to analyze unless the sample is small. The most useful of these kind of surveys are the ones that ask questions that allow you to segment your audience – both clients and prospects. An extremely simple example would be level of expertise: beginner, intermediate, expert. These kind of categorizations would allow you to target both content and programs tailored to the particular level,” The Detective explained.

“So surveys aren’t completely useless, sir?” I asked, trying to needle him just a bit.

“Not completely, Watson,” he replied, “but few do it right, so I stand by my statements,” he finished, closing the discussion for the day.

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